The PARTICIPATION Project has analyzed the role of the gender dimension in the communication and propaganda of extremist and radical groups, and its relevance to the dynamics of radicalisation. The methods, results and conclusions are presented in this article.
Background: Communication strategies of extremism and the gender dimension
Communication strategies of extremism, such as Islamic extremism, far-right extremism, and white supremacist movements have become the focus of interest in the recent decades, primarily due to their increasing visibility and popularity.
This speaks to their strong strategies of communication, that requires a double emphasis, that is
- understand the role of gender as a “pull” factor for extremism groups and the role of recruitment
- understand effective means of communication for better strategies of prevention.
However, it needs to be addressed, that the far-right spectrum has known several modifications when it comes to ideology, propaganda, and communication. No longer always relegated to the fringes, one of the ongoing dynamics is that of its “mainstreaming”, that is either leaving the fringer position or seeing much of its messages appropriated by other, moderate political actors, such as liberals and conservatives. In this regards, the report shows how gender can be a vital pathway of understanding this process, and specifically when it comes to actors that are new on the spectrum, such as identitarians.
The research was conducted in two steps. The first step includes the four case studies of Romania’s AUR and Portugal’s Chega emerging far-right parties; the now outlawed Greece’s Golden Dawn extreme right party; the anarchist scene in Italy and the Incel scene. The second section step then extracts from the case studies the most relevant dynamics and trends related to the gender dimension in understanding “communication”.
Relying on this case study methodology, this research contributes to developing an up-to-date understanding of communicative approaches to prevention and countering of violent extremism and to radicalisation,. Specifically, it explores how gender features in extremist communication, with a focus on emerging trends (ideological re-casting) and hybridisation processes, thus filling key gaps identified by previous tasks in Participation project.
The research is structured around the following research questions:
- What is the role of the gender dimension in the communication and propaganda of extremist and radical groups today?
- How do extremist and radical groups see the gender dimension today? What sets their approach apart from previous dynamics?
- Which specific aspects of the gender dimension are exploited by extremist communication and propaganda?
- What are the main gender-related narratives employed, and what is their evolution over time?
- How do extremist communication and propaganda frame roles within the group and in the wider society?
- What are the main channels used for spreading gender-related communication and propaganda?
- What are the main gender-related aspects that emerge across different types of extremism, if any?
Outcomes and Recommendations
The four case studies presented in this report have highlighted some of the most relevant elements and trends regarding the relationship between gender and communication in contemporary radical and extremist groups.
The most relevant points are:
- Gender has been the central pathway in which the narratives of the far-right have reached mainstreaming. Ideas about an artificiality of these ideas, primarily “blamed” on the left, have been central to discredit progressive feminism, emancipatory social and political measures that challenge gender inequality and the even politics of instigation to violence.
- Anti-gender ideology is flexible enough to accommodate contrasting elements such as passive and active roles for women, thus providing a general communicative frame that supports ideological re-casting, as well as hybridisation between different groups and ideologies. This dynamic can express itself through overlapping narratives, but also on a cultural level. As shown in the chapter about Incels, affective processes do play a role in building a “convergence culture” between once distant communities (both online and offline).
- Gender is central to an increasing polarisation between grassroot movements and democratic organisations. Gender politics and feminism are used to re-create a “conflict” between grassroot and mainstream democratic movements, to vilify democratic mobilisation and the (liberal) democratic order at large. Indeed, a polarised frame about gender is also a way for extremist groups to push anti-establishment messages.
- Historically, the family and, more generally, gender policies have been a central issue in both nationalist and far-right rhetoric. But the analysis adds to the growing literature on the importance of gender in new far-right politics in general, and in far-right critiques of Islam in particular. Anti-gender rhetoric is primarily focused on the decline that new ideas about gender can inflict on the fabric of society, and the ways in which it can contribute to a decline of European values, ideas.
Extremism, Prevention, Radicalisation, Empowerment, Violence, Polarisation, Jihad, School, Student, Teacher, Curriculum, Gender