Empowerment or Subjugation: An analysis of ISIL’s gendered messaging

In recent years, there has been greater recognition of the interplay of issues of gender equality and violent extremism (VE), and of peace and security more broadly. In December 2013, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2129 in which it affirmed ‘the intention to increase its attention to women, peace and security issues in all relevant thematic areas of work on its agenda, including in threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.’ In October 2014, and in response to the flow of foreign fighters to fight for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a statement by the President of the Security Council highlighted the need
to improve the quality of information and analysis on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls. In 2015 the Council adopted resolution 2242, explicitly recognizing the interlinkages between women, peace and security agenda and issues of preventing violent extremism. To bolster the knowledge base on this, this study analyses the ways in which ISIL sought to communicate its worldview to its readers, and the extent to which gender equality issues and roles were used as a recruitment tool and mechanism to maintain control. This study explores how ISIL, a group that explicitly espouses a worldview that promotes women’s subjugation and sexual slavery could appeal to and seemingly offer women tools of empowerment. It analyses the gendered messaging of ISIL through a systematic examination of the group’s Arabic (alNaba’),
English (Dabiq and Rumiyah) and French (Dar al-Islam and Rumiyah) magazines that were produced and posted online from their inception until February 2017, a period that covers ISIL’s governance during both its territorial ascent and descent. The analysis shows how the group integrated questions of gender and masculinity into its governance of both the public and private spheres.
Although by 2017 ISIL had lost its territorial base, the group continues to mount operations in and outside the Levant; and the threat that ISIL and other violent groups pose to the security of the international community remains potent. Therefore, the findings of the paper aim to inform and influence the debates surrounding prevention and alternative messaging strategies, as well as initiatives for a more efficient and effective response to these challenges.

Tags: Gender, ISIL, Recruitment, Violent extremism