Terror groups have increasingly tried to recruit and use women to further their goals in recent years.
Given this, it is all the more vital to study how women can fall victim to the allure of extremism, and understand the role they can play in countering radical ideology, participants at a forum on terrorism heard yesterday.
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) research fellow Jolene Jerard said many young women are lured by a sense of romance and adventure when they travel to Iraq and Syria to marry foreign fighters.
But she added that many South- east Asian women who join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) do so to follow their husbands or other male relatives.
"ISIS has been able to recruit an array of women," she told about 50 religious teachers, Malay-Muslim community leaders and Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) members at the forum at Khadijah Mosque in Geylang Road, which was organised by the group.
In August last year, a 34-year- old Singaporean woman was placed under a Restriction Order to curtail her movement and activities, making her the first woman to be dealt with under the Internal Security Act for terror activity in recent years. She had supported her husband's intention to take up arms in Syria, and was helping him make plans to relocate their family there. He received a two-year detention order.
There are also women lured to Syria by the promise of power.
Dr Jerard said some of them join a female police unit in Raqqa - a Syrian city occupied by ISIS - that apprehends women for various infractions, such as not being fully covered in public. Exercising authority over others gives them a sense of power, she said.
Since 2009, there has been an uptick in recruitment propaganda created by women and aimed at women, said Ms Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin, an associate research fellow at RSIS, who has been tracking extremist chatter online for 10 years.
The social media accounts of many women who have joined ISIS are filled with motivational religious quotes and anecdotes about their daily lives, she said, adding that such subtle appeals can be more powerful than overt recruitment.
"They want to paint a picture that life with ISIS is possible and good," she said.
The advent of social media has also allowed women recruiters to circumvent traditional gender barriers to communicate with and recruit men as well.
In a closed-door session at the forum, Ministry of Home Affairs psychologist Rosleenda Mohd Ali spoke about women's key role in preventing misguided family members from going down the path of extremism.
Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin, speaking to reporters, said there should be efforts to get women more involved in countering radical ideology. "Women can truly shape the values of the family," he said.
Indeed, RRG vice-chairman Mohamed Ali said women counsellors have been effective in providing guidance to the wives and children of men who have been detained for terror-related activities. Of the RRG's 46 members, 10 are women counsellors.
One of them, Ms Syifaa Yusra Mansor, 34, hopes that her familiarity with social media will help her build better rapport with young people who need guidance.