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One UN on Gender in Kenya

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In 2017, UN women Kenya with support from the government of Japan commissioned a study undertaken by the Institute of Security Studies on the role of women in preventing violent extremism in thee country. The findings of this study titled “Violent Extremism in Kenya: Why Women are a Priority” were presented on the 4th of October by UN Women.

The Brown Bag presentation was attended by a number of development partners, including representatives from the Embassy of Netherlands, France, Canada, Sweden and the USA, as well as civil society organisations including RUSI and Care International.

Ms. Irene Ndungu, one of the researchers, presented a summary of the field research, the aim of the research and research questions, the geographical focus of the research (namely Mombasa, Kwale, Lamu, Garissa, Nairobi, Kisumu and Busia), the limitations of the study, the findings of the research, and recommendations for different stakeholders in the peace and security context.

The key findings revolved around the direct and indirect/non-combative roles that women play in violent extremism, the drivers of radicalization and recruitment to support/join violent extremist groups (which include ideological, economic, social and political drivers), the impact of violent extremism on women and girls (which are psychological, economic and social), and outlined responses from the government, development partners, civil society, and women themselves.

Recommendations from the research findings for the Government of Kenya included the need to evaluate current P/CVE and CT strategies and policies to better understand the extent to which women’s issues are addressed, as well as their operational impact on women. UN Women has worked closely with the National Counter Terrorism Centre to undertake a gender analysis of the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism, and this effort has resulted in the production of a guidance note that contains concrete recommendations of ways in which gender can be mainstreamed in all efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism at the national level. Recommendations for civil society included the need to strengthen evidence-based approaches to programme design by designing programmes that are based on context-specific empirical research. UN Women Kenya has worked closely with civil society organisations including the Human Rights Agenda (HURIA), Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), Wajir Peace Development Agency (WPDA) and the Japan Centre for Conflict Prevention (JCCP) to implement programmes centred on the findings of the research, namely the provision of counselling services for women who have been affected by violent extremism, the sensitisation of women of the early warning signs of radicalisation and involvement in violent extremism, and the provision of economic interventions to allow women exposed to violent extremism to empower themselves, and build their resilience to the push and pull factors of violent extremism.

Recommendations for development partners as per the findings of the research include the need to strengthen the coordination of P/CVE activities in Kenya to ensure that a number of relevant, evidence-based programmes are supported, including specific programmes to address matters relating to women, families, children, young men and young women. UN Women Kenya remains committed to advocating for the assignment of funding specifically for gender-related P/CVE programmes, and providing technical expertise to both state and non-state actors in the design, implementation and monitoring of such programmes.

Ms. Ndungu concluded her presentation by calling on all stakeholders in the P/CVE field in Kenya to adopt a broader socio-economic approach to the problem of violent extremism, whilst seeking to ensure that efforts at the community level are context-driven, and to urgently prioritize women within the context of violent extremism in Kenya and widen the lens through which women’s connection(s) with violent extremism is perceived and responded to.

Key questions from the stakeholder’s present included:

  1. How do we keep up with the dynamic and evolving nature of violent extremism and terrorism given the amount of time it takes to undertake evidence-based research, disseminate the findings, and translate theory into practice?
  2. What are the current gaps that development partners can fill, specifically with reference to the role of women in violent extremism and the impact of violent extremism on women and girls?
  3. What is the role of technology and media in terms of recruitment patterns and counter narratives?

The Brown Bag concluded with an acknowledgement that the dynamism of violent extremism and terrorism remains a challenge in terms of developing and implementing responses founded in an evidence base. However, the same is critical in order to ensure that responses to violent extremism are targeted, efficient and effective. Development partners were encouraged to tap into their potential to influence national and county level efforts to mainstream gender in P/CVE and identify and respond to the gender specific needs of women, girls, boys and men. All stakeholders were encouraged to adopt a shift from an approach that seeks to counter violent extremist narratives towards offering alternative messages that speak to the specific vulnerabilities that are often exploited by violent extremists to radicalize and recruit women, men, girls and boys.

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