ALMATY -- Over the past decade, the fight against extremism in Kazakhstan has largely focused on men, leading the wives of extremists isolated and vulnerable to radical views.
While extremists are sentenced to prison terms or killed in security operations or in terrorist attacks, their like-minded wives are often left behind with unresolved problems, specialists warn.
Efforts to prevent the radicalisation of women, and rehabilitate those already tainted by extremist views, are now receiving more attention.
For example, the Pavlodar Province Centre for Analysis and Development of Interfaith Relations, which began operating in 2013, opened Inabat, a club for modern young Muslim women in Pavlodar city.
About 20 young women have been attending the club's meetings twice a month since last October, Gulnaz Razdykova, director of the centre, told Caravanserai.
Participants receive training in various trades during the meetings, which are geared toward socialising women and helping them adapt to modern society.
"Besides that, [we] provide them with assistance resolving their everyday problems with the help of government agencies, sponsors, healthcare facilities and the social welfare system," she said.
Working with female extremists involves methods different from those used with men, said Razdykova.
"Women's perceptions are more fluid and [...] 'tunnel vision' can arise in those who are in the grip of negative emotional experiences like strong resentment, anguish or depression [...] and their perception of the world becomes much narrower," Razdykova said.
Under such conditions, women stop thinking critically, she explained, and they become extremely vulnerable to radical proselytisers, or so-called "soul hunters".
Women are also active on the internet, where "trap sites" and social networking pages operated by terrorist groups and extremist organisations can be found, according to Razdykova. Such sites often place an emphasis on propaganda featuring women who leave for "hot spots" to become the "wives of mujahideen", she said.
Working with these women is built on voluntary participation and their desire to help themselves; namely, forced rehabilitation does not exist, she said.
"Everyone is different, and the methods we use are also individualised," Razdykova said. "There is no single standard for working with the human consciousness, and everything that has been tried and tested by science, or in practice, can [only] be taken as recommendations."
"To a large extent, the success of the work depends on the professional qualities that the specialist possesses -- his or her knowledge, ability, patience and boldness."
In addition, the work needs to be systematic and prolonged and to provide for complete confidentiality during the rehabilitation process, she said.
Countering radicalism in families
When men experience genuine penitence for crimes they committed, they transmit their understanding of the error of their ways to their wives, creating a multiplier effect in deradicalisation, said Alibek Kimanov, an extremism analyst from Astana.
"When the husbands became aware that they had been led astray ... they turned to us in large numbers with requests to speak with their wives," he told Caravanserai, speaking about some ex-militants whom he has helped rehabilitate.
"With the husbands' permission, we assembled a group of women who would meet with these wives," Kimanov said.
Some women try to keep their husbands from following radical viewpoints, while others condone them, he said.
"Without rehabilitation assistance, radical ideas do not disappear, meaning that there is a high likelihood that, after the husband's release, the family could go back to Syria [to join militants]," said Alim Shaumetov of Astana, director of Akniyet, an NGO that conducts anti-extremism work and rehabilitates former extremists.
Akniyet is trying to prevent women from resuming extremist activity by helping them find jobs and quickly advising or consoling them after their husbands' deaths or arrests, he told Caravanserai.
"Our centre has small-scale garment factories so that they can earn a little money," he said. "We are ready to work together with them."