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Women’s Roles in Terrorist Movements

David Harmon

February 28, 2017

On Tuesday, February 28th, 2017, Professors Christopher C. Harmon and Paula Holmes-Eber delivered a presentation entitled “Women’s Roles in Terrorist Movements.” This talk examined the reasons for incorporating females into underground fighting organizations, and the implications of such participation for redefining and challenging gender roles–both within terrorist organizations and for the larger social and political structures against which the organizations struggle.

Most contemporary research on terrorist movements ignores gender, in large part because of the biased assumption that terrorism is a primarily ‘male’ activity. However, over the past century in Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, revolutionary political movements have accepted and deployed women in numerous important roles: ranging from senior leadership to cadre, as intelligence agents, couriers, combatants and even suicide bombers.

Although religion, region, and culture influence the types of roles women undertake in terrorist organizations, almost every known terrorist organization in recent history has included women. Even some Muslim extremist groups have given approval to the inclusion of female fighters.  Today, the Al Qaeda and ISIL magazines are openly courting female recruits.

Christopher Harmon is an independent scholar, and Paula Holmes-Eber is an Affiliate Professor at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, UW-Seattle.  The event was sponsored by the Center for Global Studies, South Asia Center, East Asia Center, Center for West European Studies, the Middle East Center, and the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle.