Non-State Armed Groups

Women, Gender, and the Evolving Tactics of Boko Haram


Zenn, Jacob, and Elizabeth Pearson. 2014. "Women, Gender, and the Evolving Tactics of Boko Haram." Journal of Terrorism Research 5 (1): 46-57.

Authors: Jacob Zenn, Elizabeth Pearson


This article addresses an under-researched aspect of Boko Haram’s activities: gender-based violence (GBV) and its targeting of women. It argues that 2013 marked a significant evolution in Boko Haram’s tactics, with a series of kidnappings, in which one of the main features was the instrumental use of women. This was in response to corresponding tactics by the Nigerian security forces. Additionally the analysis provides evidence of a shift by Boko Haram to include women in its operations, in response to increased pressure on male operatives. It also considers the gendered rationale for instrumentalizing women within the framework of Boko Haram’s ideology and culture, arguing for a greater appreciation of how gender factors in the group’s violence.

Keywords: Boko Haram, terrorism, radicalisation, kidnapping, tactics, gender, women

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Gender Roles, Gender-Based Violence, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, Terrorism, Violence Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Nigeria

Year: 2014

Violence, Toleration, or Inclusion? Exploring Variation in the Experiences of LGBT Combatants in Colombia


Thylin, Theresia. 2020. "Violence, Toleration, or Inclusion? Exploring Variation in the Experiences of LGBT Combatants in Colombia." Sexualities 23 (3): 445-64.

Author: Theresia Thylin


While scholars have started to pay increased attention to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons serving in state security forces, little is known of the experiences of LGBT combatants operating in non-state armed groups in conflict settings. This article explores the experiences of LGBT persons from three different armed groups in Colombia. While LGBT combatants are often in a highly vulnerable position, this article reveals large differences between armed groups, as well as important exceptions within groups that contribute to LGBT combatants’ varied experiences. In conclusion, I argue that understanding these variations in LGBT combatants’ experiences has important policy and programme implications and provides opportunities for more inclusive peacebuilding processes in Colombia and beyond.

Keywords: armed conflict, Colombia, combatants, FARC, LGBT

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Gender, LGBTQ, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, Peacebuilding, Sexuality Regions: Americas, South America Countries: Colombia

Year: 2020

Female Fighters: Why Rebel Groups Recruit Women for War


Wood, Reed M. 2019. Female Fighters: Why Rebel Groups Recruit Women for War. New York: Columbia University Press.

Author: Reed M. Wood


The presence of women combatants on the battlefield-especially in large numbers-strikes many observers as a notable departure from the historical norm. Yet women have played a significant active role in many contemporary armed rebellions. Over recent decades, numerous resistance movements in many regions of the globe have deployed thousands of female fighters in combat. In Female Fighters, Reed M. Wood explains why some rebel groups deploy women in combat while others exclude women from their ranks, and the strategic implications of this decision. Examining a vast original dataset on female fighters in over 250 rebel organizations, Wood argues rebel groups can gain considerable strategic advantages by including women fighters. Drawing on women increases the pool of available recruits and helps ameliorate resource constraints. Furthermore, the visible presence of female fighters often becomes an important propaganda tool for domestic and international audiences. Images of women combatants help raise a group's visibility, boost local recruitment, and aid the group's efforts to solicit support from transnational actors and diaspora communities. However, Wood finds that, regardless of the wartime resource challenges they face, religious fundamentalist rebels consistently resist utilizing female fighters. A rich, data-driven study, Female Fighters presents a systematic, comprehensive analysis of the impact women's participation has on organized political violence in the modern era. (Summary from Columbia University Press)

Table of Contents:

1. Why Rebels Mobilize Women for War

2. The Strategic Implications of Female Fighters

3. Female Combatants in Three Civil Wars

4. Empirical Evaluation of Female Combatant Prevalence

5. Empirical Evaluation of the Effects of Female Combatants

Conclusion: Understanding Women's Participation in Armed Resistance

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Combatants, Female Combatants, Media, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, Religion, Violence

Year: 2019

Women and 'New Wars' in El Salvador


Applebaum, Anna, and Briana Mawby. 2018. “Women and ‘New Wars’ in El Salvador.” Stability: International Journal of Security & Development 7 (1): 1-15.

Authors: Anna Applebaum, Briana Mawby


The most violent countries in the world are increasingly countries considered ‘at peace’. From Honduras to Mexico to South Africa, armed violence, often by gangs, has led to high levels of casualties. Disruption of daily life due to armed violence is similar to the challenges experienced during wartime, though often without the markers or recognition associated with war. With gang violence primarily viewed as a domestic criminal issue, external support for conflict mitigation and humanitarian assistance is often low. Yet the disruptive impact of such high rates of violence is significant, and the humanitarian impact is severe. New theoretical frameworks are needed to better problematize extreme armed violence in ‘peacetime’ states. This article seeks to bring an understanding of the severity of armed violence in states such as El Salvador into engagement with the critical and theoretical foundations of the women, peace and security (WPS) field. Gendered dynamics shape gang violence in El Salvador, and a gender lens helps reimagine its impact. Aligning critical theory with the lived experience of this subset of armed conflict allows new directions for engagement and, in particular, offers the opportunity to re-examine long-standing assumptions of what initiates, maintains, and challenges armed violence by non-state actors in communities considered ‘at peace.’ This article seeks to encourage greater debate and scholarship to inform our understandings of armed conflict and gender in communities affected by gang violence, such as those in El Salvador. In these communities, the level of violence often replicates the experiences of war, and thus a WPS lens is a critical tool for analysis. 

