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Understanding the Role of Civil Society in Countering Violent Extremism

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The above quote by Martin Luther King posits a strong need for countering violence. Contemporary peace research is fervently exploring the various ways civil society is playing an important role in countering violent radicalisation. However, people involved in the process have faced severe backlash for their quest for peace. For example, women’s pacifist activism is often dismissed as their inherent need for peace linked to their biological affiliation as mothers. Men, on the other hand, are feminized and seen as “less masculine” because of their choice to counter violence. This article will discuss examples of some successful civil society activism headed by men and women which elucidate how their activism against radical violence has also shaped them as educators, activists and policy shapers.

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The organization “Mothers for Life” is at the forefront as a strong global network of mothers who themselves have been a victim of violent jihadist radicalisation of their children. With the help of “The German Institute on Radicalisation and De-radicalisation Studies” in Berlin, this network emerged where women raised awareness about the importance of counter narratives against jihadist radicalization. Behind this endeavour, there was also an attempt to raise a counter movement where the victimized mothers could help in de-escalating the radicalization of violence.

While “Mothers for Life” used maternal imagery in voicing their dissent, “Women and Extremism (WaE)” was launched for political purposes by “The Institute for Strategic Dialogue” (does this have a place – you mention Berlin above) to study the counteractive aspects of women and extremism. The “Women and Extremism” initiative aimed to collaborate with academics and activists for understanding the complexity behind the presence of women within violent extremist organisations. Along with that it also works to stop the further radicalization of women and young people from being susceptible to radicalisation.

Material elsewhere in the Genderhub has revealed the linkages between some constructions of masculinity and the perpetration of violence, from the personal to the political. There are many civil society initiatives that aim to break the links between masculinity and violence, three of which are listed here.

A well-known example of men’s activism against violence is of a campaign called “The White Ribbon Campaign” which is a global movement of men and boys against the rampant increase of violence against women. It generated awareness about the ways through which violence is unleashed on women and also uses a white ribbon as the sign of commitment to never commit violence against women. This campaign has now been over fifty countries with an aim to promote gender equality and prevent radicalization of violence.

“The Young Men’s Clubs Against Violence (YMCAV)” is another “gender-transformative group education project” which focuses on reducing street violence by counselling 10- to 19-year-old boys who are radicalized to perform violence for vested interests . This project has been effective in reducing violence prone behaviour and also fostered gender-equitable attitudes among young men. Both these indicators have overall created an environment which blocks young men from engaging in violence sponsored activities. Another important achievement of this movement has also been in redefining masculinity and what it means to be a MAN. Apart from formal endeavours, there has also been grassroots initiated movements where men have been the forerunners in stopping violence. Sonke Gender Justice, an organization in South Africa testifies to this approach by highlighting how some fathers are working to create healthy family dynamics which could propose a gender equal relationships in the family. Its “Men Care Global Fatherhood Campaign” engages men as caregivers and as fathers and includes 250,000 individuals.

From the above examples, it is well exemplified that local and grassroots initiates have played an indispensable role in breaking the links between masculinity and violence and in combating radical violence more specifically. These initiatives have success due to their power of community action and realistic prevention plans. Because of their local approach and a strong relationship with the community they are able to make allies and address security concerns to external organizations. Therefore, an alliance between the grassroots community and governmental organizations is a strong way to optimize prevention of radical violence by a strategic focus on youth engagement, gender programs and education oriented towards de-radicalization.


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