Understanding Women at War: A Mixed-Methods Exploration of Leadership in Non-State Armed Groups


Henshaw, Alexis, June Eric-Udorie, Hannah Godefa, Kathryn Howley, Cat Jeon, Elise Sweezy, and Katheryn Zhao. 2019. "Understanding Women at War: A Mixed-methods Exploration of Leadership in Non-state Armed Groups." Small Wars & Insurgencies: Gender, Insurgency and Terrorism 30 (6-7): 1089-116.

Authors: Alexis Henshaw, June Eric-Udorie, Hannah Godefa, Kathryn Howley, Cat Jeon, Elise Sweezy, Katheryn Zhao


Recent efforts aimed at understanding women’s contributions to nonstate armed groups have produced large-scale data sets on female combatants (Wood and Thomas 2017) and more limited data on women’s roles as supporters and leaders in armed groups (Henshaw 2016; 2017, Loken 2018). The present study aims to build on this literature by providing new data on the scope of women’s leadership in insurgent groups. While existing quantitative literature has focused mostly on the experience of female combatants, we argue that the presence of women in leadership roles is crucial to understanding how gender might influence the outcomes of insurgency. We introduce new data on over 200 insurgent groups active since World War II. While our analysis confirms earlier small-sample work demonstrating women’s presence in leadership roles, a qualitative analysis reveals that leadership is often gendered–revealing patterns of tokenization and tracking women to low-prestige leadership roles. At the same time, our findings challenge past research on jihadist organizations, showing limited expansion in the authority of women.

Keywords: civil conflict, civil war, gender, women, insurgency, terrorism, rebellion, leadership

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Combatants, Female Combatants, Conflict, Gender, Women, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups

Year: 2019

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