Terrorism and the violent extremism amplified by the volatile security environment, modern-day technology and globalization processes have become a genuine threat on the global level. The ability of the terrorist groups to adapt and to adjust their tactics to the new security environment capitalizing on the local issues (such as poverty and inequality) have contributed to the development of a compelling narrative that assists in the process of radicalization and recruitment of many adherents and followers. The Region of the Western Balkans is not immune to these trends and numerous indicators attest to this claim.
The reports about numerous individuals who have joined foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq from the WB region are alarming indicators.1unmapped: fn unmapped: label 1 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-bosnia-idUSKCN0YZ1VC http://stratpol.sk/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Metodieva_Returnees_Western_Balkans_Stratpol_FINAL.pdf https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/2017-eu-terrorism-report-142-failed-foiled-and-completed-attacks-1002-arrests-and-142-victims-died
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-bosnia-idUSKCN0YZ1VCAccording to some estimates, a significant number of individuals taking part in the battlefields in Iraq and Syria varies between countries.2unmapped: fn unmapped: label 2
http://stratpol.sk/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Metodieva_Returnees_Western_Balkans_Stratpol_FINAL.pdfDifferent reports suggest that approximately more than 800 fighters from the Western Balkans have left their domicile countries to take part in foreign battlefields.3unmapped: fn unmapped: label 3
https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/2017-eu-terrorism-report-142-failed-foiled-and-completed-attacks-1002-arrests-and-142-victims-diedThe ‘foreign fighter’ phenomenon is further amplified by the returnee threat and estimates that these individuals may commit terrorist acts when they come back.
Against this backdrop, the gender component has been recognized as an important aspect of the efforts of countering and preventing such practices. Albeit dominant misconceptions of passive and subordinate roles of women (which are often viewed as victims), the reality is quite different. The role of women (in both negative and positive terms) can be diverse.
On the one hand, women can be active facilitators of terrorist activities (either compelled or on voluntary bases) whose contribution can range from indirect support (through planning, facilitating, or abetting the terrorist activities) to a direct role as perpetrators of terrorist violence. The active involvement of more women in terrorist groups and activities is on the rise. The Region of the Western Balkan is no exception to these trends. Several reports suggest that numerous women from the Western Balkan Region have joined extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, predominantly from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.4unmapped: fn unmapped: label 4 Atlantic Initiative, “The Lure of The Syrian War: The Foreign Fighters’ Bosnian Contingent”, available at https://wb-iisg.com/docs/the-lure-of-the-syrian-war-the-foreign-fighters-bosnian-contingent/ (p.26); https://wb-iisg.com/wp-content/uploads/bp-attachments/4793/Eric-Mietz_BCSP_What-about-the-Women.pdf
Atlantic Initiative, “The Lure of The Syrian War: The Foreign Fighters’ Bosnian Contingent”, available at https://wb-iisg.com/docs/the-lure-of-the-syrian-war-the-foreign-fighters-bosnian-contingent/ (p.26); https://wb-iisg.com/wp-content/uploads/bp-attachments/4793/Eric-Mietz_BCSP_What-about-the-Women.pdfIn addition, the deeply rooted stereotypes, open or tacit prejudices and stigma which are common in the Western Balkans (especially in the rural and underdeveloped regions) have contributed to the sidelined role of women in many aspects of society. Given that the phenomenon of terrorism easily preys on marginalized and disenfranchised individuals, the socio-economic pressures and the political grievances which are rife in the Western Balkans make the women easily susceptible to the threats of radicalization. In this regard, efforts should be undertaken to deter women from joining extremist groups and to address the factors that drive women toward extremism.
On the other hand, women can play a significant role in prevention efforts (i.e. detecting early signs of radicalization, discrediting extremist narratives, assisting or leading the process of delivering and implementing counter-radicalization programs and strategies), or notable roles in counter-terrorism (CT) activities as part of the defense and security systems of their countries. The role and participation of women in the processes of CT and countering violent extremism (CVE) are often overlooked and not completely understood in the Western Balkans. Women are perceived as less affected by the threats of terrorism and radicalization than men. Conversely, women should be considered as key and vital stakeholders and valuable assets in the process of countering terrorism and violent extremism. Mainstreaming the gender component in CT and CVE processes, and more broadly in defense and security domains, not only enhances the democratic values but also contributes to more effective CT and CVE policies and programs. As it was noted by the Institute for Security Studies “the exclusion of women from the formulation and implementation of “preventing violent extremism” (PVE) and “countering terrorism” (CT) measures undermines the success and sustainability of such efforts and threatens to undercut their democratic gains.”5unmapped: fn unmapped: label 5 https://community-democracies.org/app/uploads/2018/06/aitwr-5-1.pdf
Thus, larger efforts are needed in order to promote the gender-related issues in the region of the Western Balkans, to increase understanding about the valuable role of women in enhancing the CT and CVE efforts and to contribute to wider and more substantial responsibilities of women in these processes. In this regard, strengthening cooperation and creating partnerships between NATO and partner countries is crucial for advancements in this area.
