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In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in understanding the participation of women in violent extremist activity. In the Kenyan context, interest in the subject emerged following an attack on the Mombasa police station by three women in September 2016. While the attack was the subject of some controversy, as it was not immediately clear which specific group the women belonged to, the incident itself drew attention to the need for a deeper understanding of the role of women in violent extremism (VE). Particularly, it underscored the importance of interrogating their involvement in VE through a different lens, one that did not classify women’s roles into broad categories of either victims or peace-builders.
To address this gap in understanding, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) funded by the European Union, in partnership with the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA), supported the development of four academic studies led by Kenyan researchers. The studies were later published as a special issue of The African Review. On 6 June 2018, insights from the research, along with lessons for policy and programming, were discussed at a research seminar jointly organised by RUSI and IFRA. Presentations on the research findings were given by Hassan Mwakimako (Pwani University), Fatuma Ahmed Ali (United States International University), Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen (Technical University of Mombasa), and Halimu Shauri (Pwani University).
The seminar was chaired by Mutuma Ruteere, Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies (CHRIPS), and Martine Zeuthen, Team Leader of RUSI’s STRIVE (Strengthening Resilience to Violent Extremism) programme, with key addresses given by Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle, Director of IFRA, Hanina Ben Bernou from the EU, and Kim Ramoneda, First Counsellor of the French Embassy.
The key themes discussed during the seminar included the process of recruitment of women into violent extremist organisations, the narratives on women’s experiences while in extremist organisations and the gendered impact of VE. In discussing these themes, several recommendations were made for strengthening countering violent extremism programming efforts. The following paper discusses the key themes and the lessons for policy and programming that emerged during the seminar.