Fifteen years ago, the General Assembly unanimously adopted the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (GCTS), which has served as the backbone for the efforts of States to prevent and combat the threat of terrorism within the U.N. system. Last June, the U.N. General Assembly held the Seventh Review of the Strategy and adopted resolution 75/291.
Consistent with its feminist foreign policy, one of Mexico’s priorities in that process was to strengthen the language in order to consolidate a truly crosscutting and holistic gender approach that would in turn also strengthen the preventive nature of the Global Strategy. It is worth noting that there is no reference to gender in the Strategy itself. The Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism adopted in 2015 does indicate, however, that States should consider adopting national plans aligning them to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5: achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls as a means to addressing the drivers of violent extremism conducive to terrorism.
Through the years, Member States have come to realize and understand that terrorism or violent extremism conducive to terrorism cannot be prevented effectively without the full enjoyment of human rights and gender equality as cross-cutting elements. This was reiterated in resolution 75/291, which also urges Member States and United Nations entities to integrate into their relevant programs a gender analysis on the drivers of radicalization of women and men to terrorism.
Despite the progress that has been achieved, the notion of “masculinities” has still not been analyzed and incorporated into either the official U.N. discourse or into the assessment of gender issues both at the General Assembly and the Security Council by Member States. This is a considerable gap in the system given that terrorist groups themselves deliberately exploit ideas and stereotypes about masculinities in their propaganda and recruitment efforts. What’s more, for many extremist groups, ideological radicalization comes even as a second step after recruitment. There is a reason why the vast majority of terrorists are men, and the only way to effectively adopt and implement meaningful preventive plans toward radicalization, violence, and terrorism is to address the way in which notions of masculinities are constructed and the role they play in such radicalization and recruitment processes. Therefore, as explained by Michael Kimmel, “just as the process of radicalization is deeply gendered, so too must be the process of deradicalization.”
Any gender-based approach that focuses only on women lacks a component that is key to its success: the need to talk as well about men, gender stereotypes, and masculinities. This goes beyond considering women as victims of terrorism and agents for change in building community resilience. The reality is that violent extremist and terrorist narratives are fueled by toxic masculinities.
Having said that, the notion of masculinity is not intrinsically negative. On the contrary, the more we help build and consolidate positive masculinities, the closer we will be to achieving gender equality and resilient societies with shared values across all development and human rights agendas.
In light of this premise, during the negotiations of the Seventh Review of the Global Strategy, Mexico put forward two proposals, one for the preambular section and another for the operative part of the resolution, with a view to trigger a conversation that could potentially lead up to closing this gap. The texts were as follows:
Noting that there is growing awareness that a comprehensive approach on gender perspective in preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism conducive to terrorism policies must include a focus on masculinities;
Requests UNOCT, in collaboration with CTED and other relevant UN entities, to explore if and how a focus on masculinities can allow for a more comprehensive approach to integrating gender considerations in counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism conducive to terrorism, and to report back to Member States on its conclusions
After several rounds of negotiation, having made tweaks in the language to accommodate other Member States’ concerns, having dropped one proposal leaving only the preambular paragraph, and having garnered the support of a majority of States in the room, the reference to masculinities did not find its way to the final text of the resolution since this is a consensus-based process and as such, because of the opposition of a few, the language was omitted for the sake of finding agreement in a broad “package deal.”
Additionally, the Security Council has been actively engaged in the agendas of Women, Peace and Security, and Counter-Terrorism for many years now. However, the notion of “masculinities” has also not been incorporated into its discourse or its analytic assessment of these issues. It is worth noting that, according to the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate’s (CTED) gender fact sheet, “a gender perspective not only means focusing on the roles of women but also on the roles of men, masculinities and structural gender inequality. … A gender-sensitive approach should also take into account notions of masculinity and gender stereotypes in the mobilization and recruitment of men.”
In this context, last month, Mexico, as an elected Member of the Security Council with the co-sponsorship of Estonia, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States, convened an Arria Formula meeting under the topic “Preventing terrorism and violent extremism through tackling gender stereotypes, masculinities, and structural gender inequality.” (Video recording of the meeting is available here.)
The objective was precisely to discuss and analyze, in an open and transparent manner, how a focus on masculinities, gender stereotypes, and gender inequality can allow for a more comprehensive gender approach by the U.N. Security Council to tackle the issue of radicalization to violence and to more effectively prevent terrorism and violent extremism conducive to terrorism.
This Arria Formula meeting was the first Security Council discussion of its kind and built upon the need to address this gap in order to help inform future reports by the Secretary-General on the issue. It also sought to advance a Security Council comprehensive gender-sensitive approach that takes into consideration the dimension of masculinities, gender stereotypes, and gender inequality as key elements of its preventive agenda. The meeting was opened to all U.N. Member States and observers.
Briefings were given by the Executive Director of CTED, Ms. Michèle Coninsx, who addressed how the directorate is working on exploring and incorporating this issue into their work in accordance with their mandate. Dr. David Duriesmith, lecturer in gender and politics at The University of Sheffield, addressed the need to better understand the concept of masculinity and the ways in which it has an impact on the prevention of violent extremism. Finally, Ms. Fauziya Abdi Ali, who serves as the President of Women in International Security – Horn of Africa and has over 10 years’ experience working on security and governance reform, offered her views as a practitioner working with local communities.
In addition to the Security Council Members, the European Union, Australia, Canada, Ecuador, Germany, Liechtenstein, Malta, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, and the Global Center on Cooperative Security shared their views on these issues. The overall tone of the conversation was vastly positive. Participants agreed on the necessity to analyze and understand the needs of young men in order to prevent radicalization. References were made to specific national experiences and attacks, and there was a recognition of the harmful influence of patriarchal ideologies based on old values of male dominance, repression of women, and discrimination against all forms of diversity, including against the LGBT+ community.
The need to work closely with civil society on this front was also underscored, in particular at the local and community level, recognizing that strategies and solutions cannot be developed with a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
The Chair’s Summary of the meeting, together with the interventions of all participants, is publicly available and has already been circulated as a Security Council document. It will also be circulated to all U.N. Member States as a General Assembly document. This not only fosters transparency and inclusiveness but contributes to normalizing the conversation about this important topic within the U.N. system by leaving a trail on record.
All this is already positive but clearly much more needs to be done. Hopefully, the GCTS negotiations in the General Assembly together with the Arria Formula meeting have served to kick-start a broader discussion on this issue that will eventually lead to incorporating a more modern and relevant gender approach to our Counter-Terrorism and Preventing Violent Extremism agendas within the U.N. system. Perhaps the upcoming 20th anniversary of the adoption of Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) and of the establishment of the Counter-Terrorism Committee offers another good opportunity to reflect and act upon this issue.
This is the time to keep the conversation going, formally and informally, amongst U.N. Member States, U.N. bodies, and civil society to advance our understanding of this complex issue which, in the words of the U.S. delegation during the meeting, is “a blind spot none of us can afford to ignore.”
Finally, on a personal note, being a man who has the honor and privilege to serve his country as a U.N. delegate, I am truly convinced that we have the responsibility to push this agenda forward across the board in whichever possible way we can and to seize every opportunity to deconstruct unhealthy notions of masculinity to rebuild better into a new era of true gender equality.