Defying Extremism conference in San Diego paves way for regional engagement against religious violence

An international working conference gathered over 120 peacebuilders and Human Rights defenders, religious leaders, policymakers and researchers to share experiences and jointly search for gendered strategies to prevent and counter violent extremism.

Speakers and participants from 30 countries gathered in San Diego in November 2014 for the international Defying Extremism: Gendered Responses to Religious Violence conference organized by Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, University of San Diego and co-conveners (The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, Tanenbaum, UN Women, Women Without Borders and Women’s Learning Partnership) in the search for a more nuanced analysis and an in-depth understanding of violent extremism through sharing experiences and successful strategies to counter it, with a specific focus on gender, religious peacebuilding and Human Rights.
Powerful testimonies were given by men and women who had been affected by violent extremism and religious fundamentalisms, as survivors or as former participants, and who today dedicate their work to tackle these issues, rooting the discussions on the diagnostics and possible solutions in an awareness of the impact that extremism can have on communities and individuals across regions. In panel sessions, the realities behind the headlines, the recruitment of men and women, women’s roles as agents both for and against extremism, effective policies and collaborations for countering violent extremism were analyzed, including gender initiatives and strategies in which religion can be used as a positive force.
Participants recognized that women have a key role in defying extremism and defending Human Rights: women and their rights are often among the first ones to be targeted by extremist violence, and they are often well-positioned at homes and in society to detect the first signs of radicalized behavior. When it comes to extremism and religious violence, as one participant stated, “women are at the frontlines”. Therefore, women should also be included in and capacitated to employ strategies for the prevention of radicalization and effectively countering violent extremism.
Practical tools and action plans were collaboratively developed and shared in parallel outcome-oriented working sessions. The Network’s working session centered on evolving mechanisms to more comprehensibly include women and women’s rights in the peace efforts of religious and traditional peacemakers, sensitizing these actors to gendered mediation and peacebuilding. The concrete outcomes of the session were advanced in the strategic planning of the Network’s Gender Working Group.
Given the diverse backgrounds of the attendees, the conference created a unique environment to advance and widen, through multilateral discussions between participants, understandings of extremism as well as to build collaborations transcending fields and levels of operation.
The San Diego international conference will be followed by a series of regional convenings and dialogues (2015-16) that will explore the violent extremism by focusing on region-specific issues and strategies as well as ensure coherence through overarching global themes. The Regional Dialogues will take place in Asia (the Philippines, February 2015), Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina, May 2015) and Africa and Middle East and North Africa (Kenya and Morocco, respectively, 2016).
A report of the Defying Extremism: Gendered Responses to Religious Violence conference and the findings of the regional dialogue in the Philippines will be published in New York in March 2015 during the 59th UN Commission on the Status of Women.
The conference was organized with support from the Network’s main financial partner Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.