USIP’s Women Preventing Violent Extremism (WPVE) program aims to shape national policies and community approaches to countering violent extremism in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. USIP does this by empowering women-led organizations and building local capacity that fosters collaboration between community-level activists and national-level policymakers. The WPVE approach is based on a USIP-designed pilot project and aims to build a regional platform for women across Africa who are working to prevent and counter the threat of violent extremism in their communities.

A dialogue on preventing extremism in the Eastleigh community of Nairobi, Kenya, organized by the Sisters Without Borders (SWB) network.
A dialogue on preventing extremism in the Eastleigh community of Nairobi, Kenya, organized by the Sisters Without Borders (SWB) network.

After nearly two decades of ongoing efforts to defeat terrorism, the international community has learned that it must engage women as positive actors in their comprehensive strategies to tackle drivers of violent extremism and counter radicalization. Today, as threats of violent extremism endure in the Horn and continue to grow in the Sahel, local women’s organizations are working to limit extremist groups’ local impact and inform national policymaking. However, information-sharing gaps exist among community members, security actors, and policymakers, calling for trust-building initiatives in order to improve communication and collaboration.

In the Horn of Africa, both al-Shabaab and a nascent presence of ISIS—as well as remnants of other extremist groups—remain in Somalia, with recruiters and facilitation networks extending beyond national borders and across the region.

In the Sahel, countless communities also suffer terrorist and extremist violence perpetrated by actors ranging from ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates to locally driven movements. A conflict that took root in Mali was amplified as a result of turmoil in Libya—and has now spilled outside Mali’s borders into neighbors Niger and Burkina Faso, creating a regional security crisis.

USIP’s WPVE program empowers people and institutions to build peace by deepening understanding and increasing the capacity and skills of women working to prevent and counter violent extremism. These women then inform and improve policy and practice to transform fragile contexts into more resilient ones. Supporting women’s local leadership can lead to the inclusion of women and girls as change agents in decision-making processes and position them to advocate for their rights, safety, and inclusion more broadly.

Approach and Principles

The WPVE methodology grew from the analysis and evaluation of a previous USIP program and incorporates the principles of USIP’s Gender Analysis Framework and Theory (GIFT) to build trust at a local level through gender-inclusive processes. Now, in partnership with the Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State to advance the implementation of the U.S. Strategy to Support Women and Girls at Risk from Violent Extremism and Conflict, USIP is building the WPVE program across the Horn of Africa and transferring and adapting it in the Sahel.

USIP’s WPVE program accounts for the diverse range of roles—as enablers, beneficiaries, preventers, peacekeepers, supporters, victims, and others—that women play in the prevention of and response to violent extremism. The approach is based on the following principles:

Building Capacity at the Local Level

Through workshops, dialogues, and trainings, the WPVE program is uniquely designed to ensure that capacity-building efforts build trust at the local level through inclusive processes while elevating women as change agents that contribute to more sustainable approaches for mitigating violent extremism. Via connections made within their communities, women are able to create a safe space for discussing shared issues and explore areas of collaboration and approaches to their programming.

Fostering Trust with Security Actors

Dialogues increase understanding, trust, collaboration, and empathy between women and local and national level security actors. A series of facilitated dialogues between women, community members, and security actors allows for new avenues of coordination that help identify shared threats and strengthen resilience.

Connecting Women with Policymakers

WPVE connects women with local and national level policymakers to advise and influence policies that prevent and counter violent extremism and supports the sharing of good practices through women-led network-building. Women and women’s organizations can use these networks as strategic relays between communities and national-level decision-makers for preventive efforts.


WPVE’s Partner in Kenya: Sisters Without Borders

Sisters Without Borders logo

In 2015, a group of Kenyan women civil society leaders established the Sisters Without Borders network as a result of the convening and capacity-building of the WPVE pilot program. Sisters Without Borders amplifies the voices of women and promotes effective engagement on peace and security issues at the local, national, and regional levels. Sisters Without Borders is now a critical partner of the Kenyan government and has helped curb terrorist attacks, advised policymakers, and reviewed key policy documents such as national and local counterterrorism strategies.

The WPVE program expands upon the Sisters Without Borders platform to enable local networks of women to work effectively in their communities by providing them and the organizations they represent with capacity building (e.g. tools, connections, training, and curricula), as well as enabling them to define a local agenda on best practices and areas in need of further study and effort. In the Horn and the Sahel, the project leverages the network’s experience and ability to affect change through participation in policy-level discussions, expanding the initiative as a model for two of the continent’s regions that are most afflicted by violent extremism.


Conceptualized in 2012 as a pilot project, the WPVE program initially organized a series of trainings and dialogues in Kenya and Nigeria that brought together women civil society leaders and members of the security sector in order to elevate women’s perspectives in preventing violent extremism. More information on previous iterations (2012-2017) of this project can be found here.

