Kazakhstan discusses radicalisation of women

By Alexander Bogatik

Religious analysts discuss extremism at an October 27 Aktobe conference. [Facebook photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

Religious analysts discuss extremism at an October 27 Aktobe conference. [Facebook photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

AKTOBE, Kazakhstan -- Scholars who convened in Aktobe to discuss female radicalisation have some ideas and suggestions now.

A month-long Aktobe Province anti-extremism and anti-terrorism project, which drew on theologians from the whole country, ended October 28.

The participants "conducted outreach work, analysed the situation and found a high degree of radicalisation among women," a source at the Aktobe municipal government press office told Caravanserai.

A subject of nationwide concern

Other conferences nationwide are focusing on female radicalism, including one in Astana September 23.

That event was the first major forum in Kazakhstan on female radicalism. Religious scholars and Spiritual Administration for the Muslims of Kazakhstan (DUMK) officials attended the conference.

The Astana event "was necessitated by events taking place in the country", Gulnaz Razdykova, a historian and chairwoman of the Pavlodar-based Centre for Analysis and Development of Inter-faith Relations, told Caravanserai.

Other meetings on female radicalism are coming to Karaganda and Ust-Kamenogorsk "in late November", she added.

Officials and scholars, through these conferences, are seeking to make all of society aware of the problem, Razdykova said.

The female face of extremism

Kazakhstanis began to speak up about the radicalisation of women last year. Since 2011, several hundred radicalised Kazakhstanis have journeyed to Syria to fight alongside militants, including some women.

"We're seeing women become radicalised, such as female relatives of Muslims convicted for extremism," Tengrinews quoted Galym Shoykin, chairman of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs (KDR), as saying in March 2015.

Throughout 2015 and 2016, the country dealt with the problem by organising one-on-one conversations with radicalised women and prevention lectures for female college students. But the problem is far from solved, observers say.

Several hundred Kazakhstanis belong to terrorist organisations in Syria, the Kazakhstani government says. Wives and children comprise half of that total, it estimates.

"Some wives of terrorists defend their husbands' actions" as religiously motivated, Razdykova said of the wives of terrorists who committed deadly attacks in Aktobe and Almaty this summer.

Authorities need to take appropriate action against the "feminisation of extremism", Razdykova argued.

"Therer's no single root cause," she told Caravanserai. "Women's ... motivations are different, and so are their roles in carrying out terror attacks."

In-depth research is "critical", she added.

The primary task in fighting female extremism is re-educating radical women, she said.

"We need to prove to them that terrorism has nothing in common with religion," she concluded.

Working with radicalised women

Theologians and psychologists are contributing their skills to bringing female radicals back into the mainstream.

The Astana-based NGO Ak Niyet (Pure Intent) has teams of female theologians who work with radicalised women.

"We have a problem because the wives of ... 'jihadists' don't talk to outsiders," Ak Niyet director Alim Shaumetov said in Astana in May 2015, shortly before Ak Niyet formed those groups, according to "The centre will establish teams of female theologians-psychologists to work directly [with radicalised women]."

In the two years since Ak Niyet's founding, it "has helped 256 members of ... cults renounce their radical ideas, including women," KDR deputy chairman Gabit Abzalbek said during the Astana conference September 23, according to a KDR news release.

Women are vulnerable to "sexual 'jihad'", in which militants seek to lure women into sexual exploitation, Abzalbek said in Astana, adding that "they recruit online".

At the Astana conference, participants concluded that the country needed to step up prevention work with women and to involve women's organisations in the task.

Women's organisations and prevention of extremism

Women's organisations have great potential to prevent extremism among women, who comprise 51.7% of the country's population, observers say.

Preventing extremism is a broad concept involving prevention at various times of life, Ainur Abdirasilkyzy, director of the KDR in-house think tank Centre for Scientific Research on and Analysis of Religious Issues, told Caravanserai.

The task "isn't limited to explaining the destructiveness of extreme views and de-radicalising" extremists, she said.

In fact, it requires laying spiritual foundations for society and teaching youth solid beliefs and critical thinking, Abdirasilkyzy said.

The country's more than 200 registered women's organisations "are active in a broad spectrum of fields, including education, raising of children and youth ... and religion," she added. "All women's organisations do their part to prevent extremism through their work."

The DUMK has created religious literacy courses for women in many mosques, she said, adding that women teach other women in those courses.

The highly skilled instructors of the courses have contributed a great deal through the Aktobe Province anti-extremism project, she said.

Radicalised women "avoid talking to men", she said. "They reveal their ... problems solely to female specialists."

Such specialists, after gaining the trust of those women, are effectively advising them and influencing them to drop their radical views, she said.

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