Press release: Support for violence against women and radicalization go hand in hand in Libya, a new major UN Women study finds

Date: Sunday, January 12, 2020

A major two-year study found that supporting or condoning violence against women is the only statistically significant factor that correlates with support for violent extremism in Libya.

Libyan women have been at the frontlines of advocating for women’s rights and against extremism in Libya. Their wide participation in the popular uprising that toppled the Gaddafi government led many to believe that the revolution would bring more empowerment and equality for women. Instead, Libyan women have faced growing restrictions on their freedom of movement, everyday violence and policing in public spaces.

Violence against women’s rights activists and women leaders has also increased. Today, gender-regressive ideologies are rife in Libya and not only confined to violent extremist groups. Some communities and individuals, men, but also sometimes women, have supported and joined gender regressive groups, sometimes in exchange of protection from the widespread insecurity that has plagued the country.

To date, little robust knowledge and analysis has been available on the nexus between violent extremism and gender, on women’s motivations to join such groups and the roles they play in their ranks, and on the strategies women employ to combat violent extremism.

To fill this gap, UN Women Regional Office for Arab States and Monash University, in partnership with national institutions and actors in Libya, with support from the Government of the United Kingdom, have conducted extensive research to better understand the gendered motivation to join violent extremist and terrorist groups in Libya, and how gender inequality and discrimination within Libyan society interact with economic, political and religious factors to spread radical ideologies.

Gender Equality and Violent Extremism: A Research Agenda for Libya is the largest study in its scope and scale globally to examine the link between gender and violent extremism. Undertaken across Libya and reaching over 1000 people, it found that supporting or condoning violence against women is the only statistically significant factor positively associated with support for violent extremism in the country. It also found that violent extremist groups use financial incentives to radicalize men and women to violence, playing into masculine gender norms of breadwinning and leadership, and women’s economic vulnerability. The report highlights that women who are subordinate to and/or dependent on extremist male relatives are more likely to be recruited by those relatives.

While there is no relationship between religiosity and support for violent extremism, the study found that the increase of religious schools has spread intolerance, extremism and discriminatory gender ideology. For example, the study found that women-only Koranic study groups are the main recruitment places for women radicalization in Libya.

Traditional and online media, including social media, were also found to be important channels for spreading extremist ideologies and recruiting men and women to extremist groups. Against this backdrop, the research also found that women play informal, yet important, roles in countering and preventing violent extremism as well as advocating for women’s rights in Libya, although these roles are under-documented. 

“While extremist groups put the subordination of women at the heart of their agenda, the promotion of gender equality has been an afterthought in our strategies to counter-terrorism”. Said Moez Doraid, UN Women Regional Director, a.i. for the Arab States, during the official launch of the research. “We urgently need a gendered understanding of motivations to support and join such groups if we are to win the battle against violent extremism.”

This study is part of the research project “Gender, Masculinities and Violent Extremism in North Africa: a Research Agenda” generously funded by the Government of the United Kingdom.

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