Featured Event

from Nairobi, Kenya: the launch of our partner Sisters Without Borders

Sisters Without Borders Launch

June 19, 2019

On June 26, 2019, the Sisters Without Borders network of Kenyan women civil society leaders was publicly launched, marking a milestone as the network expands its membership to include regional neighbors in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Feature Publications

Maria Bashir, the chief prosecutor of the Afghan province of Herat, outside a hotel during a conference for Afghan prosecutors in Kabul. (Bryan Denton/The New York Times)

What Women Have Won

By Nancy Lindborg

On International Women’s Day, reflecting on the long road ahead to equality—and how far we’ve come.

Related Publications

Women Preventing Extremist Violence (French)

Women Preventing Extremist Violence (French)

Friday, December 4, 2020

Au niveau de la Corne de l’Afrique, al-Shabaab et une présence émergente de l’Etat Islamique ISIS ainsi que plusieurs autres groupes extrémistes sont toujours en place en Somalie, avec des recruteurs et des réseaux de facilitation s’étendant au-delà des frontières nationales et à travers la région. Au Sahel, d’innombrables communautés soufrent également de la violence extrémiste et terroriste perpétrée par différent acteurs dont certains appartenant à l’Etat islamique, d’autres étant affiliés Al-Qaïda et le reste tiré des mouvements dirigés localement.

Type: Fact Sheet

GenderViolent Extremism

Women Preventing Violent Extremism

Women Preventing Violent Extremism

Monday, November 4, 2019

In the Horn of Africa, both al-Shabaab and a nascent presence of ISIS—as well as remnants of other extremist groups—remain in Somalia, with recruiters and facilitation networks extending beyond national borders and across the region. And in the Sahel, countless communities also suffer terrorist and extremist violence perpetrated by actors ranging from ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates to locally driven movements.

Type: Fact Sheet

Violent ExtremismGender

View All

Latest Publications

What Is Indigenous Foreign Policy? Lessons from Australia and New Zealand

What Is Indigenous Foreign Policy? Lessons from Australia and New Zealand

Thursday, May 26, 2022

By: Nicole Cochran;  Brian Harding

In early May, the Solomon Islands — the second largest recipient of Australian aid — signed a security agreement with China, raising concerns about the potential for the creation of a Chinese military base a short distance from Australia’s shores. Coming mere weeks before Australian elections, this announcement was widely seen by Australians as a failure of their foreign policy and helped turn national security into a high priority for the elections.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global PolicyMediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Putin’s War Backfires as Finland, Sweden Seek to Join NATO

Putin’s War Backfires as Finland, Sweden Seek to Join NATO

Thursday, May 26, 2022

By: A. Wess Mitchell, Ph.D.

Only three months into Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the geopolitical ripple effects are being felt across the European continent. Motivated by Moscow’s aggression, Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO, ending decades of both states’ respective non-aligned status. Finnish and Swedish NATO accession would boost the capabilities and defensibility of the alliance. Their joining NATO is a rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has bristled over the alliance’s post-Cold War expansion and used it as a pretext for his Ukraine incursion.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Biden’s Asia Trip Seeks to Revitalize Alliances, Focus on China

Biden’s Asia Trip Seeks to Revitalize Alliances, Focus on China

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

By: Frank Aum;  Mirna Galic;  Rachel Vandenbrink

President Biden made his first trip to East Asia beginning late last week, visiting South Korea and Japan, where he participated in a leader’s summit of the so-called Quad, which includes Australia, Japan and India. The president’s visit is part of a flurry of Asia-focused diplomatic initiatives in recent weeks including the U.S.-ASEAN summit, the U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue and an upcoming speech from Secretary of State Blinken, which is expected to lay out the contours of the administration’s China Policy.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Beyond the Summit of the Americas: Resetting U.S. Policy in Latin America

Beyond the Summit of the Americas: Resetting U.S. Policy in Latin America

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

By: Ambassador P. Michael McKinley (ret.)

Despite the Biden administration’s efforts to outline a new, positive vision for engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean, old fault lines are likely to come into play at the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which kicks off in Los Angeles on June 6. Both U.S. domestic politics and governments in the hemisphere with a more skeptical view of Washington and its intentions contribute to these tensions. A new U.S. perspective is required — one that takes into greater account the region’s diversity, priorities and political complexity. Without such a shift, the perception and reality of declining U.S. influence is only likely to deepen.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Frank Aum on Biden’s Visit to South Korea and Japan

Frank Aum on Biden’s Visit to South Korea and Japan

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

By: Frank Aum

Amid a flurry of Asia diplomatic initiatives, USIP’s Frank Aum says President Biden’s trip is a chance to show the United States is committed to having a major presence in the Indo-Pacific, but that “this is not something that happens in a single summit… We’re going to have to continue to strengthen those efforts.”

Type: Podcast

Global Policy

View All Publications