Expert Webinar Series
Women in Terrorism and Counterterrorism with Dr. Joana Cook
Public Safety Canada launched the 2020-21 National Security Expert Webinar Series in July 2020. The webinar series features experts from civil society and academia whose work discusses topics linked to bias sensitivity, diversity and identity (BSDI) considerations in national security. The webinar series seeks to expand on work currently being done by the Government of Canada to use gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) in the national security sphere to improve understanding of threats and our readiness to address those threats.
The inaugural event, “Women in Terrorism and Counterterrorism with Dr. Joana Cook,” took place on July 15, 2020. Dr. Cook is a prominent Canadian researcher whose work broadly focuses on women and gender in violent extremism, countering violent extremism, and counter-terrorism practices. The event featured a 45-minute presentation by Dr. Cook on women in terrorism and counterterrorism followed by a question and answer session. Dr. Cook was introduced by Senior Assistant Deputy Minister Dominic Rochon, who highlighted Dr. Cook’s experience speaking to international governments and security agencies, and her recent TedxTalk on women in security.
The webinar was an opportunity for the approximately 140 participants, including Government of Canada employees, representatives from provincial and international governments, academics and civil society members, to increase their understanding of women in terrorism and counterterrorism. This event and future events of the webinar series are part of Public Safety’s commitment to contribute to continued discussions between government and partners in this important and emerging area, and to maintain a network of experts to further discussions on BSDI considerations and implications in the national security sphere.
- There is a high level of interest among experts to engage in bias sensitivity, diversity and identity in national security topics;
- Understanding gender is crucial to understanding terrorism and implementing effective counterterrorism policies, strategies and operations;
- Gender is a social construct and should therefore be viewed in a wider context through an intersectional lens; and,
- Women play numerous roles related to terrorism and counterterrorism. These roles have been impacted, over time, by multiple factors.
Dr. Cook presented the research that helped inform her 2019 book A Woman's Place: US Counterterrorism Since 9/11. She argued that the roles of women in terrorism and counterterrorism are largely unrecognized and undocumented, which greatly impacts the ability of state actors to prevent, address and recover from terrorism. Dr. Cook outlined how the work of women as agents, partners and targets of counterterrorism can be broadly understood in seven categories: women are employed as security practitioners, work in conflict prevention, reconciliation and reconstruction; are activists for women’s rights, empowerment and equality; are members of public/local community; are active in the private domestic sphere; experience victimhood; and are terrorist actors.
Dr. Cook explained factors driving how women’s roles have evolved following 9/11, which are:
- the “discursive milieu,” which includes both the discourse surrounding the practices, (e.g. the Millennium Development Goals and United Nations resolutions), and national security strategies and strategies to combat terrorism;
- the “operational milieu,” such as the operational environment of Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen and the evolving objectives and actions and understanding of terrorist groups and their actions; and,
- the “agency milieu,” which includes the roles, workplace, operational requirements and interagency cooperation of the agencies themselves.
Dr. Cook applied her framework to understand the justifications used to include women in terrorism and counterterrorism efforts. She also analyzed the initiatives undertaken by the United States’ Departments of Defense, State and International Development through this lens. Among the initiatives were women-led teams, the development of a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, attempts to increase women’s health and education programming abroad and providing support for female victims of terrorism.
Dr. Cook also discussed contemporary terrorism and counterterrorism issues, including the status of foreign fighters and families affiliated with Daesh in Iraq and Syria. She also outlined some of the challenges regarding the limited investigation, prosecution and rehabilitation of women involved in counterterrorism. Dr. Cook highlighted the need to understand the nexus of gender in the far right, disengagement and exit programs, environmental security and technology.
To conclude, Dr. Cook emphasized the importance of ensuring that researchers, decision-makers and national security policy-makers and practitioners improve practices to increase women’s inclusion in counter-terrorism efforts, and that practitioners themselves better integrate gender considerations into their analyses to increase the efficiency of policies and practices.
Following the presentation, a question and answer session was moderated by Public Safety Canada. Participants asked questions around understanding identity factors, including the role of intersectionality, women from racialized communities, non-binary gender identities, socioeconomics, and intergenerational effects. Other questions included the importance of language in affecting how women in terrorism and counterterrorism are perceived, the role of gender is designing counter-radicalization programs, and the repatriation and prosecution of Canadian citizens and their families that have links with terrorist organizations.
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