Kosovo Turns to Women to Help Fight Radicalization

Muslim women at a protest in Kosovo against a government ban on headscarves in public schools. (Photo: ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

In Kosovo, a new strategy that focuses on women is being tried to fight the radicalization of Muslim citizens.  According to police there, more than 300 Kosovars have radicalized and fled to Syria or Iraq to fight for ISIS – half of these Kosovars are women or children.  

Women in these Kosovar communities are, like women in many other Muslim communities and non-Muslim communities across the world, the center of their families.  Their influence is substantial over their children, and many times, their husbands as well.  Because of these women’s influence on their families and because many of the Kosovar men who radicalize and go to Syria or Iraq leave with their wives and children, counterterrorism experts in Kosovo are trying to take advantage of this central position of women.

Relevant to the discussion is the fact that women stand to lose much once their families are radicalized — it is not just nameless others who are risking their lives as jihadi fighters. These women will either become fighters themselves, be used to produce more jihadists or both.  

However, Kosovo’s targeting women in its de-radicalization initiatives is not without challenges.  Besa Ismaili, a professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, says the wives of radicalized men never attend lectures at her institution because, in their eyes, women like herself “are not good Muslimahs. We wear colors and mix with males.”

Ismaili says it is not possible to “see [the wives], know them, talk to them” since they seldom leave the house, and when they do, they are accompanied by their husbands.

Cut off from the rest of the world, the women are also trapped by ignorance, says Ismaili. Their husbands are their primary source of information, putting them in a “situation of complete darkness, brainwashing and lack of alternatives.”

Groups such as the Association of Women in Kosovo Police and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe have planned events for this year that will show women how they can help prevent violent extremism.  And the government plans to introduce a country-wide “referral mechanism” where those worried about individuals being radicalized can go to get help.  

According to Albert Berisha, a former member of a terrorist organization in Syria, and the creator of the Institution for Security, Integration and De-Radicalization, “We need to build a society in which women will never be slaves who agree with everything their men say.  The best investment against extremism and radicalization is investing in families and women.”