Speech: “Preventing violent extremism policies and efforts should be human rights-based and gender-sensitive”— Åsa Regnér

Remarks by Assistant-Secretary General and Deputy Director of UN Women, Åsa Regnér at the High Level Panel Discussion on Youth as Protagonists in Preventing Violent Extremism

Date: Thursday, June 28, 2018


Dear colleagues and friends,

Thank you for inviting me to this timely panel discussion.

Nearly three years ago, the Security Council adopted resolution 2250, a resolution that sparked momentum to create more inclusive peace and security efforts, including on preventing violent extremism and counter-terrorism.

The Youth Progress Study released earlier this year highlighted the persistent, negative stereotypes in the field of preventing violent extremism that frame young men as associated with violence and young women as “passive victims.”

These stereotypes do not reflect the reality.

Young people, including young women and young men, overwhelmingly choose to live peacefully even in most difficult situations. This must be acknowledged, and it must be met by a UN system that is ready to, in practice, provide real opportunities for diverse groups of young people. 

Although my remarks will focus on young women, in order to do this, we must understand the gender-specific impact of violent extremism and terrorism on young women and young men. We also need to understand the consequence of measures to counter-terrorism and prevention of violent extremism, on the rights and realities of young women. 

Furthermore, counter-terrorism and preventing violent extremism policies and efforts should be human rights based and gender-sensitive.

  • These laws and policies should address the security concerns, human rights, integrity and dignity of individuals—women and men of all ages, all backgrounds and abilities, as well as all communities.
  • We recognize that young people, specifically young women, are already doing work, to prevent and address root causes and drivers of violence in the first place, but we need to create enabling environments and safe spaces for them to continue to exercise agency.
  • For example, in South Sudan, young women are taking part in inter-generational dialogues through UN Women’s Under the Tree dialogue, where they are tackling issues related to peace and peacebuilding challenges, including issues like early marriage and others that effect women in conflict.

Therefore, understanding the gender considerations in preventing violent extremism is critical.

  • At UN Women, we see daily examples of the strength, creativity, compassion and resilience that young women exhibit in their communities to prevent violent extremism through their work in community organizations, schools and families to build peace, social cohesion and strong bonds that help keep societies connected.
  • But, sadly, young people are also supporters of violent extremist ideologies, actively recruiting others, sharing information and spreading violent extremist ideologies, traveling to join terrorist groups and even perpetrating terrorist acts themselves. And from ISIL to Boko Haram to Al Shabaab, there are examples of young women choosing to support these groups.
  • Our task is therefore to understand WHY these young women are choosing radical extremists, and work against the circumstances, such as inequality, lack of economic opportunities, exclusion, etc. which may be encouraging young women to join or support these groups.

UN Women’s contribution to the Youth Progress Study highlighted these dynamics and provided a diverse set of recommendations to policy actors and Member States.

UN Women integrates age-sensitive analysis into all of our Women, Peace and Security work, and particularly in relation to preventing violent extremism.

We are building real partnerships with young women and creating opportunities to elevate young women’s voices and support a pipeline of young women who are ready, willing and able to be advocates for themselves and their communities.

Roughly 408 million youth (from ages 15 – 29) live in areas affected by armed conflict or organized violence. And while we don’t know how many of them are young women, we know that violent extremists directly target their rights and opportunities and exploit harmful gender stereotypes and norms to advance their objectives.

We also know that too often, our efforts to prevent violent extremism leave young women on the margins.

  • For example, efforts to prevent radicalization in communities as well as de-radicalization and re-integration efforts tend to focus on young men.
  • Even though, young women are also at risk of being radicalized, very little is being done to understand their motivations and the gender dimensions that explain their decisions.
  • Even less is being done to de-radicalise and re-integrate young women, and to prevent stigma afterwards.

It is also important to understand why young women do not use arms.

This must end. If we are to deliver on our promises toward more inclusive efforts and to include young women and young men as partners for peace we must address these specific challenges.

If we are to meet the challenge set out in Agenda 2030 to leave no one behind, we must empower young women to overcome the practical realities of logistics, availability of resources, lack of power, lack of space to decide over their realities and visibility that are preventing them from taking center stage in our efforts.

I thank you