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Gender Equality and Violent Extremism Event at the United Nations
Gender Equality and Violent Extremism Event at the United Nations
Six presenters at the UN Church Center speaking on a panel about how gender equality and violent extremism are connected

Panelist Lisa Davis (third from right) addresses the audience during an event at the UN Church Center

By Andrea Floersheimer

On Thursday, July 13th, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) co-sponsored a 2017 High-Level Political Forum Side Event on gender equality and violent extremism. The event was co-sponsored by the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Committee on Human Rights and the Counter Extremism Project. Five speakers shared their diverse experiences working at the crossroads of counterterrorism strategy and women’s rights. 

Julia Santucci is a former Senior Advisor to the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State and was the first to speak on the panel. She spoke about her time working under the Obama Administration, and discussed how the U.S. government has effectively worked at destroying terrorist leadership and denying them safe haven, but has struggled to change the social and economic conditions that the enemy exploits. She argued that there is too much evidence to ignore the link between violent extremism and gender violence, and proposed three solutions. Firstly, she said that there must be gender diversity at the table in decision making, in every area of life but particularly in foreign policy. Secondly, she said that we should continue to publicize and emphasize data on the link between violent extremism and gender inequality. Lastly, she stressed that we must support women-led civil society organizations advancing women’s voices. 

Razia Jan, Afghan leader in women's rights and education for girls, addresses a panel at the UN Church Center

Razia Jan, center, addresses the audience.

Razia Jan is the founder and President of the Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation. She is an award-winning humanitarian worker educating girls in Afghanistan. At the panel, she played a video about her girls' school in Afghanistan. She spoke movingly about how girls’ education transforms lives, and that those girls proceed to change their communities around them. Sharing anecdotes from her experience working at the school, Razia drove home how educating girls changes hearts and minds of entire communities and the critical importance of investing in our bright future generations. You can learn more about her school and opportunities to support the girls on Razia's website.

Lisa Davis is a Clinical Professor of Law for the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic and is a Visiting Professor at Columbia University. A lawyer by trade, Lisa discussed prosecution strategy and the current battle to normalize women’s rights. After contextualizing the discussion within the historical fight to make women’s rights human rights, she described how violence against women is happening largely because of an oppressive gender narrative that violent extremism perpetuates. She described how the realization of women’s right to education, work, and etc. has historically been directly linked to increased violence against women, and that in order to combat these forms of violence we must break the oppressive gender narrative and normalize women’s rights.

A packed audience listens to a panel at the UN Church Center about Violent Extremism and Gender Equality

A rapt audience listens to the panelists' conversation.

Verlaine-Diane Soobroydoo serves as a Policy Adviser on Women, Peace and Security at the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union to the United Nations. Verlaine discussed her experience growing up in a conservative immigrant community in France and her personal challenges growing up as a woman. She discussed the tendency of society to negate women’s identity, and that violence against women feeds greater violence against others. She stressed the importance of teaching boys to respect women, the potential for society’s leaders (religious leaders included) to come out strongly against gender violence, and the importance of strong support systems for girls.

Brian Reagor is the Program Development Manager at the Counter Extremism Project (CEP). He opened his presentation by highlighting the strong research backing the relationship between gender inclusivity and peaceful states. He stressed that strict gender roles are emphasized by violent extremist groups around the world. Extremism is nothing new, but he noted that what makes today’s violent extremism different is the technological capability to recruit people from around the world to join a particular cause. He explained how CEP works to stop the process of radicalization, and examined the push and pull factors that cause people to join radical groups in the first place. He emphasized that future success depends on engaging and empowering women at every level of security work, and the importance of collaboration between organizations in the field.

A video recording of the panel is available on the UUA International Office YouTube Channel.

Verlaine-Diane Soobroydoo addresses the audience during a panel on gender equality and violent extremism at the UN Church Center

Panelists from left to right: Brian Reagor, Julia Santucci, Razia Jan, Lisa Davis, Verlaine-Diane Soobroydoo, and Andrea Floersheimer (Organizer/Moderator)


Andrea Floersheimer is a Women's Rights Program Intern at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. She is also a student at Columbia University studying History and Sustainable Development.

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