What is the role of Palestinian women in fighting extremism in society?


Around the world, anti-extremism programmes now recognise the key role female leaders and activists play in fighting extremism in society. Within Muslim communities in particular there is large scope for women to effect change, and central among them is the opportunity to challenge extremist narratives at home by tackling tough topics of conversation with husbands, children and relations.

Here we consider the existing evidence and highlight how Zimam’s programming is already putting these findings into practice.

The Research

FATE (Families Against Terrorism and Extremism) is an umbrella organisation bringing together numerous counter-extremism civil society groups, in Europe and further afield. Their research reveals that the family can play a crucial role in decreasing the likelihood of radicalisation in four ways:

  1. Shaping their children’s attitudes from an early age by teaching them critical thinking skills and being good role models for them.

  2. Spotting any signs of behavioural change and intervening early in the radicalisation process.

  3. Countering extremist narratives and providing strong alternative narratives.

  4. Assisting the process of deradicalisation and reintegration.

Source: Still from one of FATE’s recent videos http://www.findfate.org/en/watch-share/

FATE’s recent reporting on families and extremism in the North African context (primarily Morocco) emphasises the key role mothers play:

‘Mothers are perceived as best placed to prevent Islamist extremist ideologies from reaching their children and penetrating family households, as they possess critical emotional abilities and are in daily contact with their children.’ — FATE Report on Extremism in North Africa, October 2016.

They found that for ‘primary prevention’ (fostering resilience to violent extremism and equipping young people with critical thinking skills) and for ‘targeted intervention’ (spotting signs of radicalisation and providing support to vulnerable individuals to prevent them from joining extremist networks) mothers are viewed as crucial to the process, even up to 20% more than fathers.

Other studies of the Palestinian context bear out these findings. Out of the 600 participants in RAND’s 2015 survey on Youth and Extremism in the West Bank, those who stated that their parents had a minimal impact on their major decisions were statistically more likely to take part in violent demonstrations. Therefore, policies aimed at countering violent extremism should focus on engaging parents — particularly mothers — as well as other family members.

What do families need to do this work?

FATE’s report showed overwhelmingly (51%) that what is required is knowledge enhancement: better understanding of radicalisation processes and extremism dynamics.

Source: FATE’s report on Countering Violence Extremism in North Africa

How are Zimam putting these insights into practice?

In June 2017, Zimam ran a workshop in the village of Arqa near Jenin in partnership with a local female cleric and representatives from the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments).

The workshop dealt with issues including the role of women in Islam, and in society, as well as tackling the issue of how to discuss tolerance and difficult issues with one’s children.

“Islam says we must renounce violence and any form of extremism”, said the Imam. “It is not difficult to follow the teachings of our prophet Mohammad. The images you see on social media of people killing in the name of Islam are misleading. Islam teaches us to love one another and respect other religions and cultures.”

This is a welcome step in providing mothers with the knowledge and tactics they need to be able to communicate effectively to family members.

In May, Zimam began a fantastic new collaboration with the Non-Violent Popular Movement’s West Ramallah chapter, organising private discussion groups for women recently released from Israeli prisons.

Session with Non-Violent Popular Movement

Discussion focused on the contribution women can make in society, even after incarceration, as well as covering the topic of challenging extremist narratives in the home. Attendees commented on how supportive they found it to have a private haven in which to raise their concerns and find a common message.

Zimam’s CEO Samer Makhlouf commented: “We believe that women play an extraordinarily important role in reducing radicalization. Women can detect early signs of radicalization through their experiences with their families and communities. This partnership with the Non-Violent Popular Movement came naturally to us.”

These are just some examples of Zimam’s expanding work with women’s groups in Palestine, a crucial group in the fight against violent and extremist narratives in Palestinian society.

Voices of Zimam