Topics: Armed Conflict, "New Wars", Gender, Humanitarian Assistance, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, UN Security Council Resolutions on WPS, Violence Regions: Americas, Central America Countries: El Salvador

Year: 2018

De mujer combatiente a mujer constructora de paz. Inclusión de la voz feminina en el escenario del posacuerdo


Díaz, Omar Huertas, Angie Lorena Ruiz Herrera, y Nancy Judith Botía Hernández. 2018. “De mujer combatiente a mujer constructora de paz. Inclusión de la voz feminina en el escenario del posacuerdo.” Revista Ratio Juris UNAULA 12 (25): 43-67.

Authors: Omar Huertas Díaz, Angie Lorena Ruiz Herrera, Nancy Judith Botía Hernández


Los acuerdos de paz alcanzados por el gobierno nacional y las FARC-EP demandan el apoyo de los diferentes sectores de la población colombiana, para la construcción de la tan anhelada paz estable y duradera. Por lo anterior, la presente investigación tiene como objetivo vislumbrar la participación de la mujer excombatiente en los escenarios de paz, así como la necesidad de su articulación luego de los acuerdos colombianos. Para esto, se realizará una aproximación a las voces de algunas mujeres excombatientes de diferentes grupos armados ilegales que se encuentran en los programas de Desarme, Desmovilización y Reintegración (DDR) de la anterior Agencia Colombiana para la Reintegración (ACR), ahora Agencia de Reincorporación y Normalización (ARN); igualmente, se conocerán algunos de los procesos de paz desarrollados en otras naciones, para entender cómo la mujer excombatiente ha participado en los procesos de construcción de paz, encontrando que a nivel internacional ha sido poca la articulación de las mujeres excombatientes y que en Colombia se hacen esfuerzos por la articulación de las mujeres en general, abriendo las puertas para la participación política de todas, independientemente de sus ideales políticos, pues son valiosos los aportes que pueden representar en el escenario del posacuerdo.
The peace agreements between national government and the farc-ep demanding the support of different sectors of Colombian people for the building of desired stable and lasting peace. Therefore, the recent research has us objective to show the participation of the former combatant woman on the peace fields and the need of her articulation after Colombian agreements. For this, we are going to realize one approximation to the voices of some of the former combatant women from different illegal armed groups, who are in the programs of the Colombian Agency for Reintegration (ACR), now Reorganization and Standardization Agency (ARN). We are going to know some the peace process development in other countries also, so we can know how the former combatant woman has participated in the processes of peace building. We found that in international level, their articulation has been little compared with Colombian case, where efforts are made for the articulation of the general women, opening doors for the political participation of all the women in independency of political ideas, well are found valuable the contributions that they can to represent on the stage of post agreement.

Keywords: acuerdos de paz, Mujeres, mujeres ex-combatientes, posacuerdo, posconflicto, paz, peace agreement, women, former combatant women, post agreement, postconflict, peace

Topics: Combatants, Female Combatants, DDR, Gender, Women, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, Post-Conflict, Peacebuilding, Political Participation, Peace Processes Regions: Americas, South America Countries: Colombia

Year: 2018

Genderization and Links with Illegal Armed Groups in Colombia


Onofre, Darío Reynaldo Muñoz. 2014. "Genderization and Links with Illegal Armed Groups in Colombia." In Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in Colombia, edited by Stella Sacipa-Rodriguez and Maritza Montero, 121-36. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Author: Darîo Reynaldo Muñoz


This chapter presents qualitative research results on the relationship between gender socialization (genderization) and the joining of illegal armed groups in Colombia, through narratives of 21 male and 13 female ex-combatant guerrillas and paramilitaries, obtained through focus groups, in-depth interviews, and field diaries. The analytical perspective includes: constructionist social psychology, the theory of gender performativity and perspectives from technologies of the self. The results show how certain gender patterns normalized during infancy socialization have a bearing on the future possibility of joining armed groups. They also show how participation in these groups strengthens belligerent subjectivities. The conclusions suggest psychosocial keys for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration processes, from an ethical–political perspective which combines gender and cultures of peace.

Keywords: gender patterns, gender socialization, guerrillas, para-military troops, demobilization, disarmament, reintegration, children, ethical-political perspective

Topics: Combatants, DDR, Gender, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Paramilitaries, Non-State Armed Groups, Peacebuilding Regions: Americas, South America Countries: Colombia

Year: 2014

The Jihad Feminist Dynamics of Terrorism and Subordination of Women in the ISIS


Makanda, Joseph. 2019. "The Jihad Feminist Dynamics of Terrorism and Subordination of Women in the ISIS." Multidisciplinary Journal of Gender Studies 8 (2): 135-59. 

