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Women and terrorist radicalization, Final Report


This is a report of two roundtables, jointly organised by the OSCE Secretariat's Transnational Threats Department/Action against Terrorism Unit (TNTD/ATU), Gender Section and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), with the purpose to enhance understanding of women terrorist radicalization and women's roles in preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism (VERTL).


The threat of VERLT is of serious concern to OSCE participating States. Both national authorities and international organisations have increasingly recognized that a better understanding of the dynamics of VERLT is central to formulating and implementing effective strategies to prevent and combat terrorism.

However, when exploring the concept of VERLT, participating States should remain aware that ‘radicalization’ and ‘extremism’ should not be an object for law enforcement counter-terrorism measures if they are not associated with violence or another unlawful act, as legally defined in compliance with international human rights law (i.e., extremist groups which do not resort to, incite or condone criminal activity and/or violence). Holding views or beliefs that are considered radical or extreme, as well as their peaceful expression, should not be considered crimes per se.

Radicalization processes follow different and non-linear paths and the conditions conducive to it vary from one individual to another. Understanding a given instance of radicalization requires taking into account the specific contextual and personal factors at play, including historical, political, socio-economic and psychological considerations. Governments, civil society and international organisations should re-assert and be guided by the principle that terrorism should not be associated with any particular religion, culture, race or ethnicity. Governments should also respond in a balanced and proportionate manner to terrorist threats inspired by various ideologies to avoid focusing disproportionately on certain groups.

While VERLT transcends socio-political, national, cultural, geographical and age boundaries, it also transcends gender. For decades, terrorist organisations have targeted women for recruitment. The potential for women radicalization and involvement in violent extremist groups has long existed but continues to be relatively underestimated as the misconception that violent extremism and terrorism exclusively concern men still prevails. However, recent attacks perpetrated by women as well as intelligence on continued terrorist efforts to recruit women warrant taking the threat of their terrorist radicalization seriously and considering how to design effective gender-sensitive and human rights-compliant preventive actions.

Furthermore, women can have special potential in countering VERLT. The involvement of women as policy shapers, educators, community members and activists is essential to address the conditions conducive to terrorism and effectively prevent terrorism. Women can provide crucial feedback on the current counter-terrorism efforts of the international community and can point out when preventive policies and practices are having counterproductive impacts on their communities. Removing the factors that hamper women’s active participation in countering terrorism is necessary to facilitate the involvement of women’s organisations in identifying and addressing specific political, social, economic, cultural, or educational concerns that may lead to violent extremism and terrorist radicalization. Women are effective undertakers of initiatives and shapers of narratives to counter violent extremist and terrorist propaganda and may carry special weight with women audiences.

In this regard, the expert roundtables intended to:

  • Achieve a better understanding of the specifics and dynamics involved in terrorist radicalization in order to reflect on whether and how existing measures to counter VERLT should be corrected or tailored to become gender-sensitive, human rights-compliant and therefore more effective;
  • Explore the potential role of women in countering VERLT, within society at large, communities and families, and specifically how to empower women activists and non-governmental organisations to stand up against it;
  • Identify a suitable focus and modalities for potential follow-up activities on the above issues by OSCE executive structures, within their respective mandate, as well as suggest a way forward through the formulation of concrete recommendations to various stakeholders.