As we read, watch or hear stories about women who have been affected by the horrific actions of Daesh, one is thing is clear: it’s not only men who are on the front line.
Unlike Al-Qaeda, which lured men to fight without their wives, girlfriends or children, Daesh is directly targeted women in a way never seen before.
Phrases such as ‘jihadi brides’ are now familiar. We hear the testimonies of women who have escaped the living hell of life under Daesh. The achievements of women like Nadia Murad, who was recently honoured for her work to give a voice to her Yazidi people, are recognised.
French journalist Matthieu Suc recently said: “ISIS [Daesh] has changed the nature of terrorism … the role women play is as strong as that of men.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean ‘equality’. Women are abused and sometimes murdered. Often used as human shields or simply as tools to cook, clean or mount attacks.
The American media organisation NPR this week ran an article with the headline, ‘Europe Wakes Up To Prospect Of Female Terrorists’.
French counter-terrorism experts recently suggested that the majority of women who are radicalised have one thing in common: they have all experienced trauma in their lives.
The recent story of 34-year-old Belgian women Laura Passoni is a clear example of how women are targeted. Her husband had recently left her. She was now a single parent, looking after a young son. In her own words, she had gone into “deep depression”.
Searching for meaning, for purpose, for support, she went online. There, she met a man who promised her a career as a nurse, caring for people in Syria. It must have been music to her ears.
But the man was a Daesh fighter, luring her to travel to Syria and into a living hell. She says she was isolated, frightened, abused. She witnessed horrific violence and murder that will stay with her for the rest of her life. Thankfully, she escaped and now lives back in Belgium.
But her story provides a warning that Daesh are constantly lurking on the internet looking for vulnerable individuals and women like Laura. Their troubled mental state can make it harder to see Daesh for what they really are. They are comforted by talking to strangers and are susceptible to being sucked in by false promises.
We must continue to look out for a friends and family members who have recently experienced trauma. If we provide a support network, it reduces the need for them to speak with people unknown to them online.
Women are on the front line. You are one of them. We can prevent radicalisation by recognising trauma and responding to it within our community.
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