Experts: Number of Women in Global Terrorism Rising

This article by Wayne Lee originally appeared in Voice of America on 05/11/2016.

More and more women throughout the world are participating in terrorist and extremist groups, and social media is playing a key role in the trend, according to leading experts.

While many experts cited coercion as the primary reason most women join violent extremist groups, other authorities participating in a forum in Washington pointed to more sophisticated and nuanced explanations.

Many women who joined extremist groups were searching for identity and a sense of belonging, said Rabia Chaudry, a fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “They want to show they are as dedicated to the cause as men,” she said Monday at the institute’s Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum.

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Chaudry, whose family originates from Pakistan, added that young women in the United States who belong to families from non-Western countries tend to suffer from identity crises. This makes them vulnerable to alluring social media messages and images from terrorist pitches, even though the messages originate outside America. “They don’t feel anti-American, but they don’t feel American,” she said. […]

Savvy social media campaigns have been particularly effective in recruiting women to extremist organizations, said Michael Shipler, Asia regional director for the conflict resolution group Search for Common Ground. “Social media has been a real catalyst” for the shift in the way insurgencies are operating.

“Social media was a fundamental enabler” for al-Qaida, Shipler added. And Islamic State has built upon al-Qaida’s success by developing and executing highly successful and personalized “user journey” social media campaigns. They “create entry points for people to begin a journey, ultimately leading to recruitment.”

IS social media campaigns, Shipley said, are typically “short” and “very rapid,” in order to maximize “the power of the desire to cause change.”

“Insurgencies are inherently built on popular support,” Shipler added.

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