How is a girl qualified as beautiful

Radicalization Prevention Information Service

Gender perspective on role relationships, recruitment and motives for turning

Salafism is one thing above all in the public consciousness: male. Only recently has practice and research been focusing on the role of girls and women in the scene. This article advocates incorporating the findings of women and gender studies more than before.

Muslim women at the rally "1st Islamic Peace Congress" of the Salafist movement led by the preacher Pierre Vogel. (& copy picture-alliance, imageBROKER)

Even two years after it was banned, images of the distribution of the Koran in German city centers, and with them their male actors, continue to shape the public perception of "Salafism". As in the case of right-wing extremism, the scene remains a very masculine phenomenon in the public consciousness.
Women in both scenes have always played central roles in recruiting and passing on the ideology, which are crucial for creating and retaining the scene.

This article advocates a more gender-sensitive perspective and first gives an insight into gender relations, male and female role understandings and activities of women in and for the scene.
The second part is devoted to motives for turning young women into turning them into recommendations for gender-sensitive prevention. This includes an examination of gender dynamics as a whole. Not only women have a gender - role models and ideas of masculinity and femininity also have an effect on boys and young men in the scene. Gender research offers many starting points here that should be made more useful in research and practice.

Gender relations in Salafism

Salafist milieus practice extensive gender segregation in everyday life. By the onset of puberty at the latest, the living environments of boys and girls differ considerably and mostly take place separately from one another. Premarital and extramarital relationships are prohibited. In order to prevent them, according to the doctrine, contact between men and women outside the nuclear family is not allowed without a supervisor (although this is implemented with different degrees of strictness depending on the family and environment). Because contact between non-relatives of different sexes, so the reasoning of many Salafist actors, always harbors the danger of "fornication" (zinā). Clothing requirements for men and women are also derived from this; they are supposed to protect from the eyes of the opposite sex. A frequent consequence of such a strictly practiced gender segregation are arranged marriages, either by the environment, the family or specialized dating sites - with corresponding risks for those involved.

In relation to one another, women and men are regarded by the majority of Salafist milieus as being of equal value and religiously equal. Equal rights, understood as equal legal treatment and free and equal access to social roles, is not associated with this. Due to assumed biological differences, women and men are assigned different roles that are understood as being willed by God and unchangeable. Men are responsible for the financial support of the family, their well-being and protection. They are granted an active role in public and thus more freedom of movement. The role of women, on the other hand, concentrates on the domestic sphere; they are responsible for bringing up the children, the household and the support of the husband and have to bow to his will (unless they thereby violate religious commandments). In this context, some Salafist actors also religiously legitimize physical violence against their partner.


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Ultimately, it is a classic patriarchal distribution of roles that is also known from other contexts. Comparable regulations were also in force in Germany until the late 1970s. [1] The negative consequences are well known: Rigid gender roles and working in the home limit freedom of movement and choice, especially for girls and women, and hinder them in their free development. Financial dependence on the spouse also creates a significant risk of poverty and violence for women. Even in Salafist families, in which violence against the wife is not religiously legitimized, the risk of intimate partner violence increases considerably due to the framework conditions alone. Women's and gender studies have produced extensive literature on these relationships for different temporal and spatial contexts. [2] Despite the restrictions that these gender relations entail, women have always been involved in Salafist scenes - they decide (more or less reflected) to accept this restrictive role. To see them only as passive victims is not enough. Women also act as ideologically convinced people, represent extremist positions, are perpetrators - and should be seen as such. Without forgetting that once a woman has decided on a restrictive gender order, it is much more difficult for her to turn back because of the rights given. Perpetrator or victim? - These categories can merge seamlessly, especially with women.

