In October, EPLO organised a Civil Society Dialogue Network meeting ‘Preventing/countering violent extremism more effectively: Experience from the ground’ between practitioners from a range of contexts (e.g. Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Niger) and EU officials.
The need to be “context specific” has become a mantra for preventing and/or countering violent extremism (P/CVE) effectively. EU and Member State P/CVE policies and programmes are highly gendered – the violent perpetrator is usually assumed to be a young man, for example – yet the context analysis underpinning these policies rarely includes any gender analysis. Context analysis that does not integrate gender analysis is not fit for purpose.
Violent groups often have highly gendered recruitment policies that offer different women specific opportunities and recognise their agency. These are particularly effective when girls and women feel excluded in their communities. In contrast, P/CVE policies are often based on untested assumptions. This means that women/girls are either ignored or assumed to be passive, victims and/or nonviolent. The Western male gaze may think of women’s power as “hidden” but this is not hidden to these women or their communities. The possibility that women/girls may make a rational choice to join a violent group based on their assessment of their best interests/the interests of their communities is not considered, neither is the possibility that men may be primarily victims of violence (e.g. by Boko Haram/state security agents) rather than perpetrators.
There is plenty of good practice on the ground for ensuring that context analysis is gender inclusive that EU and Member State officials can learn from. Practitioners conduct detailed analysis of the gender dynamics (i.e. the power relationships between different men and different women, boys and girls in different circumstances, bearing in mind that no group is homogenous) at play in communities at risk of VE. These processes are often highly consultative, including of groups (e.g. girls) who are often considered “hard to reach” and going beyond urban, elite groups who may otherwise give a distorted view of the situation. These analytical processes and their outcomes are more legitimate, credible and robust when owned by the different parts of the communities concerned.
VE flourishes in unequal, exclusive and corrupt societies, particularly where the state security apparatus is abusive. Gender, social, ethnic and religious equality including equal access to services and resources can reduce the attraction of VE groups. Measures that reduce equality or strengthen a non-responsive state heighten the risk of VE. Rather than treating the promotion of gender equality as a luxury add-on – as the EU and its Member States tend to do – P/CVE policies and programmes for working with state and non-state actors should be rooted in promoting gender equality as this works against the patrimonial and exclusive forms of governance that feed VE.
In a direct echo of colonial ‘indirect rule,’ donors too often seek out easy interlocutors – the loudest – rather than the most legitimate (note that legitimacy looks different to different people). External actors often reinforce regressive social or religious ‘leaders’ at the expense of women, young women and men, and other non-elite men. Local civil society, including women and women’s associations, youth organisations and organisations led by young men and young women, play a crucial role in articulating positive alternatives to VE. These voices should shape donor advocacy, not vice versa. Instrumentalising women and women’s associations in P/CVE will reduce women’s status and agency still further, but promoting gender equality and organisations that work to improve women and girls’ inclusion and status in their communities should be part of core programming.
Dr Laura Davis is the Senior Associate responsible for EPLO’s work in pursuit of its Policy Objective 4 (To strengthen the implementation of a gender-sensitive approach in EU policy and practice which enables the EU to be more inclusive and effective in promoting peace).