Different Cities, Shared Stories: Gender and Violent Extremism

A comparative analysis of voices from Europe and Canada on the issue of gender and violent extremism, and efforts to counter it.

When Daesh began to recruit women, many in governments were surprised. Historically, women had frequently been left out of the counter-terrorism picture, assumed to be passive and peaceful, and only rarely engaged in supporting terrorist groups. Much of our understanding of and policy response to terrorism and violent extremism have, therefore, been focused on male terrorism.

To counter this gap, in 2015 and 2016, RUSI conducted original research on gender and the power dynamics of diverse forms of violent extremism, and efforts to counter them.

Project sponsor

This research was funded by the Kanishka Programme, part of Public Safety Canada.

Aims and objectives

The project was designed to gather original research on gender, violent extremism and efforts to counter it. Based on focus group and interview research with some 250 participants in Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and UK, the project offers insights from communities affected by radicalisation and violent extremism. Research was conducted in communities affected by jihadi extremism and the far right to compare the gendered experience of and dimensions to both types of extremism.

As a result, the research introduced the concept of gendered radicalisation, exploring how the multiple factors or paths to violent extremist groups—social, local, individual, and global—can differ for both men and women, and why. And, what this means for global efforts to counter violent extremism. It included research on the CT and P/CVE policy in the five countries of study and some of the core gendered assumptions prevalent in interventions to prevent violent extremism.

This project is of use to academics, policymakers, students, and the general reader interested in better understanding a phenomenon defining our times.

Project outputs

The study formed the basis of a book: Countering Violent Extremism: Making Gender Matter, Elizabeth Pearson, Emily Winterbotham, Katherine Brown (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)

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Episode 7: Investigating Radicalisation, Gender and Violent Extremism
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RUSI Journal
Different Cities, Shared Stories: A Five-Country Study Challenging Assumptions Around Muslim Women and CVE Interventions
RUSI Journal
Women, Gender and Daesh Radicalisation: A Milieu Approach

Project impact

This research has been widely recognised as forming a key part of a growing body of work on gender, violent extremism and P/CVE.

As a result, the research team was invited to present their research findings to a wide range of key international stakeholders including:

  • the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in 2017,
  • the European Parliament in 2018,
  • the UN Security Council in 2018,
  • separate briefings to the governments of Norway, Denmark and the UK,
  • a personal briefing for Lord Ahamad, the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations, and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief.

In 2018, the Director of RUSI’s Terrorism and Conflict research group, Emily Winterbotham, also became a member of the UK’s Women, Peace and Security Steering Group.

The study generated such interest that it was adapted, updated and subsequently published as a book: Countering Violent Extremism: Making Gender Matter, by Elizabeth Pearson, Emily Winterbotham, Katherine Brown (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)

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