This blog is part of a series of articles written by University of Dayton students, published as part of Counterpart’s Next Generation in Thought Leadership initiative. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not express the views or opinions of Counterpart International.
How does increased involvement of women and girls in community development and peacebuilding help reduce local grievances and overall community vulnerability to violent extremism, if at all?
Niger continuously ranks among the lowest countries in the world on the Human Development Index (HDI). Critical development challenges include gender inequality, violent extremism, access to education, and overall quality of life. The country lies in the Sahel region of Africa surrounded by countries where violent extremism is also a major development challenge, including Mali, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria.
Counterpart’s Participatory Responsive Government – Principal Activity (PRG-PA) project, funded by USAID, works to promote government and policy reforms that create equitable access to education, health, and security services. This program includes a Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) component which prioritizes the impact of women’s roles to mitigate conflict in the peacebuilding process. Counterpart’s approach to WPS in Niger focuses on three main objectives: women in leadership, gendered service provision, and women’s involvement in security. Each of these objectives aims to increase women’s skills and capacity by developing their abilities and creating more opportunities for engagement within their community structure. Counterpart has made several efforts to increase women’s engagement and skill capacity through the programs instituted under the PRG-PA WPS component. They have advanced opportunities for women’s engagements by providing capacity training and platforms for women to safely share their perspectives.
Women in CVE
CVE programs work to identify and address push and pull factors that make communities vulnerable to extremist recruitment and radicalization. These efforts incorporate a variety of means to increase community resilience, reduce marginalization, and improve inclusion, thus mitigating community vulnerability to radicalization. These programs focus on key populations vulnerable to radicalization such as at-risk youth. Additionally, women’s roles in promoting or mitigating violent extremism are being increasingly recognized. Despite the fact that women and girls in Niger face significant barriers to their engagement in CVE programs such as time, travel, and cultural barriers, evidence suggests that there are still several roles in which women’s contributions to CVE can be extremely valuable.
Women are well-positioned to contribute to community building and ultimately aid CVE efforts in the context of a variety of roles. Women’s roles within the home, for example, can often place them in a strategic position in which they are equipped to counteract radicalization processes. Women’s places in their communities and homes afford them access to networks of information that men do not have. As primary caregivers, women can instill resilience within their families and children to counteract pull factors of radicalization. Additionally, they are well-positioned to respond and intervene if young people in their homes are targets of radicalization. CVE programming can enhance this role for women by providing them with the necessary skills to develop resilience among their children and intervene if necessary. Programs should prioritize skill acquisition in the areas of communication, child development, parenting skills, and knowledge about the warning signs of radicalization.
Women can also contribute to CVE programs through community roles if given the opportunity. While women and girls in Niger are limited in many ways by traditional gender roles and a lack of agency, when given opportunities to participate effectively, they can impact CVE efforts through roles in their communities, civil society organizations, and political institutions. If institutions in society are including women’s voices, they will be better able to understand and respond to the diverse needs of communities. This will ultimately aid in building resiliency to radicalization and other issues, as less of the community is isolated and marginalized and the needs of the community can be better met.
In our research, we compared Counterpart’s WPS program in Niger to other programs in the Sahel region that prioritize the development of women’s roles in CVE. An analysis of programming developed within Nigeria and Mali – countries dealing with similar security challenges to Niger – provided insights into practices used by organizations to effectively utilize women’s abilities and roles in the areas of peacebuilding and security.
We reviewed WPS-related programs that took different approaches from Counterpart International’s PRG-PA program but worked to reach similar objectives. In Nigeria, Women without Borders (WwB) and their MotherSchools program implemented schools that brought women from the community together to develop leadership and communication skills. We also explored Creative Associates International’s Path to Resilience (PSR) program in Mali that conducted a large-scale assessment of conflict within various regions of Mali that provided a variety of insights into women’s perspectives on security and conflict in their communities.
Aspects of each program provides valuable learning CVE programming’s ability to engage women. A specific aspect of WwB’s program that stands out is the success of the MotherSchools in establishing a community of women who are united in their countering radicalization efforts. The MotherSchools created unique opportunities for women to support each other in their roles as mothers and to discuss shared experiences. The PSR project and their analytical work is also useful, as it could lend insights into women’s roles in the community to the situation in Niger as they are a close neighbor. The published report provides a wide scope as it assesses women’s perspectives from the lens of a variety of factors. This type of surveying can provide insight into women’s perspectives on conflict while also modeling effective tools to assess the current roles of women and how they view their own ability to engage.
These programs reveal that women in the Sahel region are able to intervene more effectively when provided with the necessary skills and knowledge. If well equipped, women are uniquely positioned to interrupt radicalization in their homes and communities, as seen in the success of the MotherSchools programs. Additionally, the PSR project’s survey showed how women perceive their roles and security within their communities. Understanding their perspective on community life and limitations allows for the enhancement of gendered services and responses which better address the safety and needs of the whole community.
Counterpart International has developed a variety of effective initiatives through their WPS component which supports women’s involvement in CVE efforts. Through an examination of best practices and other CVE programs facing similar security and gender challenges especially within countries in the Sahel region, it is clear that implementers have a number of avenues that can best enhance Nigerien women’s ability to reduce citizens’ vulnerability to extremism within their communities.