Mapping Dynamics and Perceptions of Violent Extremism survey report

Executive Summary

To date, research on Violent Extremism (VE) has devoted less attention to the place and role of women in recruitment and radicalization. As a result, strategies and programs aimed at preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) have largely been skewed towards male recruits and the masculine settings. It is against this background that this survey was planned. The aim is to complement efforts by the Kenyan government and other relevant actors in promoting an all-inclusive understanding and better responses to VE. The survey focused on Muslim women and girls in the VE hot-spot areas of Mombasa, Kilifi, Lamu and Kwale at the coast; Mandera, Wajir and Garissa in north eastern; and Isiolo in eastern Kenya….

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The methodology used entailed a review of secondary documents published in various forms (media articles, books and reports, among others) and primary data collection techniques including; Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and Key Informant Interviews (KIIs). The assessment team used a structured interview guide to conduct interviews, but it was flexible enough to adapt questions to the context of the interviewee and/or when it was necessary to pursue more information. Data analysis was largely qualitative in nature. It involved thinking through the data collected with the aim of looking for meanings and discoveries about attitudes of Muslim women and girls towards extremist groups and VE in the regions surveyed.

This report presents detailed findings of the survey. In sum, the survey found out that women and girls in the coastal counties of Mombasa, Kilifi, Lamu and Kwale as well as those in north eastern such as Mandera, Wajir and Garissa and Isiolo in eastern, generally feel socially and economically excluded by the central government. They conveyed a sense of an existential threat to their community and inferring from this context, most explained that it is this sense of crisis and frustration that has led a number of them to participate in acts of VE. Their perceptions, therefore, towards extremist groups and VE in Kenya is that of victims of circumstances and manipulations and not the unruly, destructive, and dangerous forces needing containment.

From the survey, two categories of women and girls who are more vulnerable to joining or supporting VE groups emerged. First, those aged between 19-35 years, who are well educated, articulate and exposed. This lot often joins VE groups for reasons other than poverty. They do so because of the necessity to define themselves (gain status/recognition or for the alleged thrill).These women and girls are from middle and upper class families where poverty is not an issue. Some from this lot also join VE groups to avenge for the torture, sufferings or death of their relatives (especially their male counterparts).

The other lot is that of women and girls aged between 16-35 years who are not highly educated. These are often rebellious and disrespectful to authorities including their parents or neighbors. Majority in this group join VE groups out of structural problems such as unemployment and their aim is to escape from boredom and a gain a sense of belonging. However, the point of departure for the two categories is the ‘religiously radicalized’ environment they often find themselves.

The survey found an interconnectedness between some of the push and pull factors of VE. There was cross-cutting influences where one factor influences others, that in turn strengthen and catalyze the circumstances that lead to recruitment and radicalization into various forms of VE. For instance, feelings of alienation and inequality often feed into identity conflicts (of Muslims versus Christians) which in turn reinforce positive images of VE groups and support for VE ideology.

The survey suggests two working themes as a basis to the question of women’s involvement in VE. The first theme entails negotiating “Uislamu and Ukenya” or the contrasting ideas of citizenship, identity and belonging in the geographic areas surveyed. This should be in the context of Kenya’s historical trajectory going as far back as independence. The second theme involves negotiating the question of “self-image and belonging” among Muslim women and girls.

Broadly, there are similarities between women and men in terms of their perceptions and motivations to join VE groups but there are important reasons to consider a gendered approach when responding to VE. Indeed, there are clear gender identity issues around VE including gender-specific motivations and recruitment into VE. This then, makes it pertinent to involve women and girls in VE prevention efforts and in CVE.

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