Women and Al-Shabaab’s Insurgency

For women, supporters or civilians alike, life under Al-Shabaab rule offers a degree of predictability and opportunities for justice that are often absent in areas administered by the federal government. While the insurgents coerce and exploit women to pursue their aims, what they offer across parts of the country nonetheless often remains better than the alternatives. Al-Shabaab’s gender strategy is no great mystery: within a fragile social environment it makes some aspects of women’s lives less of a struggle. It also benefits from the federal government’s blinkered assumption that women do not energise the insurgency, and are either irrelevant to it or its passive victims. While the government’s hand is weak, it can start by recognising the challenge and by taking those steps that are within its power to improve women’s lives.