Women Can Counter Terrorism, Advance Peace
By Jane Morse
IIP Staff Writer
April 19, 2012
But women are also joining forces in more formalized ways to end conflict, Verveer said. She lauded organizations like Sisters Against Violent Extremism, an international research and advocacy organization the seeks to empower women and enlist them in the fight against terrorism.
The United States, Verveer said, under its recently adopted National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, will increase efforts in support of women as critical participants in preventing conflict. Gender equality and protecting women against violence are essential to peace and stability within a country, and studies have borne this out, she said.
On the other end of the spectrum are women who join terrorist organizations. The stereotype is that these women are duped or coerced into joining extremists, but in truth most join voluntarily, according to Heidi Panetta, a terrorism analyst with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In Iraq, for example, about 10 percent of the terrorist suicide attacks were perpetrated by women between 2005 and 2010, she said.
Although terrorist groups are extremely paternalistic, they use women as operatives because women are less suspicious-looking, as suicide bombers they are more shocking and get more media attention, and they are considered to be expendable, Panetta said.
In recent times, there have been no women known to hold leadership roles in terrorist organizations, according to Panetta, rather they are exhorted to nurture and support male terrorists.
“Women continue to represent a small minority within the world of international terrorism,” Panetta said. “This is not to say the small minority does not have impact. Women terrorists still kill and wound significant numbers of people, and they also play a vital role in keeping terrorist organizations viable though their propaganda, recruitment, fundraising and other support activities.”
Now that the major leaders of organized terrorism have been dispatched, the new worry is splinter terror groups and independent acts of terrorism, according to Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism.
Using the Internet and social media, terrorists have been encouraging others to conduct individual terrorist attacks, he said. This appeal to the individual, Benjamin said, may attract more women with extremist views to act free of group affiliation.
But the U.S. government, Benjamin said, has been working to build capacity within women’s groups committed to counterterrorism.
One of the key objectives of U.S. policy, Benjamin said, is to support gender equality and to build “self-sustaining counterterrorism capacity in partner nations around the world.”