Expert Platform on Gender, Masculinities and Violent Extremism in North Africa
Countering violent extremism and terrorism has long been a priority for North Africa. The region encompasses countries including Algeria, Egypt Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, whose efforts have yielded some positive results in the fight against violent extremism. Despite these achievements, populations still face the spread of extremist ideologies and attacks by home-grown and transnational violent extremist groups, while, at the same time, counter-terrorism measures have been used, intentionally and unintentionally, to silence civil society and communities.
Home-grown terrorist organizations remain a threat in North Africa, as does the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Their ability to evolve continues to affect the region. In Libya, the country’s chronic insecurity has allowed extremist groups to make inroads into its territory. Tunisia, a country with high numbers of its citizens joining terrorist organizations, has also seen large-scale attacks take place, including the Sousse, Hammamet and the National Bardo Museum attacks in 2015. According to available data, there are significant numbers of Moroccans who joined ISIL to fight. Amongst other issues related to counter terrorism, both Tunisia and Morocco are now facing the challenge of how to deal with returning fighters and their dependents.
According to a regional research by UN Women and Monash University on gender and violent extremism in North Africa, socially constructed masculinity and femininity are integral to the recruitment strategies and propaganda of extremist groups in Libya, Tunisia and Morocco. Gender roles and dynamics are also critical to the internal functioning of violent extremist groups. These groups use ﬁnancial incentives to radicalize men and women to violence, playing into masculine gender norms of breadwinning, and women’s economic vulnerability. This is particularly evident in Libya.
Efforts to counter and prevent violent extremism in the region and beyond have yet to adequately understand the roles women and men play in violent extremist groups, and how gender norms and socially constructed concepts of masculinity and femininity are manipulated by these groups to advance their recruitment efforts. This gap compromises the effectiveness of programming and policy, in particular with regards to counter-narratives. Moreover, women’s participation in governance and decision-making remains weak across the sub-region, limiting their ability to engage, influence and inform policies on preventing and countering violent extremism.
Role of the platform
Women’s empowerment is critical for sustainable peace, as outlined in, inter alia, the UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE), in line with the Women, Peace and Security agenda, UN Security Council resolution 2242 (2015). Yet, the gender dimensions of violent extremism often remain overlooked in both research and practice.
In recent years, it has become evident that women play multiple active roles to combat violent extremism, including in prevention and de-radicalization efforts, as well as in mobilization, facilitation and direct participation in extremist groups’ activities in North Africa. It is also evident that gender-based discrimination, sexist attitudes and misogyny are drivers of violent extremism across the region. Thus, the interlinkages between gender, insecurity, terrorism and violent extremism need to be better understood. The positive causal relationship between women’s engagement in conflict prevention and lasting peace also makes understanding their current and potential roles in preventing and addressing both terrorism and violent extremism imperative.
As a result, some critical questions need to be explored such as: what does a gender-sensitive approach to the prevention of violent extremism look like? How can women play a role in identifying symptoms of violent extremism in their families and communities, in countering extremist narratives, and in preventing family members from falling victims to violent extremist organizations. How can women and men support gender-sensitive strategies to prevent violent extremism? And more generally, how can women contribute to the prevention of violent extremism at the global, regional and national level?
To fill these critical gaps, experts from the region have identified the need for a regional platform for knowledge exchange. The establishment of the platform was supported by UN Women to better address the gender dimensions of violent extremism and PVE/countering violent extremism (CVE) at the national and regional levels. Since its establishment, the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate has joined the platform as a co-chair with UN Women, linking the discussions of the platform to UN Security Council led discussion on countering violent extremism. The Oversees Development Institute (ODI) serves as the secretary of the platform.
The platform aims to:
- Exchange knowledge and research findings on gender and the role of women in violent extremism;
- Share best practices on gender-sensitive approaches to PVE/CVE in policy and programming;
- Discuss how national policies in the five countries of the platform can benefit from a gender approach to PVE;
- Increase awareness on the linkages between gender and VE, and encourage gender-sensitive decision-making and implementation of PVE policies and programmes in North Africa.
The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) was created to support the Counter-Terrorism Committee, which works to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations Member States to prevent terrorist acts, both within their borders and across regions. UNCTED carries out the policy decisions of the Committee, conducts expert assessments of each Member State and facilitates counter-terrorism technical assistance to them.
The United Kingdom North Africa Regional Cooperation Fund
The UK Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office runs the North Africa Regional Cooperation Fund. Through the Regional Cooperation Fund, the UK supports the North Africa region through interventions in the political, economic and counter terrorism and security areas. The Regional Cooperation Programme aims at addressing transnational areas of work which can best be approached through regional cooperation.
Overseas Development Institute (ODI)
ODI is an independent, global think tank producing research and analysis to generate evidence, ideas and solutions. As a global organization, ODI operates in 50 countries around the world and has developed expertise on gender and violent extremism.
