and minors, a finding consistent with practitioner reports from Indonesia.36 In contrast, in countries where numbers are lower, such as in North America and Europe, and where re-entry is more challenging, few women and children have returned while many are left in limbo in conflict zones. Proportions of women and minors returning to South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) amounted to less than 1 percent.37 However, MENA has some of the largest gaps in available data, which may have skewed this result. Despite being best practice, government data on returnees is most often not gender- or age-disaggregated, resulting in an opaque picture for security actors and service providers contending with these individuals’ needs as well as their potential threat.38 These figures do not account for local populations who have survived occupation by violent extremist groups, many ending up internally displaced or refugees. The women and girls in these areas are likely affiliated in much higher numbers, when we factor in involuntary participation—whether through abduction or as a survival tactic. Women and girl returnees come from a diverse range of ages, backgrounds and circumstances. Some are girls, such as the Yazidis who were abducted and sold as sex slaves.39 Some are the children of terrorist fighters, born during the conflict. Some are children born of rape, others of bona fide relationships. Some young women were lured by romance or the opportunity to support a cause, and some wives followed their husbands into conflict zones. There are also women who are independently motivated by a combination of factors that violent extremist groups offer—notably a sense of empowerment and belonging, financial incentives, and space to practice their faith without stigma. In order to understand the experiences and needs of women and girl returnees, programming must be informed about their contexts, including whether they are from urban or rural areas, married or have children, and their level of education. These specifics impact whether women and girls are accepted or rejected by their families and communities when they return home.40 For the purposes of this study, women and girl returnees include those disengaging from extremist groups they had joined both voluntarily and involuntarily, within and outside of their home countries, and across both developed and developing contexts.
Women are also the front-line response and resistance In addition, it is critical not to overlook those working actively to resist the radicalization and recruitment of the members of their communities. Women civil society actors—peace practitioners, human rights activists, social workers, lawyers, and many others—are filling the gaps in terms of responding to the needs of returnees. These local actors are also raising the alarm about the dire situations and the danger the situation poses if ignored. In doing so, they put themselves at great risk given the lack of clarity in policies and laws in most countries and the risk of being deemed as “associating or providing material support” to members of designated terrorist organizations, even though their support is for deradicalization and rehabilitation efforts.
Interview with Mira Kusumarini, Executive Director of the Civil Society Against Violent Extremism (C-SAVE) Coalition, Indonesia, GSX workshop, April 26-27, 2018 in Oslo, Norway. 37 ICSR (2018), From Daesh to ‘Diaspora’: Tracing the Women and Minors of Islamic State (available at: https://icsr.info/2018/07/23/from-daesh-todiaspora-tracing-the-women-and-minors-of-islamic-state/). 38 Ibid. 39 Susan Hutchinson and Chris Crewther (2018), WPS 2018: Modern slavery and WPS (available at: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/wps-2018-modernslavery-wps/). 40 Remarks by Dr. Mia Bloom, Professor of Communication at Georgia State University, GSX workshop April 26-27, 2018 in Oslo, Norway. 36
Gendered Dimensions of Return, Rehabilitation and Reintegration from Violent Extremism