Female Fighters in the Sierra Leone War: Challenging the Assumptions?


Coulter, Chris. 2008. “Female Fighters in the Sierra Leone War: Challenging the Assumptions?” Feminist Review 8: 54-73.

Author: Chris Coulter


This article looks at how the category of female fighters in the Sierra Leone civil war (1991–2002) was interpreted by the local population and by the international humanitarian community. The category of the female fighter both challenges and confuses the gendered stereotypes of ‘woman the victim’ and ‘man the perpetrator’ on multiple levels. Most research on ‘women and war’ focuses on women either as inherently more peaceful or merely as victims, and often unwittingly reproduces in ‘war-affected women’ a corresponding lack of ‘agency’. In this article, I criticize such theorizing by demonstrating the diversity and specificity of Sierra Leonean women's war experiences, while also examining how the notion of and discourse about war itself is gendered. While it has become necessary to expand the inquiries into what women do in war and to critically analyse women's roles as perpetuators and perpetrators of war and conflict, this article maintains that in situations where one can talk about the violence of women, as in the example of female combatants, one often finds violence against women as well.

Keywords: female fighters, war, gender, Sierra Leone, West Africa

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gender-Based Violence, Humanitarian Assistance, Violence Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2008

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