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Renu, eldest sister of Shamima Begum, 15, holds her sister's photo while being interviewed by the media. Relatives of three missing schoolgirls believed to have fled to Syria to join Islamic State have pleaded for them to return home. Laura Lean

More young girls are leaving their homes to join ISIS militants. But why?

It is evident that many of these women are drawn to the society depicted by ISIS, which gives them a prominent – if restrictive – role.

THE RECENT DISAPPEARANCE of three young girls form London, who are thought to have travelled to Syria to join ISIS, has again raised the question as to why young women are leaving their families to join an organisation which exhibits such brutality.

A number of girls from the west have made similar journeys for varying reasons, including to fulfil their sense of adventure, for marriage and/or to foster their sense of identity. ISIS have been successful in providing these women with a clearly defined and influential role.

In a manifesto released by Al-Khanssaa, which was recently translated by Charlie Winter of the Quilliam Foundation, the role of women under ISIS is narrowly defined for the “divine duty of motherhood”. Furthermore, women are seen to possess a “heavenly secret” of “stillness and stability”, and whose fundamental function is to be in the “house with her husband and children”.

Young women are given a prominent – if highly restrictive – role

It is evident that many of these women are drawn to the patriarchal society depicted by ISIS and in doing so reject western-styled feminism. Many have argued that the style of feminism represented in western movies can appear threatening to men because it promotes promiscuity and leads to higher divorce rates. Therefore, this style of feminism appears incompatible with Islam.

However ironically, it is the feeling of empowerment which initially inspired many of these women to join ISIS where they are given a prominent, yet highly restrictive, role. They are viewed as the “Director, the most important person in a media production”, yet their purpose is to breed and educate their offspring according to ISIS’s interpretation of Islam.

However, it appears that many of these women are drawn to this oppressive lifestyle because of the level of influence, or apparent influence, which is bestowed upon them.

Many people, myself included, will view women’s role under ISIS as the antithesis of female empowerment. However, on social media, ISIS have proved adept at cultivating a sense of empowerment and sisterhood which is absent for many of these women in Britain. Therefore, it could be argued that ISIS are attempting to create their own brand of feminism, just as they have created their own brand of Islam.

Reinstating control

In recent days it has emerged that women living under Islamic State are facing increased restrictions on their movement and dress. Women are forced to be accompanied by a man at all times and are forced to wear a double layered veil, gloves and a loose abaya (cloak). Failure to comply with these restrictions results in beatings and fines.

By reinstating their control over the movement and dress of women, it is clear that ISIS are trying to ensure that they do not lose control over their female population.

It is evident that there is a stark difference from the type of female empowerment ISIS cultivate on social media, and the harsh reality women face living under Islamic State. It could be argued that ISIS never wanted us to find their manifesto as it was never translated into English by the group. Nevertheless, many of our young women who leave to join Islamic State remain unaware of this bleak reality, and thus are in for a rude awakening.

Ruth Manning works with the  Quilliam Foundation, a London based counter-extremism think tank. You can follow Ruth on Twitter @Ruth_Manning

This article originally appeared in the Quilliam Foundation website. 

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