Women Are the Best Weapon in the War Against Terror

Foreign Policy

If there has been one common thread shared by the extremist movements that have captured the world's attention in the last year, from northern Nigeria to northern Iraq, Syria to Somalia, and Myanmar to Pakistan, it is this: In each and every instance, the advance of extremist groups has been coupled with vicious attacks on women and girls' rights. Yazidis who have escaped from the Islamic State have told harrowing stories of women and girls being traded among fighters, forcibly "married," forced to convert, and repeatedly raped. These horrific mass violations are mirrored in the accounts of Nigerian girls who fled from Boko Haram, in the tales of Somali women liberated from the rule of al-Shabab, and in descriptions of life under the Islamist group Ansar al-Din in northern Mali.

The name and location may change, but the common agenda and first order of business for these extremist groups is almost invariably to place limits on women's access to education and health services, restricting their participation in economic and political life, and enforcing the restrictions through terrifying violence. These violations are the extreme end of a global wave of fundamentalist conservatism, but it is an agenda shared by extremists of all religions, whose efforts seem invariably to focus on the suppression of women's autonomy and a return to delineated, outdated gender roles.

While extremists place the subordination of women at the forefront of their agenda, however...