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Why are more and more women traveling to IS?


Traditionally, women have primarily been seen as victims and victims of war and terror. But in recent decades, women have been given an increasingly prominent role – not only in conventional military groups, but also in militant rebel movements and terrorist groups.
I recently attended a number of meetings and seminars in New York in connection with high-level meetings and the UN General Assembly. The gender dimension in preventing violent extremism was one of the themes of Prime Minister Erna Solberg's priority, and a European women's network was launched, among other things, to ensure that there is more focus on the role of women in getting individuals in and out of extreme groups.
One of the reasons why we are now gaining a gender focus in anti-terrorism work is the increasing number of women from European countries who have traveled to join the IS (Islamic State). The fact that IS has managed to make itself relevant to women is one of their success factors. In order for us to be able to prevent more women from joining IS, we need to know more.

Creates legitimacy. Figures from The International Center for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) show that about 10 percent of those who have traveled from Europe to join IS are women. The proportion for France, the UK and Germany is even higher, and we also have more cases of Norwegian women who have traveled to IS. Many of those who have traveled are very young. Globally, there may be up to 8000 women who have actively chosen to travel to IS, according to Hans Brun, a counterterrorism researcher at Kings College.
What role do women play in militant Islamist organizations? In groups such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, women primarily have a support function for the warriors, who provide food, care and logistics. Women have also been used as suicide bombers – in the second Palestinian intifada, ten women committed suicide attacks, and "Black Widows" from Chechnya have become a world-renowned phenomenon following several widespread attacks on Russian targets.
One of the most important women leaders in Hezbollah, Rima Fahri, says in the book Women on the political battlefield that nothing stands in the way, neither ideologically nor organizationally, for women to participate directly in struggle by necessity. According to Fahri, the list of willing female suicide bombers for Hezbollah is as long as the list of willing men.

IS has created its own women's brigade, and women are active as moral and order police.

At IS, women's role is most prominent when it comes to recruiting and spreading ideology and propaganda. The fact that women themselves are so active in spreading the organization's message gives particular legitimacy to the part of the propaganda that has targeted women. There are "rosajihadist" blogs dedicated to IS women, with recipes for fast and nutritious food, instructions on how to please and care for a struggling husband, and encouragement for Muslim women around the world to contribute.

Pink flag. In one of the latest issues of IS's Internet magazine "Dabiq", a female writer and her six-page defense script for slave content and sexual exploitation of women in captivity are published. On Twitter and Facebook, it is not difficult to find female IS followers who post pictures of themselves in solid niqab and weapons, and there are pink variants of both the IS flag and other IS symbolism.
IS has created its own women's brigade, and women are active as moral and order police. Beyond that, it is mainly the role of mother and wife that is emphasized as essential. In order for IS to become a sustainable state, new, loyal warriors must constantly be born, and on that occasion the sacred role of women as mothers is imprinted.
IS is exceptionally good at recruiting via social media. It only takes a few minutes to get in direct contact with IS trailers. However, not all girls who receive inquiries can be fooled into becoming jihad wives – several incidents have been reported where young women have cheated the men who have tried to entice them to come to Syria by pretending to be interested and given sent money for the trip.
The background of Palestinian and Chechen female suicide bombers is often stories of loss of loved ones, vulnerability as a single woman in patriarchal societies and hopeless life prospects. But what attracts young women born and raised in the security and prosperity of the West to IS?

Wide impact field. The research shows that it is a combination of several underlying causes. Most of the factors are the same as for young men: You want to cleanse yourself of past sins and un-Islamic way of life, you feel alienated and uncomfortable in the society in which you live, you experience a crisis of identity and generational conflict, boredom, adventurousness, you seek a meaning with life and the opportunity to be part of creating history.
But it is also about the more primitive sexual drive, where women are motivated by the fantasy of being the wife of a fierce and masculine warrior, whereby men are enticed by the idea of ​​devout, pure and faithful wives who want to submit to their husbands. Especially for young people who have grown up in families where sexuality is taboo, and who have lived in a large society that over-focuses on sex, this becomes a paradoxical way to live out operations without feeling shame and stigma.
IS specializes in a propaganda strategy that can offer something for everyone, for different personality types and for both genders. You are both seen as an individual and offered a community. We must take these factors into account if we are to succeed in preventative work.

Linda Noor is the general manager of Minotenk, a trained social anthropologist and works with integration and minority policy from a human rights perspective. She is particularly concerned with gender equality, affiliation issues and challenges related to violent extremism and radicalization. Noor will contribute regularly to Ny Tid with the column «Cross culture» in the future.

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