Religious extremism is spreading throughout the Middle East and Muslim majority contexts, with profound consequences for social, regional, and global security. The response by many countries has been primarily militarized. There has been far less emphasis on the root causes and social effects of the broader phenomenon of rising religious extremism, especially in non-violent forms. One central feature of extremist movements is that they target women – not only violently, but using social, media and legal strategies to limit and eliminate civic, political, and economic participation.

We are pleased to announce the publication of our latest brief “Extremism as Mainstream: Implications for Women, Development & Security in the MENA/Asia Region.”  The brief explores the causes and drivers of extremist trends, highlighting the essential yet often overlooked implications for women and the efforts of civil society on the ground. It also provides recommendations on broadening understanding and developing more nuanced approaches to tackling this issue.  The brief is the result of a roundtable discussion of expert practitioners and scholars that we hosted this Fall near Boston, MA, in addition to consultations with our partners in the region, who are deeply concerned about the emerging trends.

Read the full PDF in English or بالعربية

Key Findings

  • Religious extremism is spreading into the mainstream throughout the Middle East and North Africa and in countries with significant Muslim populations.
  • Extremist movements offer values, economic support and services, and a sense of community that are attractive– especially to the young and disenfranchised – in the face of persistent socio-economic problems, corruption and poor governance in these countries.
  • Militarized and violent responses, including drone attacks, from outside actors foment greater support for these movements.
  • Recent political transitions, instability, and conflict in the MENA region have created power vacuums, and highly-organized extremist groups have utilized these openings to spread their messages, often with funding from states and wealthy individuals in the Persian Gulf region.
  • Women are directly and deliberately targeted by extremist movements in both subtle and overt ways.  Extremist forces are exerting strong pressure to restrict women’s legal rights and circumscribe women’s participation in civic and political life.  Women have also experienced more direct physical insecurity, sexual harassment, and assault in public settings.
  • Extremists are spreading their religious teaching and directives through powerful channels of communication such as television and social media, and religious schools.
  • In every country, women are mobilizing to counter the impacts of extremism.  Women’s organizations are directly engaging with communities, expanding awareness of religious tolerance and human rights, and advocating for gender equality.   Unfortunately, these efforts are rarely recognized or supported by national or international policymakers.
  • To mitigate the spread of extremism, governments and the international development community must focus attention and resources to addressing the underlying economic and social malaise, and recognize the inherent need for dignity and justice.

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