The Role of Women and Girls in Countering Violent Extremism

“The current threat of violent extremism makes it even more pressing that we enlist and empower women and girls as agents of peace.”

Remarks by
Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto
Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva

At a Roundtable on: “The Role of Women and Girls in Countering Violent Extremism”

Sponsored by the Geneva Center for Security Policy (GCSP), the Global Community Engagement Resilience Fund (GCERF) and the United States Mission to the United Nations in Geneva.

February 13, 2022

First, let me extend a warm welcome to everyone and thank GCSP and the Global Community Engagement Resilience Fund for organizing this important discussion on the role of women and girls in countering violent extremism, or CVE. It is an honor to be here in the company of experts in the field, practitioners, and fellow diplomats to discuss such a timely and necessary topic.

The United States is pleased to co-sponsor this initiative—one that fosters dialogue on women in community engagement as well as the role of women in multi-sectoral approaches to CVE.

This discussion builds on the many great initiatives and work already taking place on CVE.  And yet, we are only just beginning to touch on the nuanced and pivotal role of women and girls in this area.  It is my hope that we can work together – with our Geneva-based partners, civil society, and UN bodies to advance the dialogue here in Geneva and brainstorm how nations, societies, individuals, businesses and organizations can better contribute to the international fight against terrorism.  In particular, let’s shine a spot light on the powerful potential of women in countering violent extremism.

Today’s discussion is especially important to me as it is an example of the kind of engagement I am advocating through our new initiative at the U.S. Mission, the Future She Deserves. Through this initiative we aim to harness the combined efforts of Geneva-based organizations and multilateral institutions to ensure that women and girls are empowered, safe from violence, and able to lead healthy lives. The initiative is grounded in the belief that all stakeholders can achieve more by building linkages and alliances across sectors; improving accountability; reducing girls’ vulnerabilities, and harnessing their capacity to lead and make change in their communities. Many of the fundamental pillars of our initiative are integral to the discussion we will have today.

 Growing Challenge of Foreign Fighters

So, let’s get specific on the topic at hand.  We are here today to address the growing challenge of foreign fighters and the role women and girls can play in countering violent extremism.  We are seeing the implications of violent extremism on our societies across the globe, from Paris to Nigeria to Syria. We are witnessing an unprecedented flow of fighters and facilitation networks fueling conflicts in the Horn of Africa, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. This trend has been particularly destructive in Iraq and Syria, with thousands of fighters joining terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant or ISIL. While these terror organizations have been forced to further decentralize their recruitment efforts, advances in technology and globalization have made sharing their violent narratives easier.

And here is the challenge for us to discuss: Facts tell us that women are the targets of violence perpetrated by ISIL and ISIS; facts tell us that at the same time, many women flock to the ranks of ISIS – according to the New York Times, roughly 10 percent of its Western recruits are female; but, most crucially, common sense and past experience tells us that women wield significant influence in their families and can counter violent extremism.  If we can reach women – wives and mothers and daughters – we can support them in creating a new narrative, a narrative where empowered women can focus on the concerns of their families and neighbors – of their communities.

Holistic Approach Necessary

This is a multifaceted problem that requires a holistic response.  As part of our collective efforts to counter violent extremism, there need to be programs and funding available to reduce the pool of individuals susceptible to terrorist radicalization and recruitment to violence. For our efforts to be effective, they have to be driven by local knowledge and responsive to concerns of those local communities where violent extremism is a problem.

The United States is pleased to be working in partnership with GCERF, which is   the first global effort to support local, community-level initiatives aimed at strengthening resilience against violent extremist agendas.

GCERF’s work is just getting started, but it is already laying the foundation for its small grants program to local organizations, which will develop and implement programming serving specific audiences at risk of recruitment and radicalization to violence. The U.S. is a strong supporter of GCERF’s efforts, which are a key part of building the comprehensive international approach we need.

In the Unites States, we continue to refine and adapt our policies and programs in this area to be more comprehensive and proactive, in part by involving and incorporating women and civil society to the fullest extent possible.

Our National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security emphasizes the need to ensure that women’s perspectives are always part of the U.S. approach to peace processes, conflict prevention, the protection of civilians, and humanitarian assistance.

First, we are building women’s capacity in civil society and the security sector to counter the spread of violent extremism.  This includes enhancing the ability of local, national, and multinational women’s and peace groups committed to working against violent extremism to conduct effective public outreach and train women.

Second, we are encouraging more women’s participation and feedback from women as we develop and implement our countering violent extremism programs, or our anti-terrorism assistance.

Third, we are reviewing how our policies and programs on stemming extremism affect women.  This includes ensuring we discuss with partner governments how to protect civilians, including women and girls.

Finally, we are working to encourage the inclusion of women in counter-extremism and counterterrorism dialogues with governments and civil society, to elevate and amplify their voices.

In conclusion, the current threat of violent extremism makes it even more pressing that we enlist and empower women and girls as agents of peace.  Women can be critical actors in local CVE efforts due to their potential for identifying signs of radicalization, discouraging its occurrence, and serving as “force multipliers” to raise awareness among other women. Female voices are an essential part of coming to terms with the past by investing in a shared future that rejects conflict and promotes dignity.

I want to thank you all again for being here and welcome the distinguished panel here today. I will turn the floor back to our Chair, Ms. Penny Williams and look forward to a productive dialogue during today’s event.

Thank you.