Back in the 1970s, I joined in the parades in Oslo for International Women’s Day. I was in my 20s, and proud to show my support for the feminist movement. The slogans we chanted, such as “Equal pay” and “Solidarity with oppressed women in all countries,” are still relevant today.
March 8th has always been an important date to me, and as Ambassador, I consider the day a great opportunity to look at issues through a gendered lens. This year’s focus: countering violent extremism (CVE).
Earlier today, I was lucky enough to team up with President Nancy Lindborg of the United States Institute of Peace to cohost 10 stakeholders for a luncheon discussion of how best to incorporate gender into our analysis of violent extremism and our strategies to counter it.
Violent extremism is not new, but it is a problem of increasing magnitude. Crisis and instability have increased internationally, establishing an environment in which violence becomes an alternative to frustrating passivity. Extreme movements such as ISIL spread ideology that attacks world order and humane values while promoting hatred and violence. The Internet and social media create efficient platforms for them to spread their agenda and radicalize potential supporters.
We need to respond to these challenges. To do so, we need to understand their root causes and the way radicalization works. We need to come up with ways to efficiently counter violent extremism.
The U.S. has taken a strong international leadership role in these efforts, e.g. with President Obama’s Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in February 2015. Norway has promoted the agenda in Europe by, among other things, hosting the European CVE Conference in Oslo in June 2015.
Our efforts are both national and international. Norway is pleased to see the UN Secretary General launching an international action plan for CVE. We look forward to pushing a strong UN resolution in support of the plan later this year. We want gender to have its rightful place in it.
“Y” CVE and Gender?
Violent extremism affects men and women in different ways. Groups such as ISIL promote a radical version of Islam and establish exaggerated gender roles. Gender equality is not an ideal, but something to avoid. In conflict, sex- and gender based violence is used as a tool of war; giving women indescribable hardship. Radical groups also want make women to join their cause, and form strategies particularly angled at women. It is working, as evidenced by the growing number of female foreign fighters. When extremists treat women and men differently, we need to consider that when we analyze the problem and come up with solutions.
The gender issue is not only related to victims’ hardship: women have huge potential as leaders and agents of change in the CVE agenda. A mother influences how her child understands the world, and has the ability to teach the child to be critical to extremist forces. Women also have a deep understanding of how local societies work, and can both detect radicalization and help to counter it on the local level, where state actors and NGOs are not present. We need to empower women so they can realize their potential.
However, it is not only about women. We must come up with strategies that prevent boys and young men from accepting propaganda that tries to radicalize them. The same way as mothers have an influence on their children, fathers need to step up as good role figures. Experts, activists and decision makers in this field are most often men – we need them to remember how much gender plays a role, and more actively consider and apply gender theory when dealing with CVE.
“Y” the Luncheon in Washington, D.C.?
We diplomats have a twofold mission. We are working to gain a deeper understanding of the country where we are serving, to convey sentiments and priorities back to our own countries. The other side of the coin is spreading knowledge about our own countries’ priorities in the hosting country.
A luncheon such as this ticks off both boxes. It is a privilege to spend time with experienced U.S. CVE stakeholders. It is great to hear how the State Department, USAID, Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security all are engaged and working together. And it is important to involve the strong voices of NGOs such as ICAN, Human Rights First and Women in International Security. I got to explain how Norway is working and how we prioritize the gender link.
U.S.-Norwegian cooperation on CVE is strong and mutually beneficial. It is useful to discuss ways to secure gender’s rightful place in the way we counter violent extremism. Such conversations as this give new ideas and form platforms for cooperation. I find it especially meaningful on International Women’s Day; we still have work to do.