Women who return home after joining terrorist groups are at risk of re-radicalisation because they are treated too leniently, a new United Nations report warns.
Seen as passive onlookers to terrorism, the popular image of the coerced ‘jihadi bride’ leads authorities to treat them less harshly, according to the report released this week by the United Nation’s Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED).
Sentences handed down to men and women charged with terrorist offences shows relative leniency towards females, according to the report’s findings.
“Women… tend to receive more limited rehabilitation and reintegration support, thus putting them at potentially greater risk of recidivism and re-radicalization and potentially undermining their successful reintegration into society,” CTED warns.
Despite the majority of women linked to terrorist groups not joining front-line fighting, researchers warn they often play a major role in spreading ideology and encouraging attacks.
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Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) is known to give women a leading role in recruitment and propaganda, while up to 20 per cent of their Western recruits are female.
"Portraying women simply as ‘jihadi brides’ with limited agency is problematic," Michèle Coninsx, executive director of CTED told The Daily Telegraph.
"Women play multiple roles in terrorist groups, including as radicalisers or recruiters who help to spread radical ideas and incite others to carry out attacks, often online."
Increasing attention to acts of support as well as physical attacks has resulted in an uptick in convictions against women in recent years.
In 2015, 18 per cent of all people arrested on terror charges were women, which increased to 25 per cent in 2016, according to a recent report from Europol.
Even where convictions are successful, however, most de-radicalisation programmes have been designed with men in mind so they aren’t suitable for female returnees.
De-radicalisation strategies based on small samples of women linked to different terrorist groups won’t tackle the problem of female Isil returnees, warns Azadeh Moaveni, a gender analyst at the International Crisis Group.
"We must have rehabilitation programmes designed based on where they came from," she says. "Being very local and context specific is crucial."