According to a new report one in seven Westerners, and one in six Americans, who leave home for the Islamic State are women. “They often appear to be typical teenagers,” says Brigitte Lebans Nacos, a political science professor at Columbia University, “They ask about hair dryers. They’re looking for romance. They’re fans of ISIS, like others are fans of pop stars.” The average age of these women is 21, and a third of them are teenagers. According to Erin Marie Saltman, a counter-extremism researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue at King’s College in London, many of these young women feel alienated and sexualized by a materialistic Western culture. Others have family or lovers who have already defected to ISIS. Islamic State propaganda promises women the opportunity to aid in the cause of persecuted Muslims and engage in a more spiritually fulfilling life, surrounded by people encompassing similar ideals. But the reality once they get there appears to be quite different from the pitch: The Washington Post’s Kevin Sullivan interviewed women at a refugee camp in Jordan who’d escaped the Islamic State, and they described an “institutionalized, near-assembly-line system to provide fighters with wives, sex, and children.” A manifesto released by an Islamic State women’s group says a woman’s purpose is to be a wife, and that girls may marry once they turn 9 years old.
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