Roles of women in Salafist scenes

Similar to right-wing extremism, the importance of women has long been underestimated. On the one hand, this is due to their actually lower visibility. Due to the practice of gender segregation, they are less likely to take part in high-profile actions or acts of violence. Added to this, however, is the stereotypical perception of women as fundamentally less aggressive, which structurally obscures the view of female perpetrators. Terms such as "jihad brides", which was sometimes used inflationarily, contribute precisely to underestimating female complicity by making women linguistically objects and passive appendages. A misjudgment that is actually well known from the context of right-wing extremism. Women and gender studies, in particular the concept of "complicity" developed by Christina Thürmer-Rohr in 1983, can be instructive here. [3] There it says:

"Complicity is based on the thesis that women in patriarchal culture develop tools and allow themselves to be made into tools with which they can support the system and become an indispensable part of it (...). Women are not only oppressed, abused and integrated damaging system, but also get involved on their own, gain privileges, earn questionable recognition and benefit from their roles, provided that they fulfill them. "
(Thürmer-Rohr 2010: 90f.).

Women also play important roles in Salafism:
  • In low-threshold relationship work: For example, you act as actors in semi-public spaces such as schools, daycare centers and mosques. The focus here is on women appearing less suspicious and thus being able to initiate more subtle recruiting and recruiting processes. This strategy is known from right-wing extremism, where mothers in particular work in daycare centers to bring about changes in terms of their ideology or to influence other parents.
  • In raising children: Also in parallel with right-wing extremism, women also have a high level of scene-stabilization in Salafism - among other things because they educate the following generations ideologically. [4] Even in the purely domestic sphere, women so actively contribute to the continuation of the ideology; can be perpetrators in a family context and exercise violence against their own children, for example.
  • In recruiting and missionary work: women are active in imparting religious teaching content and support Salafist aid organizations in collecting and managing donations.

Gender-specific speeches

In addition to the above, women have always been very active in online recruiting. Due to the warlike and territorial losses of the terrorist organization "Islamic State", contents that idealize life in the controlled areas in Syria and Iraq are of diminishing importance. Women were active here who reported on their emigration and life in the "caliphate" in blogs, social media or messenger services. Everyday life in the war zones was sometimes described very positively in order to motivate other young women who were ready to leave.

More subtle online addresses in social media are of greater importance today, whose extremist background (not only for young girls) is not always directly recognizable: Easily divisible media content such as images with religious quotes or "poetry sayings". Happily in pink and purple, they take up everyday issues of adolescence such as friendship, family, relationships and sexuality. [5] Questions about body images also play a noticeably large role - always with the same resolution: Inner values ​​count.

From a primary preventive perspective, this reference to the world of life poses a greater risk than openly jihadist content. The latter only ever reach a small minority. The message "You are beautiful as you are", on the other hand, potentially reaches every girl who has already watched Germany's Next Top Model. In fact, more than every second 15-year-old (and normal weight) girl in Germany feels too fat, according to an international comparative study by the World Health Organization (WHO). [6] Girls have a significantly more negative body image than boys, are also increasingly dissatisfied with increasing age (with boys this levels off in middle adolescence) and practice diets earlier, more frequently and with greater intensity. Salafist narratives hit a special nerve here with young women and reflect existing social disparities.

Once such content has been shared or liked, it permeates the digital everyday communication of young girls and leads to further confrontation with similar or content-widening offers (keyword: filter bubble). Political content that leads to contact with the scene is interspersed by the operators. These are mainly reports from war and crisis areas; Donations are often advertised here with pictures of children and civilian dead, which then lead to contact with Salafist aid organizations. Sometimes the operators of such sites also get in direct contact with the young women who have liked or shared such pictures. Sudden great attention and affection, an open ear and a quickly established basis of trust in the first contact - a mechanism known from the area of ​​so-called sects and known as "love bombing" - can address vulnerable young girls and use them in more private communication spaces such as e-mail, Pull phone, telegram or face-to-face meeting.

Turning motives of girls

Why do girls join Salafist groups? No question is asked so regularly or discussed so passionately in training courses with educational specialists. Why do they go (more or less voluntarily and reflective) into a scene that restricts their freedom of choice and freedom of movement? The question is moving. And leaves many at a loss.

