The Role of Women in Contesting Violent Extremism

Sahana Dharmapuri
September 16, 2014

Independent gender advisor Sahana Dharmapuri discussed the links between supporting women in leadership positions and combatting violent extremism in an article entitled, "Opinion: With each outrage, the values we're fighting for become clearer," published by CNN and excerpted below. 

The recent beheadings of U.S. journalists Steven Satloff and James Foley, as well as British aid worker David Haines by ISIS are a gruesome and tragic reminder of our relationship with extremists since 9/11. So far, public debate has focused on the motivations for this kind of extreme political violence and what to do about it.

What hasn't been said is this: with every attack, our strategic advantage to combat extremism comes into sharper focus. We now know what we are fighting for.

We fight for security and peace in the presence of such horrors by increasing the effectiveness of our security operations through the inclusion of more women marines, more women police, and more women advisors in conflict zones. The U.S. lifted the ban on women in combat in January 2013, recognizing that "valor has no gender."

While the degradation of women is a major political objective of extremists, we know why supporting women in leadership positions is crucial to our success. When women are included in peace building processes the probability of ending violence increases by 24%.

We also know that when women hold political office they pass more and better legislation that helps their communities (both men and women) get jobs, access health care, improve the environment, and educate their children.

Surveys by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and others, reveal that when women hold office they privilege social and economic issues like health care and pensions, physical safety, livelihoods and poverty alleviation.

In contrast, it is well documented that Hamas and other extremist groups use social programs like education, health, jobs to recruit people to their cause.

We know that even if the girls in Nigeria don't return from Boko Haram, even if acid is thrown on school girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even if boys and girls are trafficked across borders on a daily basis globally, it's our belief in equality, in the dignity of the person and in the respect for life that always wins in the end.



Ms. Sahana Dharmapuri is an independent gender advisor with fifteen years of experience providing policy advice and training on gender, peace, and security issues to USAID, NATO, The Swedish Armed Forces, the United States Institute for Peace, International Peace Institute, development consulting firms, and a number of NGOs.

Read the full article at CNN

Photo courtesy of the Institute for Global Leadership