- Elaborately discuss women participation with reasons.
Women play multiple active and passive roles in carrying out terrorist activities. They are strategic as well as tactical actors for a terrorist organisation. Each parent organisation, such as the ISIS, their affiliates, or independent terrorist organisations, have relied on women to varying capacities to attain their goals. Women have assumed the roles of propagandists, recruiters, and participated in combat operations. ISIS, in Kano, Nigeria, has created all-women morality police units, Hisbah, to ensure other women toe the line on issues like dress codes, among others.
While groups like the Al-Qaeda have restricted women to their societal roles of a wife and a mother, groups such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia have exploited the society’s regressive understanding of women to their advantage. Women have been actively used to recruit, gather intelligence, disseminate propaganda, and shame other men into joining the jihadist cause. They have also raised funds and smuggled goods across checkpoints, evading security checks.
The absence of adequate women’s participation in the police forces has also played into the terrorists’ hands as they are well aware that male officers, due to gender and cultural sensitivities, will refrain from indulging in security checks on women. By February 2022, only 1,400 women had been recruited into the Somali Police Force, out of the total 14,000 individuals serving as police officers. Furthermore, out of 300 members in Darwish, a special unit of the police force, only 30 women have been recruited into the ranks.
The factors that propel women’s involvement in organisations like the Al-Shabaab stem from avenging the death of their kins on account of state-sponsored violence or due to ideological commitment. Recruiters exploit the fact that everyone in Al-Shabaab-controlled territories are mandated to receive religious education. Women have also married into the group for financial and physical security.
Groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria have used coercion to recruit young women into their ranks as suicide bombers. Using a similar strategy as Al-Shabaab’s, they exploit the regressive gender narrative and rely on primarily dispensable foot soldiers, i.e., women and teenage girls, to cause instability and chaos. During the period 2011–17, Al-Shabaab had used 244 women as suicide bombers.
A predominant factor for women to be involved in violent extremism is economic grievance and poverty. Many women who have joined Al-Shabaab are primarily from poor areas. These women are coerced into joining extremist organisations as fighters or informants, on the pretext of securing job opportunity. The terrorist outfits purposefully create a situation where access to resources is denied, rendering the people with no choice but to join the outfit as a means to provide for livelihood. Besides, the involvement of their family members and friends in such groups also adds to the pressure. Corruption and lack of political capacities to provide for the people frustrates the local population to join terrorist groups to punish the government and state forces.
Of the several case studies in Africa to understand the role of women in terrorism, security trends in Western Africa and the Sahel provide compelling insights. The region surrounding northern Mali and bordering Niger and Burkina Faso is plagued with multiple violent extremist outfits, including Islamic State affiliate–Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), AQIM, Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) and others.
The Islamic State has been openly receptive to including women into the rungs of its organisation and it even has a separate female brigade, ‘Al Khansaa Brigade’. The AQIM, on the other hand, has indulged in the practice of ‘jihadi brides’ and encouraged its members to marry the locals to gain local support.
One dimension of this linkage is that jihadist leaders marry women of the local communities, thus securing a sense of safety, support and belongingness to the people. A classic example is the case of AQIM leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who married four women from Tuareg and Arab Berabiche communities to ‘expand his network of influence’.