ISIS propaganda emphasizes sisterhood and the chance to live in a community of like-minded women.
"ISIS has targeted women in ways similar to [the ways] al-Qaida did before it, in that women are a mainstay of their propaganda and recruitment," Mia Bloom, a professor at Georgia State University, told Refinery29 in an email. "However, unlike al-Qaida, ISIS has commoditized women and uses the lure and promise of marriage to attract thousands of foreign fighters from the [Middle East and North Africa region]…So, not only are the women ranked and then awarded to the men based on all kinds of criteria — including eye and skin color — but, after the husbands are killed, they are recirculated in the system…and gifted again." The data mirrors that of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) in London, which found an "unprecedented surge in female recruits" to ISIS. New America and others note that the demographic profile of Western fighters now is different from those who have chosen to take up arms in the past, in places like Afghanistan in the 1980s or Bosnia a decade later. Those fighters were practically all male.
Push and Pull Factors
The London-based ISD study, "Till Martyrdom Do Us Part" looked at why women and girls were being recruited, the diversity of roles they take on, and how to combat the threat. The picture is more complex than the "jihadi bride" label often attributed to them. For their study, ISD tracked more than 100 Western women across online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Women can be pushed to join ISIS because they feel isolated, persecuted, or they feel an anger or sadness about perceived lack of international action against injustice. According to ISD, they might also be drawn or pulled by idealistic goals about building a caliphate; want to belong to a sisterhood; or glamorize what their experience with ISIS might be like. The women who are attracted to the fight hail from a variety of cultural, ethnic, educational, and religious upbringings.
They are like the Justin Biebers of the Salafi (ultra-conservative evangelical) jihadi world.
ISIS has commoditized women and uses the lure and promise of marriage to attract thousands of foreign fighters from the Middle East and North Africa region.
For each "type" of women ISIS is trying to attract, they "are very adept at using a different message," Bloom said. They offer older women converts the chance "to create a new identity." Life is inaccurately portrayed as one filled with excitement where they will play an important part, Bloom added. "In English, we have seen images in their propaganda of women on patrol, carrying guns and splayed across Toyota trucks. In addition to emphasizing that women will be important and significant, they say that they will not be lonely and [will] have a support network of other women," she said. For the young, the message is also tailored to basically prey "upon their innate altruism to do something important and 'good’ with their lives.'" ISIS propaganda also emphasizes sisterhood and the chance to live in a community of like-minded women, Bloom said. Education and teaching people how to independently assess information remains the best way to combat against this extremist ideology and recruitment, ISD found.
The aim is to span out what motivates young women to join these groups in order to fight back against ISIS propaganda and recruitment tools.
While the risk facing Europe is "severe" because of mature networks of fighters linked to Syria, the threat posed to the United States is "low and will likely be manageable," New America's analysis found. That finding is echoed by research from The Soufan Group, a New York-based security consultancy. In two years, the number of worldwide foreign fighters has more than doubled, thanks in part to a steady flow of people from Western Europe traveling to fight. France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Belgium all contribute a disproportionate amount of these foreign fighters, but the number of people leaving to join ISIS and other groups from North America has remained "relatively flat," The Soufan Group found. The FBI estimates that some 250 Americans have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria to take part in the conflict, which FBI Director James Comey acknowledged "is lower in comparison to many of our international partners." So far, no one has returned to the U.S. from Syria and gone on to commit an act of violence, and there has only been one arrest for plotting a domestic attack, according to New America. However, ISIS-inspired violence is of concern, like that of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA that killed 14 people in December.