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By Abby Fried, Program Associate at Equimundo

With the increased focus on counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE) in the past decade, policymakers have sought to better understand how to effectively engage different actors in fighting radicalization and recruitment to violent extremism. To date, however, few approaches seek to meaningfully understand how norms and identities related to manhood can both be drivers of such violence and unlock opportunities for its prevention.

Traditional approaches to CVE attempt to provide alternatives to joining extremist groups; however, they often fail to consider the gendered factors, such as a search for meaning in life or concepts of honor, that may drive men to join and support such groups. Research and interventions that do consider gender have primarily focused on the role of women in violent extremism. However, men and boys are disproportionately recruited by and join extremist groups, and they are more likely to carry out extremist violence.

Research from Equimundo and others across the globe finds that the strongest drivers of men’s violence against their female partners are gender-inequitable and violence-supportive attitudes, involvement in fights, and experiences of violence during childhood. Income-related stress is also found to be associated with men’s use of violence. These root causes of interpersonal violence also extend to men’s use of collective violence, including violent extremism.

Equimundo is partnering with Vital Voices, as part of the Voices Against Violence consortium, to deepen understanding of the intersections among gender inequality, harmful masculinities, violence-supportive attitudes and practices, and violent extremism – including exploring ways to work with young men around identity construction and trauma in order to prevent their recruitment into extremist violence. The project will produce a landmark paper and an advocacy brief focused on the connections between masculinities and violent extremism, with inputs from consultations with experts around the world.

In shifting the narrative to one of “preventing” violent extremism, there is a need to look deeper into the reasons why men join such groups, and to examine how their gendered identities constructed in day-to-day lives are manipulated for recruitment purposes. At the same time, it is important to remember that a small minority of men join violent extremist groups, to understand why most men do not join such groups, and to elevate these voices of peace.

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