Gendered Perspectives on Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Responses

A Dialogue on the Sahel Region and North Africa

Dr. Carla Ferstman, Senior Lecturer in Law, Dr. Emily Jones, Lecturer in Law, Floriane Borel, Agnieszka Szafranowska

On 29-30 July 2019, the authors  organised an expert workshop at the School of Law, in association with the Essex Armed Conflict and Crisis Hub. The meeting brought together academics (working on international law, feminist legal theory, international relations, terrorism and security studies) and practitioners (working on gender, peace and security in the countries and regions of focus).

The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss the challenges associated with the women, peace and security and counter-terrorism frameworks, from a feminist perspective. It also provided an opportunity to consider the ways in which the international and regional frameworks represent diverse perspectives and views and how they can better do so. The meeting provided an opportunity to share experiences and practices, to develop common understandings and to map out how global feminist scholarly and activist communities can helpfully engage with these debates.

We were delighted to host such a dynamic group of experts for two days of what proved to be powerful, intensive and important discussions.  We are excited about the prospects for building the next phases of the work, and the possibilities this will have for research collaborations and related policy work. These issues are multi-disciplinary and complex and it is so important to work collaboratively. We are hopeful that the next phases of our work will extend and deepen these collaborations.

From left to right: Josephine Roele, Gender Action for Peace and Security network (GAPS) and Dr. Emily Jones, School of Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Essex 

The Global Context

In 2015, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2242 was adopted as part of the wider Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. This resolution brought together the WPS agenda and counter-terrorism for the first time, and urged States and the United Nations to ensure the participation and leadership of women’s organizations in devising strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism. It also encouraged the Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism to integrate women’s participation, leadership and empowerment as core to United Nations strategy and responses and requested the Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate to integrate gender as a cross-cutting issue within their respective mandates.

Resolution 2242 is key in noting the need to situate women’s voices at the centre of the counter-terrorism agenda. The resolution has helped foster debates between the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee, UN Women and WPS. However, there has been debate amongst scholars and practitioners about bringing the feminist project together with the by now well-established post 9/11 international security regimes. Furthermore, references to women in the Resolution are arguably too superficial to engender a meaningful intersection between these very different agendas. Some of these concerns were highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. In her February 2018 report on counter terrorism and emergency legal responses, she highlighted the harmful impacts of gender-blind counterterrorism regulations. Also, there is clearly a great need to better include activist and practitioner voices.

From left to right: Jeannine Ella A. Abatan, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Regional office for West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin; Dr Sara M.T. Polo, Department of Government, University of Essex; Valentine Hambyem, School of Law, University of Essex

The Regional Context

Multiple terrorist groups operate within the Sahel region and North Africa, including Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, AQIM and other Al Qaeda affiliates. Such terrorist threats pose a great threat the security of states and the human security for those who live there, impacting on human development, good governance and rule of law. Killings by terror groups have led to mass displacement and encampment where malnutrition, disease and gender-based violence are prevalent. The increased use of sexual violence and abduction from schools as tactics of systematic terror is a demonstration that terrorism and extremism target and affect women, men, girls and boys in different ways. Disappearances of male detainees impact female family members, who bear the burden of anxiety, harassment, social exclusion and economic hardship. Similar effects ensue from the prolonged detention without trial of male family members, extraordinary rendition and forced deportations. However, while women are victims of terrorism and counter-terrorism measures, they can also be volitional actors in both terrorist entities and counter-terrorism measures. Terrorism has also ravaged state infrastructure and undermined economic growth, fuelled by diminished investor confidence and struggling tourist sectors.

The fight against terrorism has increased security spending, which has diverted resources from development initiatives. Also, some governments have used anti-terrorism policies to prey on minority, marginalised, religious or ethnic groups. In addition, some governments use vague terrorism definitions to punish people, particularly political dissenters, and to suppress social movements, including those that seek gender equality.

The particular security challenges in the Sahel region and North Africa have led to strategic partnerships between the UN and the African Union such as the United Nations-African Union Joint Task Force on Peace and Security.  Similarly, the “G5 Sahel” – an institutional framework for coordination and monitoring of cooperation on security and development policies between Burkina Faso, the Republic of Mali, the Republic of Mauritania, the Republic of Niger and the Republic of Chad, launched a new Women’s Platform in Niger in October 2018. The goal of the platform is to increase women’s involvement in areas of peace, justice and security in the region by bringing together country leaders and civil society organizations. Additionally, there has been increased attention to such challenges within the AU, such as by the AU Office of the Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security.

Our Next Steps

We will be releasing a report of the workshop which will summarise the main issues that arose and provide some analysis of next steps.

Workshop participants in our Human Rights Seminar Room

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