The role of Indonesian women in deradicalisation initiatives

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The role of Indonesian women in deradicalisation initiativesJakarta (AsiaNews) - In recent times in Indonesia, the role played by women in terrorist groups has come to the fore: in October, an armed woman attempted to break into the presidential palace, while last year two women were involved in attacks on a cathedral and the national police headquarters in Jakarta. In 2017, three female citizens were arrested before they could carry out attacks. And these are just a few examples.

Yet according to experts, women also play a crucial role in preventing and responding to radicalisation. The South China Morning Post told the story of Nisfi Lailatin, who came into contact with some Muslim extremists as a teenager: 'It seemed like an exclusive group. I am introverted, so I felt it suited my personality,' Nisfi explained. "And I had no one to advise me against it."

Growing up in a normal family in Central Java, she acknowledges that she was 'brainwashed' at that time: she stopped studying, she no longer wanted to go to university, her only goal was to 'learn the Koran by heart' and attend a school in Situbondo, East Java, where she was told she could get a scholarship to go to study in the Middle East.

"They were mainly targeting women," she said. "They wanted to convince us to be their martyrs." Saving her from complete radicalisation was an uncle, who realised the change in his niece and picked her up from Islamic school and placed her in a deradicalisation programme.

A report published last year by the Soufan Centre highlighted that since 2015 more and more women have been arrested for terrorist actions in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. According to experts, the Islamic State has revamped its recruitment methods, increasingly involving the female component because it arouses less suspicion.

In the past, the role of women was linked to fund-raising, logistical support or was aimed at cementing alliances through strategic marriages. Many Indonesian women who were widowed by an Islamic State 'martyr' were taken in marriage by other foreign fighters, deepening international ties. With the rise of Isis, women began to take on operational roles and many were involved in recruiting other girls through social media.

Two years ago research revealed the Indonesian government's shortcomings in countering the threat posed by the radicalisation of women, due to the conservative concept of 'maharim', according to which a Muslim woman cannot interact with men outside her immediate family circle.

The fact that the security forces are predominantly composed of men has prevented interrogation, infiltration and surveillance actions.

But women have also played important deradicalisation roles, convincing sons and husbands to abandon the path of extremism.

One case is that of a former terrorist, Asep Jaja, sentenced to life imprisonment but convinced by his wife and mother to convert to a pacifist activist.

The UN Women agency together with the Wahid Foundation created 20 'peace villages' where women work to prevent violent extremism.

The programme aims to make women protagonists, aiming to prevent conflicts and religious intolerance.

The foundation mainly carries out training and literacy activities, which in 2021 were also praised and appreciated by Andhika Chrisnayudhanto, Delegate for International Cooperation of the National Anti-Terrorism and Terrorism Agency.