The Region of the Western Balkans (WB) is particularly affected and is becoming the perfect setting for recruitment and spreading of propaganda. The rise of women’s participation in terrorist activities worldwide is the rising trend in the WB as well, along with the existing challenges and traditional perceptions and stereotypical images on women accompanied by the lack of socio-economic empowerment, financial stability and property ownership by women in WB. As terrorism has on numerous occasions been acknowledged as serious peril that can significantly affect the stability and prosperity of the States, it has become an important component of NATO’s cooperation efforts and struggles to counter these challenges. In this context, stability in the WB region where some countries are NATO members and others are part of Partnership for Peace (PfP) willing to become NATO members is crucial to NATO’s efforts to effectively fight terrorism threats. The gender component has been on numerous occasions acknowledged as an important aspect of CT and CVE efforts by NATO and its allies. Reorganizing and redefining the security system in modern terms in order to include the gender issue in national security policies is necessary for better and more effective CT and CVE measures and more sensitive and inclusive policies. This necessity derives from the different needs of men and women as ‘equal’ individuals guaranteed by the instruments for the protection of human rights and the instruments directed at the elimination of discrimination adopted on a national and international level. Mainstreaming the gender perspectives in the security and defense realm is also affirmed by several United Nations resolutions and within NATO’s Women, Peace and Security agenda which regularly advocate for equal participation of women at all levels ranging from peace-building to prevention of gender-based violence. Efforts to address these issues are highly relevant in the context of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR)1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security which advocates for greater involvement of women in all aspects of peace and security and UNSCR 2242 (2015) which recognizes the important role of women in counter-terrorism and countering-violent extremism and urges States “to ensure the participation and leadership of women and women’s organizations in developing strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism which can be conducive to terrorism”. Such endeavors also comply with NATO’s Women, Peace and Security Agenda which promotes full and equal participation of women and inclusion of gender dimension within NATO’s core tasks, as well as with NATO’s efforts for more inclusive security.
In this line, Cyber security, Corporate security and Crisis management Initiative (C3I), from North Macedonia partnered with the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina and organized a 6-day Advanced Training Course (ATC) event entitled “Gender Mainstreaming in Counter-terrorism Efforts in Western Balkans”. This event was supported by NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme. The ATC event aimed to raise awareness of the role of women in the security and defense sector in general and particularly about their role in tackling the radicalization and violent extremism in the Western Balkans. It stirred collaborative efforts and joint actions between NATO and partner countries on gender-related issues by stimulating discussions, expert-level deliberations and sharing lessons learned between NATO and Partner countries. It sought to enhance the role of women in the CT and CVE processes, but also to improve their position in the security and in the defense sector in the Western Balkans by synthesizing and integrating ideas and information on gender and CT/CVE, sharing good practices and expertise and facilitating the cooperation between NATO and partner countries. The ATC event was focused on several critical components: 1) to generate knowledge and increase understanding of the importance of gender-related issues and the role of gender in enhancing security; 2) to define, discuss and address the local factors conducive to women’s radicalization in WB; 3) to promote women’s leadership and participation in CT and CVE policies and programs; 4) to support NATO CT efforts through a more inclusive approach to security in the Western Balkans; 5) to instigate the development of gender-relevant policies and strategies for more effective CT and CVE measures; 6) to synthesize lessons learned on the ways and models of incorporating gender perspectives in CT and CVE efforts; and 7) to prompt cross-sectoral learning between participants and sharing experiences and best practices for more substantial inclusion of women in CT and CVE efforts, and more broadly in defense systems of their countries.
This book highlights these critical components and provides unique insights contributing to the academic debates on gender mainstreaming in P/CVE and CT efforts. It elaborates on several topics including on the legal and political framework of gender mainstreaming; the role of technology; the drivers, motivations and roles of women in the radicalization processes and the extremist groups; the nexus between counter-terrorism and gender; the gender-sensitive approaches to P/CVE and CT; gendered perspectives from the frontline; the prospects of women’s leadership roles in the community-based approaches; and the challenges on the implementation of the UNSCR 1325 in the Western Balkans.
Much appreciation and gratitude are extended to Prof. Dr. Vedada Barakovic, Associate Professor at University of Tuzla, BiH, for her immense contribution as Co-Director of the Advanced Training Course (ATC) event.
Special thanks to Dr. Goce Stevanoski and Dr. Dimitar Bogatinov, both from Military Academy “General Mihailo Apostolski”-Skopje, associated member of the University “Goce Delcev-Shtip” which assistance and hard work during the implementation process are highly appreciated.
This volume and the event could not have been realized without the support of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Program. We express our immense gratitude to its staff and their support during the whole process.
We are also very much grateful to all the speakers, experts and scholars who provided their contribution and made this effort possible.