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Women's Roles in Terrorist Groups in the Middle East and North Africa

Women's participation in terrorist activity has grown over time and the roles that women play in terrorist groups (TGs) have evolved, diversifying and at times progressing from supportive roles to more operational ones. For example, over the last few years, security forces have dismantled all-female cells that were plotting and planning terrorist attacks, while some TG's have openly called women to arms under the pretence of 'defensive jihad' and strategic necessity. This should certainly not detract from the roles that women play in preventing and countering radicalization and terrorism, or the ways in which TG's perpetuate gender-based inequality, discrimination and violence against women and girls.

In spite of these developments, the overall understanding of the complexity and variety of motivations behind the radicalisation of women tend not to have been adequately incorporated into counter-terrorism policies and practices. This has led to stagnation when it comes to understanding women's involvement in terrorism, the ways in which TG's employ them and the strategic ramifications associated with these trends.

This study contributes to a more comprehensive and strategic understanding of the potential security threats associated with women's current and future participation in terrorism. Failure to account for how and why women radicalise, enlist and operate, both offline and online, cedes the initiative to extremist groups, ultimately influencing the effectiveness of efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism. Overlooking the involvement of women in terrorism or downplaying their influence is not only an analytic but also a strategic blind spot.


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