From practice it can be said that the motives of girls and women are just as diverse as those of the male radicalized; Reducing them to the desire to marry ("jihad brides") does not do justice to the complexity of the matter. In both cases, the search for religious knowledge, supposed truth and value orientation can lead to the scene. The desire for support, community and affection can play a role as well as youth search movements or issues such as identity, discrimination and justice.

The protests typical of young people can mix with the desire for a mission and self-efficacy. The topic of gender can be equally interesting for girls and boys. Because the Salafist gender order offers both orientation in a society in which gender roles are becoming increasingly blurred. Young men find clear role models here: a more power and authority-oriented masculinity in jihadism as well as a masculinity that is more focused on a sense of duty, piety and (patriarchal) responsibility in large parts of the Salafist milieu. In the case of young women, practice is based on several factors that can encourage a turn to Salafist content. Further research is absolutely necessary here in terms of knowledge-based prevention [7].

Argument "fairness"
On the one hand, Salafism can be understood as an offer of emancipation - especially by girls who grow up in very strict parental homes and experience injustice in their upbringing. If they always have different rules than their brothers, the strict rules in Salafism can be attractive. Because these apply equally to everyone.

Argument "double burden"
For others, the scene can be a retreat from role conflicts. Here they can escape the many, sometimes contradicting, demands that society places on young women. In the classics of women's and gender studies, this is described as the "double socialization" of women between private and gainful employment. [8] A young Salafist put it this way in an interview:

"And I also say, if these ... these women ... emancipation, they have the salad now. They still have to ... now they can work, but still have to have children and look pretty. And cook the best. Yes ... Thank you , for your emancipation! […] Because how much should we burden ourselves? […] And today it is said that way, so contemptuously: "Oh, she's a housewife! Yes ... "I think it's such a venerable task. This is the society you raise." [9]

Salafism resolves this role conflict in favor of a traditional image of women and combines this with an explicit and ubiquitous propaganda appreciation of this role. Such an argument, however, is neither new nor exclusive to Salafism.

Argument "participation"
For some young women it can play a role that promises of emancipation are not kept or only apply to them to a limited extent - especially if they are wearing a headscarf. Numerous studies confirm such discrimination mechanisms in the education sector and on the labor market: the fictitious applicant Sandra Bauer is invited to an interview in 19 percent of the cases, the headscarf-wearing applicant Meryem Öztürk with an identical application only in four percent of the cases. The difference between the two continues to increase with increasing qualifications, status and salary. [10]

The particular discrimination against Muslim women in the labor market is also described in the Hamburg OSI study from 2010. Around 200 Muslim and non-Muslim people were asked about their experiences of discrimination. Muslim women reported most cases of discrimination based on origin, religion and gender - and often in combination. In women's and gender research, one speaks in this context of intersectionality, i.e. the interlinking of different forms of discrimination. [11] These not only add up but also lead to completely independent experiences of discrimination - here by Muslim women. Making your experiences more heard is urgently needed (not only in the context of preventing radicalization).

In summary, it can be said that there are numerous reasons for young men and women to turn to Salafist content and groups. It is always individual and multifactorial. Gender dynamics can be a building block. In both cases, there is a considerable restriction of the options that are chosen by the user in this case. For girls and women, this is ultimately more comprehensive. But breaking out of the given gender roles is not intended for young men either. Their masculinity always goes hand in hand with the imperative to devalue other masculinity and especially homosexuality. Here again, masculinity research within gender studies can provide interesting insights. [12]

Conclusion: Recommendations for action for gender-sensitive prevention

It is undisputed that there is still a great need for research on the subject of women in Salafism.Radicalization research can further support prevention practice, particularly with regard to the specific motives of girls and women in turning to Salafist scenes. The current state of knowledge about women in right-wing extremist or ethnic scenes as well as findings from the field of so-called "sects" should be used. There is decades of experience, research and expertise here, which can be transferred in many points. [13] It is also worth taking a look at women's and gender studies. In recent years, it has been under attack from right-wing populists in particular and was banned by decree in Hungary in October 2018, this branch of social science research, with its cross-sectional competence, can contribute a lot to the understanding of gender structures in Salafism.