Author: Joseph Makanda


The increasing embeddedness of the jihad feminist within the Islamic State’s (ISIS) operations is eliciting works on the role of women in terrorism. However, there is yet to be a more constructive analysis that adequately accounts for the luring of Muslim women into the ISIS as a justification of the patriarchal beliefs and oppressive social systems. This paper is among the first attempts to draw on the Jihad Feminism Theory (JFT) to develop a conceptual discourse that explains the causal relationship between jihad feminist fighters and promotion of patriarchal practices and beliefs within the ISIS. Far from standing against any forms of Western feminization- as espoused by the ISIS, the paper argues that jihad feminism has further subverted Muslim women to sedentary roles within the ISIS as a way of sustaining the organisations’ operations and existence.
La creciente integración de la yihad feminista en las operaciones del Estado Islámico de Irak y Siria (ISIS) está provocando investigaciones sobre el papel de la mujer en el terrorismo. Sin embargo, aún no se ha realizado un análisis más constructivo que responda adecuadamente a la interfaz entre el feminismo yihadista y la subyugación femenina dentro de las operaciones del ISIS. Este documento es uno de los primeros intentos de utilizar la Teoría del feminismo yihad (JFT) para desarrollar un discurso conceptual que explique la relación entre las luchadoras feministas yihad y la promoción de prácticas y creencias patriarcales dentro del grupo ISIS. Lejos de oponerse a cualquier forma de feminización occidental, como defienden las feministas yihad, el artículo sostiene que el feminismo yihad ha subvertido aún más a las mujeres musulmanas a roles sedentarios dentro del ISIS como una forma de sostener las operaciones y la existencia de las organizaciones. Este es un documento cualitativo que se basa en un análisis de escritorio de fuentes secundarias de datos. 

Keywords: feminism, Islam, ISIS, Jihad feminism, terrorism, feminsmo, Feminismo Jihad, terrorismo

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Conflict, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East

Year: 2019

Jihadi Brides and Female Volunteers: Reading the Islamic State's War to See Gender and Agency in Conflict Dynamics


Sjoberg, Laura. 2017. "Jihadi Brides and Female Volunteers: Reading the Islamic State’s War to See Gender and Agency in Conflict Dynamics." Conflict Management and Peace Science 35 (3): 296-311.

Author: Laura Sjoberg


Decades ago, Cynthia Enloe called for a research agenda looking for where women are in war and conflict. Enloe recognized that women play active roles in and are affected by wars and conflicts, but are often ignored in news coverage, policy analysis, and scholarship. The current conflict in Syria and Iraq appears as a counterexample: hundreds of millions of Google results mention women and the Islamic State (IS). Subjects vary widely: the stories cover female victims of IS, female recruits to IS, and women who fight IS. This article explores the hypervisibility of women in this conflict, looking for lessons about sex, gender, and conflict. The first part analyses discourses in a sample of major news reports, evaluating how different women around IS are represented. It finds that agency is removed from both female victims and female IS partisans, while it is exaggerated for women who fight against IS. This corresponds with emphasis on different gendered traits for differently positioned women. After tracing these gendered representations, the article applies theories of gender and conflict to understand how women have become central to the fighting and coverage of the conflict in Syria and Iraq. It concludes that paying attention both to the empirical presence of women and to the co-constitution of gender, war, and conflict augments understanding of this war, and across conflicts.

Keywords: feminist theory, Gender, Islamic state, media coverage, terrorism, violence, war

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Conflict, Feminisms, Gender, Media, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, Terrorism, Violence Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Iraq, Syria

Year: 2017

Gender in the Representations of Armed Conflict


Toivanen, Mari, and Bahar Baser. 2016. "Gender in the Representations of an Armed Conflict." Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 9 (3): 294-314.

Authors: Mari Toivanen, Bahar Baser


The Syrian civil war has been, without doubt, the war most widely covered by international media in this millennium. Having engaged in an armed combat against the Islamic State (IS), Kurdish military troops, especially the female battalion, have received considerable international media attention. This study examines the gender dimension of national media representations of female Kurdish combatants belonging to the Protection Units (YPJ) in Syria. How have the female combatants been framed in British and French media? To what extent are these representations gendered? The overall data consists of news articles from national media outlets in France and in the United Kingdom between 2014 and 2015, and is analyzed with frame analysis. The results show that the juxtaposition of female combatants with IS fighters allows the depiction of the participation of the former as exceptional and heroic and as one that deconstructs the masculinity of its adversary. The role of female combatants in the ongoing conflict is represented in the British and French media through the construction of sexualized and modern-day heroine figures that are largely glorified.

Keywords: Kurdish, media, Gender, framing, female combatant, Islamic state

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Gender, Masculinity/ies, Media, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East, Europe, Northern Europe, Western Europe Countries: France, Syria, United Kingdom

Year: 2016

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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