Gender Equality Is a Powerful Weapon Against Radical Extremism

Outrageous.  Ten journalists and two policemen murdered in cold blood in Paris. As a career-long fighter for human rights and social justice, I am appalled that people were slaughtered in the interest of shutting down free expression.  As tragedy unfolded in Paris, I recalled the heartbreaking massacre only three weeks earlier of over 130 people, mostly children, by terrorists at a school in Peshawar. As the mother of an 11-year-old boy, I mourned the death of those children.

Stephanie Baric visiting with girls in a girls education project in India.

Stephanie Baric visiting with girls in a girls education project in India.

From Peshawar to Paris, these killings, and others like them over the past decade, are only the most acute aspect of radical extremism. But let us also remember the chronic, devastating impact of radical extremism on women’s daily lives as they limit girls’ access to education, curtail access to health care and services, and perpetrate acts of violence such as kidnapping, rape, murder, and other actions intended to politically and socio-economically marginalize women and prevent their participation in the public sphere.

Every day millions of women and girls worldwide suffer, as do their societies.  It is no coincidence that countries that score low on indices measuring gender equality also perform poorly on indices related to governance, gross domestic product, and security and stability.  Terrorism, radical extremism and gender inequality are inextricably linked.

I agree with Secretary Kerry:  the recent tragic events in Paris are not a confrontation of civilizations but rather an attack on the civilized world.  Such terrorist attacks point to the disconnect between certain barbaric beliefs and practices and the foundations of a civilized world that values democracy and individual freedoms. A civilized world where free speech and a free press are respected, where the rights of children to access an education and a safe and secure learning environment are upheld, a world where women’s rights are protected so they can live their lives as they choose, free from violence and intimidation.

When women assert their rights, they play a critical role in challenging radical extremism. That’s not to ignore the women who come out as “supporters” of violent extremist ideology or groups, or even as “operatives” in carrying out acts of terrorism.  But countering terrorist radicalization is a human rights issue and requires a holistic approach that includes empowering women.

We must stand up to the cowardly attacks of radical extremists. We must challenge their violent cause which is undemocratic, religiously intolerant, homophobic, and misogynistic.  We must join women and girls speaking out against radical extremism such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Malala.  Each one of us can champion democracy, pluralism, human rights and the rule of law.  Each one of us can provide a counter-narrative to radical extremism. #JeSuisCharlie, #IAmMalala, #JeSuisAyaan.  Add your voice!

-AHA Foundation Executive Director