A Young Women-Led Approach to Preventing Violent Extremism and Building Peace
December 1, 2020 by Mallika Iyer and Heela Yoon
“I started advocating for peace and gender equality at the local mosque near my house, where I teach young women how to read the Quran. But I now I want to deepen my knowledge and work with other peacebuilders across my country and the world. The Young Women Leaders for Peace Program gives me the opportunity to do exactly that,” shared Olive Aliysa, a young woman peacebuilder from Aceh, during an online training organized by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) and the Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN) Indonesia, with the support of Channel Foundation.
GNWP and AMAN Indonesia held a series of online workshops with members of the Young Women Leaders for Peace (YWL) program between September 2nd and 4th, 2020. The workshops enhanced the young women’s capacities on the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda, the Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS) agenda, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPFA). Launched in November 2017, the YWL Program in Indonesia is now a network of 80 young women leaders who contribute to a strong youth movement for long-lasting peace, equality, and sustainable development. Convening participants from Aceh, Jakarta, Maluku, Lampung, Lamongan, and Poso, the online training in September expanded the membership of the network and enhanced the capacities of these young women peacebuilders to advocate for the implementation the WPS and YPS resolutions in their communities.
Indonesia is one of only three countries within Southeast Asia to adopt a National Action Plan (NAP) on United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325. However, implementation of the NAP has been inhibited by ineffective coordination, budgetary limitations, and unaddressed patriarchal gender norms. During the online workshops, the young women leaders had an opportunity to discuss the NAP implementation with a representative of the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection (Komnas Perempuan). The YWL members identified key issues exacerbating gender inequalities, insecurity, and preventing NAP implementation in their communities. These included: early, forced, and child marriage, religious intolerance, and gender based and sexual violence.
Indonesia has the eighth highest number of child brides in the world. Early, forced and child marriage is linked to widely-accepted harmful social norms. The young women leaders stressed that eliminating early, forced, and child marriage in their communities effectively requires a shift in gender norms as well as cultural beliefs that condemn this practice. They decided to advocate for the inclusion of young women’s perspectives and priorities in its second NAP on UNSCR 1325, which is currently being drafted by the Indonesian government.
The training also equipped the young women with the necessary knowledge and skills to lead efforts to prevent violent extremism (PVE) and counter terrorism (CT) in their communities. Violent extremism, ethno-religious conflict, and intolerance have undermined security and democratic progress in Indonesia. Young women in rural areas are often the first targets of extremist groups. Some of the participants in GNWP’s trainings held in 2019 stressed that many young women are married off to violent extremists or recruited to carry out attacks such as suicide bombings. They also play a role in recruiting others to join extremist groups. During the training, young women leaders shared personal stories about the prevalence of radicalization and recruitment in their communities; these communities were identified as hotbeds for radicalization during focus group discussions conducted by GNWP in 2017. “I’ve seen classmates refuse to salute the Indonesian flag and share videos promoting violent narratives online,” a young woman leader shared.
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to increased online radicalization and recruitment by violent extremist groups in Indonesia. Violent extremist groups have taken advantage of public dissatisfaction with the government’s response and recovery efforts, high unemployment rates in the informal sector of the economy, and increased reliance on social media. In addition, mobility restrictions continue to prevent civil society from reaching grassroots communities where radicalization is rampant. Conflict-sensitive and gender-responsive PVE and CT efforts led by young women are critical to curb these increased rates of recruitment, build sustainable peace, and achieve gender equality in Indonesia.
Indonesia’s National Action Plan on PVE, which is aligned with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Plan of Action to Prevent and Counter the Rise of Radicalization and Violent Extremism, prioritizes the empowerment and participation of women and youth as a key strategy to counter terrorism. However, as the young women leaders highlighted to the Section Head for Government Agency Cooperation in the Directorate of Regional and Multilateral Cooperation at the National Agency for Combating Terrorism (BNPT) during the training, most grassroots young women in communities affected by violent extremism are unaware of their right to meaningfully participate in peacebuilding and political decision-making. In response, the young women leaders designed online peacebuilding dialogues and social media campaigns to raise awareness of the WPS and YPS resolutions amongst young women and men in their communities. By encouraging their peers to meaningfully participate in political decision-making and efforts to prevent violent extremism, the young women leaders hope to build broad ownership and support for gender equality and sustainable peace in their communities.
The young women leaders also stressed that it is necessary to address the root causes of violent extremism. To tackle frustration with the government’s insufficient and inequitable pandemic response, they developed COVID-19 emergency relief projects to meet the urgent, intersecting, and overlooked needs of internally displaced families in Palu and Siduarjo, which face the intersecting impacts of the pandemic and natural disasters. Through these initiatives, the young women leaders will address the impacts of COVID-19 on food security as well as access to sexual health and reproductive services for displaced families, thereby bridging gaps in government relief programs.
“There is nothing that we, as Young Women Leaders for Peace, cannot do. We are agents of change. It is our responsibility to build peace, promote women’s rights, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” shared Vica Kambea, a young woman leader from Poso. Vica’s thoughts were echoed by the other members of the newly expanded YWL Indonesia. By distinguishing themselves as significant actors in their local communities, the Young Women Leaders for Peace in Indonesia are creating a space for young women to meaningfully participate in peacebuilding and efforts to prevent violent extremism.
 It is estimated that 164,626 people were displaced into informal settlements following an earthquake in September 2018 in Palu, Central Sulawesi. Source: REACH, “Central Sulawesi Earthquake, Tsunami, and Liquefaction: Population Needs”, February 2019. Retrieved from:
 It is estimated that there are 330 displaced Shia families in Siduarjo, who were forced to flee Madura Island in 2012 after an attack from the Sunni majority. Source: Yovinus Guntur W, Benar News, “Indonesia: Shia Uprooted by Violence on Madura Island Long to Go Home”. May 5th 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/indonesian/shia-home-05202020164016.html