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Women Under ISIS Rule Examined by House Committee

On July 29, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing, “Women Under ISIS Rule: Brutality to Recruitment.”

Sasha Havlicek, founding CEO, Institute for Strategic Dialogue, explained that women should not be seen as victims but perpetrators of extremism: “The growing numbers of ISIS women are proving to be as much agents of that fundamentalist ideology as men – as propagandists, encouraging other women and shaming men into travelling to Syria; as inciters of violence, goading those who cannot get to the battleground to do as much damage as possible at home; as brutal, sometimes violent, enforcers of strict pre-modern Islamic penal codes (as in the case of the Al-Khansaa, all-female moral police in Raqqa); and as the mothers of the next generation of Jihadists.” Ms. Havlicek continued, “And while the numbers of female recruits to the so called ‘Caliphate’ outweigh the numbers of women migrating to other theatres of foreign conflict, women have been a focus within the jihadist context far before the emergence of ISIS…It is estimated that thousands of women worldwide have willingly travelled to ISIS territory in support of the ‘Caliphate’ and, while this has been occurring for a period of over a year and a half, insufficient attention has been paid to the trend and to the significance of female involvement. This phenomenon must be taken into account seriously as a key part of a fast evolving terrorist landscape.”

Kathleen Kuehnast, director, Gender and Peacebuilding Center for Governance, Law and Society, United States Institute of Peace, stated, “As ISIS captures land, resources, and people, it has borrowed a page out of the history of other wars where deploying sexual violence destroyed families, communities and the moral fiber of a society. For women and girls, the results of sexual violence, perpetrated individually or on a mass scale by ISIS, can include social exclusion, isolation, or even suicide. Or in the case of some Muslim societies like Iraq, murder by a family member in order to ‘preserve the family’s honor.’ There is no easy path to healing from rape and sexual violence. It is a long-term process and must be a part of the healing and reconciliation in post conflict situations.” Dr. Kuehnast noted that there is not adequate data to understand fully what is truly happening, but provided several policy recommendations to address these issues: “Recognize that children need food for their minds as well as food for their bodies; encourage greater attention to education in refugee camps as a step in that direction; develop age sensitive ‘exit’ ramps for children and youth who have been entangled in the web of ISIS’s control and brainwashing; develop, ideally, the very best trauma counseling and healing assistance possible for all the victims of sexual violence;…[and] lead a global effort to create the tools, resources, and experts to address the deep physical and mental trauma inflicted on a generation of young people.”

The following witnesses also testified during the hearing:

  • Ariel Ahram, assistant professor, Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs; and
  • Edward Watts, director and producer, “Escaping ISIS.”


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