Amel Boubekeur researches at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences). Her research focuses on Maghreb countries politics, democratization in the Arab world, Euro-Arab/US–Arab relations, and Islam in Europe. She has been a research associate at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and the Centre Jacques Berque, a non-resident fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP-Berlin), a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, a resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut and the head of the Islam and Europe Programme at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. She is the author of "Whatever Happened to the Islamists?," "European Islam: The Challenges for Society and Public Policy," and "Le Voile de la Mariée" (The Bride’s Veil).
Hafida Benchehida, Mediator, member of ICAN&WASL, served as a Senator of the Republic of Algeria from 2013-2019 and was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee until 2015. She is also a founding member of the Algerian Women’s Parliamentarian Network, and as of January 2016, the Deputy Chairperson for legal and administrative affairs and the Human Rights Committee in the Senate. Ms. Benchehida is a member of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL), the Network of Mediterranean Women Mediators and a founding member of the Arab Women Parliamentarian Network “Raedates” and served as a member of the executive until November 1, 2016. Ms. Benchehida has participated in numerous panels and seminars around the world on various topics, such as women and deradicalization (Barcelona, October 2016) and violence against women (Cairo, March 2016). In May 2016, she was the keynote speaker at John Hopkins Think Thank, in Washington DC, where her talk focused on Algeria’s Challenges and opportunities. Ms. Benchehida graduated cum laude in parliamentary translation for 4 languages from the University of Geneva, with two additional translator and interpreter diplomas.
A medical doctor at heart, Dr. Laila Bugaighis is a reform and SDG advocate for health and women with more than 24 years of experience. She is senior advisor to the National Center of Health Systems Reform of Libya, which is a policy developing governmental body. She has worked to strengthen the Libyan Health System, with international organization and as executive director of the second largest healthcare facility in Libya She led initiatives that were funded by the Ministry of Health and oversaw projects to improve access to healthcare for all. She was nominated twice as Minister of Health.
She has also worked on reforms for medical education and was a teaching staff at the University of Benghazi Medical school for more than 10 years.
In 2011 she founded the National Protection Against Violence Committee and developed a national comprehensive program to end violence against women in Libya in partnership with International Organizations, and under the auspices of three ministries. She co-founded Al Tawfuk Al Watanian, an NGO which focuses on promoting inclusivity in political processes, and political empowerment at a societal level.
Khaled Okasha: He is the General Director of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, a faculty member at the Police Academy, a member of the Supreme Council for Combating Terrorism and Extremism and a visiting professor at some Egyptian universities including (Cairo University, Alexandria University and South Valley University). Mr. Khaled Okasha holds a PhD in Planning and Security Strategy Management, a master’s degree in Planning and Crisis Management from Cairo University and a Master’s in Security Sciences from the Police Academy.
Ms. Dalal is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University and is the director of the Security and Defense Issues Program at the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies. She is also a member of the advisory panel for the Global Index of Fatwas of Extremism and Hate in the Egyptian Dar Al Iftaa. Ms. Dalal obtained her PhD in Political Science from the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University for a thesis entitled "Continuity and Change in Israeli Defense Policy during the period from 1973 to 2010" and obtained a Master’s degree in Political Science from the Faculty of Economics and Political Science from Cairo University on a thesis entitled "The Israeli Administration for Strategic Crises: A Comparative Study of the 1967 Crisis, the 1973 Crisis, and the 1982 Crisis".
Imen Kochbati is a sociologist at the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences in TunisShe specializes in geopolitical demography, especially in the Arab World and Tunisia in particular. Imen Kochbati is also an expert in gender and the prevention of violent extremism. She published articles on this topic and contributed to the only quantitative study in this area to date in Tunisia, called “Tunisian Terrorists Through Judiciary Files” ("les terroristes tunisiens à travers les dossiers judiciaires").
Amel Grami has been working at the Manouba Faculty of Arts and Humanities in various positions, where she became Professor at the Department of Arabic Studies in 2005 and is one of the world’s leading experts on Religion and Women’s Studies. She also published extensively on the issue of violent extremism.
She is a member of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) and the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN). Pr Grami published “Women in Jihad: Terrorisme au Féminin”, in Political Perspectives, a research that looked at women’s role in violent extremism in Tunisia. She contributed to the reflection and discussion on fighting violent extremism and developing peace in a number of countries around the world.
 Khiame, Abdelhak . 2016. “Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (CBJI), Statistics on ISIS Fighters, Through a TV Local Talk Show ‘Direct with You’,” YouTube, February 25, 2016. Retrieved August 2018 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VU-bsTFmJI8).
 UN Women, Monash, Gender Equality and Violent Extremism: Libya, Tunisia and Morocco, Regional Briefing, Jacqui True, Melissa Johnston