The Sahel represents one of the most unstable areas in sub-Saharan Africa. Widespread violence and limited access to resources, essential services and means of subsistence contribute to increased fragility and impact the everyday life of women, girls, men, and boys. Endemic poverty, inequality – particularly gender inequality – and human rights abuses are among the multiple factors that have a strong impact on the security of the region.
Since 2015, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) has been implementing projects to prevent violent extremism (PVE) in this region. During the implementation of such projects, it has become evident that PVE strategies in this context must rely on the assumption that the interactions between men, women and violent extremist groups are not uniform throughout the Sahel and the experiences and everyday realities of local communities should inform the design of such initiatives.
Through its efforts to strengthen community and institutional resilience, UNICRI has collected evidence of the gendered approach of jihadist groups' propaganda and of the roles of women and girls in supporting as well as preventing violent extremism. This evidence prompted the Institute to further analyse these elements with the aim of mainstreaming gender perspectives across PVE efforts in the region.
In 2023, with the support of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), UNICRI collected data across Mali, Mauritania, and Niger to inform guiding principles for future PVE interventions. Through extensive field visits, UNICRI reached out to a wide cross-section of stakeholders, ranging from community members to national and local authorities, religious leaders, security experts, representatives of international organisations, and civil society actors.
By gathering the opinions of local communities on issues such as the availability of services, gender roles, insecurity and violence, and PVE interventions, the study provides a unique opportunity to explore how these elements may be interlinked and how concerns over the lack of essential services and fundamental rights may act as drivers of violence.
Based on collected data, a country-specific gender analysis of the concerns and unmet needs of the populations was carried out, with the aim to facilitate the development of strategies that are meticulously designed to address context-specific resilience factors and are rooted in meaningful consultations with women, girls, men, and boys from local communities.
Indeed, such strategies risk being ineffective or counterproductive if they do not accurately reflect existing relations, priorities, constraints, and the way these are experienced differently by women, girls, men, and boys. Through this study UNICRI facilitates the design and development of initiatives tailored to the specific needs and concerns of women, men, girls, and boys, thereby aligning prevention strategies with the realities on the ground and shaped by the voices of communities in the Sahel region.
UNICRI is grateful for KOICA’s generous support.