Gendered responses to defying extremism – the European Regional Dialogue

Over fifty participants from over seventeen countries gathered in Bosnia and Herzegovina to discuss gender perspectives on countering violent extremism. The European Regional Dialogue consisted of talks, presentations and workshops where experiences and recommendations were discussed.

The European Regional Dialogue was organized in May 4-7th 2015 in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The conference was initiated by The Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego and The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers. It aimed to bring up the topic of how gendered perspectives are central to defying violent extremism and how women play a special role in preventing violence and extremism.

The dialogue was an episode in a series of regional and global dialogues on violent extremism and gendered responses to defying it.  The dialogues have enabled different actors to join forces, cooperate and find synergies in the work that they are doing. In November 2014 the global conference on gendered responses to defying extremism was held in San Diego and in February 2015 an Asian Regional Dialogue was held in the Philippines.

The conference in BiH was organized by The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, The Joan B. Kroc Institute and Medica” Zenica. “Medica” Zenica is a non-governmental organization which provides medical, psychological and social support to victims of war and post-war in BiH.

Diverse dialogue in the Bosnian context

The conference gathered participants from official state institutions, large non-governmental organizations, grassroots organizations and movements. Some of the participators were survivors of violent extremist attacks and some were former perpetrators and extremists. What all participants had in common was a desire to pursue a peaceful and diverse society where different individuals and differences in opinion and belief can coexist.

Through sharing thoughts and experiences the participants discussed ways to find more effective and inclusive, peaceful solutions to conflicts. The dialogue was also attended by several Bosnian women and men who had survived the war and dedicated their lives to building sustainable peace in BiH. The local participants shared their experiences in the context of BiH and the lessons they have learned during the twenty years after the war.

The regional dialogue was four days of versatile programs with the purpose to get the participants more acquainted with the specific context in BiH and to share experiences and discuss steps forward. The discussions, workshops and presentations covered both personal experiences and research based analyses about violent extremism in Europe.

The participants also got to take part in two field trips where they visited local organizations, a memorial center and an identification center. Knowledge of the history of BiH was accumulated and the participants got an insight into what actions have been taken to deal with trauma and conflict in post-war BiH.

What next?

Recommendations for future and further activities to defy violent extremism were discussed during the conference. The recommendations and ideas raised will be further developed in upcoming regional dialogues in Africa and in Middle East and Northern Africa.

The participants expressed their concern about youth involvement, division in society and economic stability. In segregated societies the differences among groups are emphasized instead of the aspects that everyone has in common. In case of youth, segregation through schools, neighborhoods and recreational activities distances young people from other youth with different backgrounds.

A society where people aren’t strictly divided according to nationality, religion or gender was thought to be the best context to grow understanding between different people. When people interact on a day-to-day basis it minimizes the stereotypes and prejudices against divergent beliefs and backgrounds.