However, some recommendations for action can already be derived from previous knowledge for the development of prevention concepts or projects:

1. Strengthening emancipatory and inclusive work with girls and boys
Open child and youth work in general plays a major role in dealing with radicalization tendencies. [14] Many motives, such as the desire for community and self-efficacy, support and orientation, can be met by appropriately organized and financed youth work. Offers for girls and boys in particular are again of particular importance if they have an emancipatory and inclusive effect. Emancipatorybecause they promote independence, strengthen self-esteem, question gender roles, make other understandings of roles visible and selectable - especially for girls who lack this diversity at home. Inclusivebecause this must not result in an overwhelming conflict of loyalty. Girls should not be made to feel that they have to make a choice in order to participate in such offers.

In feminist work with girls, for example, there must be no "with-a-headscarf-you-can-but-not-participate". Otherwise, this is exactly where the experiences of discrimination arise that often keep these girls away from regular offers. The Berlin project i-Päd, the specialist unit Gender and Diversity NRW as well as correspondingly oriented local women's meeting places offer suggestions for an intersectional pedagogy.

Girls' work can not only have a primary preventive effect. Even girls who, for example, grow up in Salafist parental homes and are often not (or allowed to) participate in mixed-sex programs, offer such an offer the chance to get to know and try out alternatives.

Gender-segregated offers (possibly combined with educational offers such as homework supervision) open up at least the opportunity to gain the trust of Salafist parents and / or to motivate them to use educational assistance (HZE) according to Book VIII of the Social Code - in cases where one is in the good of the Child or adolescent's appropriate education is not guaranteed. In contrast to right-wing extremism, where girls or their environment tend to reject gender-specific offers. In the interests of the child, it is also crucial here not to openly confront the parents or build up a decision-making dilemma. A constant alternative offer for the child is important. [15]

2. Make female Muslim role models visible and strengthen opportunities for participation
Diversity is the best means against the narrow worldview of Salafism - in schools, in youth facilities, in public, in working life. With and without a headscarf, strictly practicing or not practicing; different female lifestyles and opinions must be visible to girls. These role models are still far too few in many areas of social life. Why this is so and what the opportunities for Muslim women to participate in reality must be asked honestly by anyone who wants to work on a primary preventive basis. [16]

3. Expand opportunities for parental work - especially with fathers
In the event of radicalization, parents very often contact the counseling centers - mostly mothers. Strengthening their role and educating them about the course of radicalization can help to organize help earlier. Some projects are already active in this area, educating, sensitizing and strengthening committed women and mothers, for example in religious communities. [17] The offer can be expanded. A stronger involvement of fathers would also make sense. The biographies of young people who have emigrated or who have appeared otherwise militant suggest that a missing or dysfunctional relationship with the father plays a role as a push factor for radicalization.

It is also worth taking a special look at the phenomenon of intimate partner violence or violence against the mother. If children witness domestic violence, this has far-reaching consequences for their personal development and their gender-related self-worth. [18] Children perceive (in the vast majority of cases of intimate partner violence) the father as the man and perpetrator and the mother as the woman and victim - domestic violence intensifies and tightens gender hierarchies. [19] Some of the children transfer this experience into their own behavior in later life. In particular, sons who witness intimate partner violence against the mother in their childhood and identify with the perpetrator learn violence as a legitimate means and possibility of stabilizing self-esteem. [20] For girls, the other side of the coin often applies: daughters, who always experience their mothers in situations of dependence or violence, are themselves more vulnerable to dependency in later life. [21] In this context, gender dynamics also have an effect on the family level; gender-sensitive work with parents would also make sense. With fathers in particular, formats would be necessary that specifically address parenting roles, father figures and ideas of masculinity - but remain attractive and low-threshold.

This article was published in abridged form in the AJS FORUM 04/18.


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