The recent disappearance of 3 young girls form London, who are thought to have travelled to Syria to join ISIL, has again raised the question as to why young women are leaving their families to join an organisation which exhibits such brutality.
A number of girls from the West have made similar journeys for varying reasons, including to fulfil their sense of adventure, for marriage and/or to foster their sense of identity. ISIL have been successful in providing these women with a clearly defined and influential role. In a manifesto released by Al-Khanssaa, which was recently translated by Charlie Winter of the Quilliam Foundation, the role of women under ISIL is narrowly defined for the “divine duty of motherhood”. Furthermore, women are seen to possess a “heavenly secret” of “stillness and stability”, and whose fundamental function is to be in the “house with her husband and children”.
It is evident that many of these women are drawn to the patriarchal society depicted by ISIL and in doing so reject western styled feminism. Many have argued that the style of feminism represented in western movies can appear threatening to men because it promotes promiscuity and leads to higher divorce rates. Therefore, this style of feminism appears incompatible with Islam.
However ironically, it is the feeling of empowerment which initially inspired many of these women to join ISIL where they are given a prominent, yet highly restrictive role. They are viewed as the “Director, the most important person in a media production”, yet their purpose is to breed and educate their offspring according to ISIL’s interpretation of Islam. However, it appears that many of these women are drawn to this oppressive lifestyle because of the level of influence, or apparent influence, which is bestowed upon them.
Many people, myself included, will view women’s role under ISIL as the antithesis of female empowerment. However, on social media, ISIL have proved adept at cultivating a sense of empowerment and sisterhood which is absent for many of these women in Britain. Therefore, it could be argued that ISIL are attempting to create their own brand of feminism, just as they have created their own brand of Islam.
In recent days it has emerged that women living under Islamic State are facing increased restrictions on their movement and dress. Women are forced to be accompanied by a man at all times and are forced to wear a double layered veil, gloves and a loose abaya (cloak). Failure to comply with these restrictions results in beatings and fines. By re-instating their control over the movement and dress of women, it is clear that ISIL are trying to ensure that they do not lose control over their female population.
It is evident that there is a stark difference from the type of female empowerment ISIL cultivate on social media, and the harsh reality women face living under Islamic State. It could be argued that ISIL never wanted us to find their manifesto as it was never translated into English by the group. Nevertheless many of our young women who leave to join Islamic State remain unaware of this bleak reality, and thus are in for a rude awakening.