The rise of violent extremism (VE) over the last decade poses as great a challenge as any to many countries across the globe, a challenge that seems almost insurmountable. Violent extremism is a complex issue with arms reaching out to engulf many deep-rooted development issues, including poverty, lack of livelihoods and job opportunities, lack of education, exclusion and inequality. It affects both national and global security.
In Sudan, over the last two years, more than 3,000 people have joined Islamic State (IS) and Boko Haram. UNDP Sudan, in collaboration with the Sudan National Commission for Counter Terrorism, conducted a ground-breaking study, directly interviewing prisoners, returnees from Guantanamo Bay, and Islamic State families and friends of those who had joined violent extremist groups to better understand their motivations and how to pull them back from the brink.
Not so surprisingly, most of those joining these groups are youth, who make up over 60 percent of Sudan’s total population. Somewhat more surprisingly, 37 percent of those who joined VE groups were women. The study strongly highlighted that a focus on security-led responses to extremism cannot provide lasting solutions and that addressing the root causes of the problem, such as marginalization and exclusion especially among the young, is the only way forward. The study has further identified women’s sentiments of not being able to realize their full potential in societies and gender inequality as reasons for joining extremist groups.
We had an imperative to respond to this grave issue, but the big questions were: Where to start? What to do?
The complexity of the issue, while presenting a serious challenge, also presented a series of opportunities for us in the PAVE project (Partnering Against Violent Extremism) to explore new models, novel approaches and innovative solutions for combating VE. Targeting youth and women, we experimented with forging new partnerships to deliver key messages and with creating spaces and opportunities for groups to air their grievances, express their opinions, and become part of the development solution.