Women’s Alliance Plans to Counter Violent Extremism

By Thalif DeenUNITED NATIONS, Oct 6 2015 (IPS)When the Security Council recently hosted a meeting of world leaders to discuss the growing threats from violent extremism, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that any success in battling intolerance will be predicated on a “unified response.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPSThe most recent U.N. data, he told the summit meeting, shows a 70 per cent increase in foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 countries to regions in conflict. And they not only pose a direct threat to international security, he said, but also “mercilessly target women and girls”, and undermine universal values of peace, justice and human dignity.Responding to the call for unity, a coalition of over 25 women’s groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has formed a new alliance to counter violent extremism (CVE) and promote peace, rights and pluralism.Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, co-founder and executive director of the Washington-based International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and a member of the coalition, told IPS: “I think the CVE initiative and summit did open space for a broader conversation about the root causes of extremism.”By having regional summits and reaching out to young people and civil society and women, she said, they raised awareness about the many positive forces that exist.There are new initiatives for youth engagement, getting cities to learn from each other, and focus on research. The women’s alliance is among them, she noted.The Secretary-General, meanwhile, has announced plans to form an advisory panel of religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue, and at the same time, present a comprehensive plan of action on preventing violent extremism, to the current session of the General Assembly later this year.He singled out five key priorities: the need to engage all of society; the need to make a special effort to reach young people; to build truly accountable institutions; respect for international law and human rights; and the importance of not being ruled by fear – or provoked by those who strive to exploit it.Ban said most of those recruited by violent extremists were young men, although women were also falling under the influence.Many were frustrated with the few avenues available to them to pursue productive lives and find their place in society. “We must show them another way, a better way. That includes working to end poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity”.The alliance includes the Philippines Centre for Islam and Democracy, Association of War-Affected Women, Iraqi Al-Firdaws Society, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the Carter Centre and Justice, Human Rights and Gender Civil Association.The United States is working with its own coalition, which has grown to some 60 nations, including virtually all the Arab countries, plus three new countries: Nigeria, Tunisia and Malaysia. Additionally, nearly two dozen nations are in some way contributing to the current military campaign against extremist groups, including Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).Speaking at the summit, U.S. President Barack Obama said: “Our military and intelligence efforts are not going to succeed alone; they have to be matched by political and economic progress to address the conditions that ISIL has exploited in order to take root.”ICAN’s Anderlini told IPS the alliance of women’s groups is still taking shape and “we welcome NGOs that uphold the same values and vision, and are active on the ground”.“We definitely aim to have a strong political voice and presence in the policy arena for a number of reasons.”First, there is no doubt that women are deliberate and central targets of such groups – and extremists understand the power and influence of women in society.They are either trying to recruit them or killing those who speak out against them. They are also of course, using young women and girls as commodities.“We have to have women at the center of decision making so that they are not doubly victimized or ignored by international actors as well,” she added.Second, the alliance members are working at the frontlines of this struggle. Some are working directly with militias – others are doing broader community based prevention.They have expertise and a lot to share about what works and what does not – and how to adapt and scale good practices.Third, they have important perspectives on the root causes as well as the solutions needed from the international community.“We can’t assume that small grants to local organizations will solve this huge problem. Those organizations can do a great deal but more importantly they can inform and guide what’s needed nationally and internationally in terms of economic, security policies.”She said the bottom line is: “a lot of what has happened so far, is not working.”“Our Syrian and Iraqi partners were warning about these issues in 2011 (and even earlier) – if we had heeded their warnings and followed their advice, things could be different now,” Anderlini declared.Obama said it is necessary to address the political grievances that ISIL exploits.“I’ve said this before – when human rights are denied and citizens have no opportunity to redress their grievances peacefully, it feeds terrorist propaganda that justifies violence.”Likewise, when political opponents are treated like terrorists and thrown in jail, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. So the real path to lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; it is more democracy in terms of free speech, and freedom of religion, rule of law, strong civil societies, he said.“All that has to play a part in countering violent extremism,” he added.“And finally, we recognize that our best partners in protecting vulnerable people from succumbing to violent extremist ideologies are the communities themselves – families, friends, neighbors, clerics, faith leaders who love and care for these young.”The Secretary-General said more than 5 billion, out of the world’s total population of 7 billion, identify themselves as members of religious communities.And religious leaders and educators can play an important role in teaching their followers the correct meaning of mutual understanding and respecting the other’s faith.“We expect our religious leaders to be brave and to teach their followers when they see something morally wrong. I ask you, too, to do more to amplify the voice of the moderate majority so we may drown out those who preach violence and hatred,” Ban added.The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com