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.

After nearly two decades of ongoing efforts to defeat terrorism, the international community has learned that comprehensive strategies to tackle violent extremism must engage women as positive actors when it comes to preventing and countering radicalization. Today, as threats of violent extremism endure in both the Horn and Sahel, local women’s organizations are working to limit extremist groups’ local impact and inform national policymaking. However, gaps exists when it comes to information-sharing and trust among grassroots groups, security actors, and policymakers; creating the need for improved communication and collaboration.

USIP’S Work

USIP’s Women Preventing Violent Extremism (WPVE) program empowers women-led organizations to build local capacity and fosters collaboration between community-level activists and national-level policymakers. Through this work, USIP 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.

Beginning 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. Now, through the support of the State Department, as a component of the U.S. Government Strategy to Support Women and Girls at Risk from Violent Extremism, USIP is implementing the WPVE program across the Horn of Africa and is expanding into the Sahel.

The 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 at both local and national levels allow 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 in P/CVE through women-led network-building. Women and women’s organizations can use these networks to act as strategic relays between communities and national-level decision makers for preventive efforts.


Sisters Without Borders logo

Sisters Without Borders, a network of Kenyan women’s groups, was established in 2015 as a result of the WPVE program. Sisters amplifies the voices of women and promotes effective engagement on peace and security issues at local, national, and regional levels. Sisters is now a critical partner of the Kenyan government and has helped prevent terrorist attacks, advised policymakers, and reviewed key policy documents such as counterterrorism strategies.

Related Publications

After the Taliban’s Takeover: Pakistan’s TTP problem

After the Taliban’s Takeover: Pakistan’s TTP problem

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

By: Asfandyar Mir, Ph.D.

In 2021, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) insurgency escalated its challenge against Pakistan. Operating from bases in Afghanistan, and with a growing presence inside Pakistan, the group mounted an increasing number of attacks against Pakistani security forces — as well as against some critical Chinese interests in Pakistan. The insurgency also showed renewed political strength by bringing in splintered factions and improving internal cohesion. Additionally, al-Qaeda signaled its continued alliance with the TTP. On Tuesday, after an attack by the TTP on the police in Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad, Pakistan’s Interior Minister warned that more attacks by the group are likely.

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The Long Road to Peace in the Southern Philippines

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

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For four centuries, the Muslim-majority areas in the southern reaches of the Philippines have resisted domination by the capital Manila, whether its leaders were Spanish, American or Filipino. This dynamic has spawned insurgencies, glimmers of hope for peaceful coexistence and repeated disappointment — all amid endemic violence and poverty.

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Motives, Benefits, and Sacred Values: Examining the Psychology of Nonviolent Action and Violent Extremism

Motives, Benefits, and Sacred Values: Examining the Psychology of Nonviolent Action and Violent Extremism

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

By: Jonathan Pinckney, Ph.D.;  Michael Niconchuk;  Sarah Ryan

What motivates one person to engage in acts of violent extremism, while others choose to pursue change through nonviolent action? This report is based on pilot research into the psychological and social dynamics of a nonviolent resistance group—Algeria’s Hirak movement—that employs some of the same measures used to study participation in violent extremist organizations. A deeper understanding of these dynamics, it is hoped, will help practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to identify and support paths away from violent extremism and to strengthen and sustain engagement in nonviolent action.

Type: Peaceworks

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What Does IS-K’s Resurgence Mean for Afghanistan and Beyond?

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

By: Asfandyar Mir, Ph.D.

Last month’s bombing outside the Kabul airport was a devastating sign of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province’s (IS-K) recent resurgence. The group had already launched 77 attacks in the first four months of 2021 — an increase from 21 in the same period last year. This renewed capacity for mass-casualty attacks could further destabilize Afghanistan’s already precarious security situation, leaving both the new Taliban government and the United States with a vested interest in mounting an effective campaign to undercut IS-K’s presence in the region. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

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Related Projects

Women Preventing Extremist Violence (WPEV)

Women Preventing Extremist Violence (WPEV)

Past Project

The Women Preventing Extremist Violence (WPEV) is a pilot project of the USIP’s Gender and Peacebuilding team designed to increase women’s agency, influence and engagement in strengthening community level resilience to violent extremism. Through a training program and facilitated dialogues, USIP’s staff works with in-country partners to bring together representatives of women civil society and the security sector in an exploration of the local drivers of violent extremism, and potential strat...

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Women Preventing Violent Extremism (WPVE) in the Horn and Sahel

Women Preventing Violent Extremism (WPVE) in the Horn and Sahel

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.

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