Press Release

19 November 2015

Following the first female jihadist suicide bombing in Europe, Quilliam’s new report,“Caliphettes: Women and the Appeal of Islamic State” looks exclusively at the role of women and the appeal of radicalisation.

As analysed in the report, Islamic State documents reveal that women are only able to partake in battle if they themselves are under attack. Although the propaganda aimed at men differs to that of women, the eventual strategic aims appear to be the same for both sexes; use all that you can to win the fight against the Kuffar (disbelievers). The female suicide bomber in Paris demonstrates that when it comes to required martyrdom, there is no difference between the sexes. There is a substantial amount of operational training, trust, and conditioning that would have been invested in the first female suicide bomber to be deployed by Islamic State. 

As the fight against the Islamic State continues, women may well be required to commit acts of war themselves. Contrary to conventional wisdom and media portrayal, female jihadists are not victims. Indeed the “jihadi bride” concept lacks nuance, rendering it unhelpful in understanding the phenomenon. This report considers the role of women in Islamic State propaganda, their active engagement with a female target audience, and how the otherwise negative perception of life for women in the Islamic State can be spun to incentivise women to join.

This report explains that the radicalisation process is not unique to men. Women can beare just as vulnerable to Islamic State propaganda and, as evidence in Caliphettes, are targeted by four principal narratives: empowerment, deliverance, participation and piety.

Contrary to conventional wisdom and media portrayal, female jihadists are not victims and the “jihadi bride” concept lacks nuance, rendering it unhelpful in understanding the phenomenon. This report considers the role of women in Islamic State propaganda, their active engagement with a female target audience, and how the otherwise negative perception of life for women in the Islamic State can be spun to incentivise women to join.

In the propaganda analysed, we see four promises by the Islamic State:

  1. They offer “Empowerment” as a positive call to action for women to participant in a non-combative way, be that through roles of a wife, mother or propagandist, for something they claim is divinely mandated.
  2. The promise of “Deliverance” builds on this by reinforcing the group’s patriarchal view of women, its religious justification, and its opposition to the freedom and equality women enjoy in the West.
  3. “Participation” is inherently linked to the utopian state-building vision Islamic State push through more than 50% of their messaging, as it claims it needs teachers, doctors and nurses of both sexes, and seeks to recruit for this purpose.
  4. Lastly, “Piety” addresses the group’s claims to divine credibility and, hence, the theological imperative for women to make hijra to join it.

Building on this deeper understanding of Islamic State propaganda, as well as a more broad understanding of Islamist ideology and narratives, Quilliam proposes the following evidence-based policy recommendations in regards to reduce the vulnerability of Islamic State’s female target audience in the United Kingdom:

  • Challenge non-violent Islamist extremist paradigms that see women as inferior to men, to ensure that the mood music for terrorism is comprehensively dismantled and replaced with democratic and human rights-based values;
  • Engage women in counter-extremism programmes through workshops and training to ensure they can help safeguard vulnerable women and girls. Empower women to play an important role in the civil society coalition against extremism of all kinds;
  • Develop coherent counter-narratives and alternative narratives based on an evidence-based understanding of Islamic State, and ensure that they are targeted to this particular audience, such as Quilliam’s latest video I Can Hold My Breath; and
  • Address and reduce the grievances of this female target audience through community engagement, clear communication of policy, and better reporting structures for anti-Muslim hatred and gender extremism such as controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse.

Minister of State at the Department for International Development Baroness Sandip Verma says:

“This is the first piece of work I have seen that comprehensively considers the impact of Islamic State propaganda and the appeal of its different narratives to young British Muslim women, and inspire them to terror.”

Caliphettes will be launched at an event in the House of Commons on 27 November at 2pm, hosted by Baroness Verma.

To attend, please RSVP by Wednesday 25th November to the following email address: [email protected].

The report can be accessed here. To discuss the report, give feedback, or ask Nikita questions which will be answered in next week’s #QuizQuilliam, please use the hashtag #Caliphettes.

Quilliam is available for comment by calling 02071827283 or by emailing[email protected].