As the United States and world transition from a reflexive and hard approach in counterterrorism to a more reflective and soft one for the prevention of terrorism, the search for best practices and lessons learned is more critical than ever. While programming related to countering violent extremism (CVE) continues to grapple with the adoption of official definitions, priorities, evaluation methodologies, and qualitative and quantitative metrics, there is a growing awareness of the importance of harnessing female actors as positive, operational agents of change. Women continue to be an underutilized and under-tapped resource in the fight against extremism. This research identifies best practices through lessons learned from efforts that utilize women to encouragingly affect catalysts and circumstances that drive individuals to engage in terrorism.
The empowerment of women not only makes practical sense, but also is a good investment in economics, business, and counterterrorism. In micro lending, for every $1US a woman earns, she reinvests 90 percent back into her family and/or community; men re-invest only 40 percent. When a woman has an education, she marries on average four years later, enters into non-abusive relationships, and has 2.2 children who are healthier and better educated. Extremism is most effectively countered through increased education, better critical thinking, and enhanced opportunities. These empowerment scenarios and positive outcomes become manifest in the impact a woman has within her family and community. In the words of former Secretary to the United Nations Kofi Annan, “There is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole—women and men alike—than the one which involves women as central players.”
While originally intended to only bring awareness of the role of women in preventing terrorism, this research reveals several additional important findings. Most notably, as is the case with their impact on peace and stability, women play a critical role in the security realm, and CVE is no exception. Empowering women in culturally and country-specific ways enables them to be valuable players in the extremism paradigm.
For many years, many of us in this [national security] field have raised the question of, "Why aren’t there more women speaking at this conference?" Or, "Why aren’t there more women around the conference table in the [Situation] Room?" The answer often is, "I couldn’t think of any." At this point, given the growth of women’s presence in the field, that is an inadequate answer.