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Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others


Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2002. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” American Anthropologist 104 (3): 783–90.

Author: Lila Abu-Lughod


This article explores the ethics of the current "War on Terrorism," asking whether anthropology, the discipline devoted to understanding and dealing with cultural difference, can provide us with critical purchase on the justifications made for American intervention in Afghanistan in terms of liberating, or saving, Afghan women. I look first at the dangers of reifying culture, apparent in the tendencies to plaster neat cultural icons like the Muslim woman over messy historical and political dynamics. Then, calling attention to the resonances of contemporary discourses on equality, freedom, and rights with earlier colonial and missionary rhetoric on Muslim women, I argue that we need to develop, instead, a serious appreciation of differences among women in the world—as products of different histories, expressions of different circumstances, and manifestations of differently structured desires. Further, I argue that rather than seeking to "save" others (with the superiority it implies and the violences it would entail) we might better think in terms of (1) working with them in situations that we recognize as always subject to historical transformation and (2) considering our own larger responsibilities to address the forms of global injustice that are powerful shapers of the worlds in which they find themselves. I develop many of these arguments about the limits of "cultural relativism" through a consideration of the burqa and the many meanings of veiling in the Muslim world.

Keywords: freedom

Topics: Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Religion, Rights, Terrorism

Year: 2002

Loyalist Women Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland: Beginning a Feminist Conversation about Conflict Resolution


McEvoy, Sandra. 2009. “Loyalist Women Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland: Beginning a Feminist Conversation about Conflict Resolution.” Security Studies 18 (2): 262–86. doi:10.1080/09636410902900095.

Author: Sandra McEvoy


Research on war, conflict, and terrorism has traditionally focused on the motivations of male combatants to participate in political violence. Such a focus has largely ignored the role of women who wield political violence. This article revisits one of feminist International Relations (IR) most basic questions, “Where are the women?” and encourages an expanded view of security and conflict resolution that asks how combatant women might contribute to current scholarly understanding of conflict and conflict resolution processes. I argue that the thirty-year conflict remained intractable in part because of the exclusion of those Loyalist women who wielded political violence, seriously limiting the British and Irish governments' ability to understand and resolve the conflict. Included in the analysis is interview data collected in an eight-month empirical study conducted by the author in 2006 with thirty women who identify as past or present members or supporters of Loyalist paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland. The unique perceptions of Loyalist women combatants of four cross-border agreements between 1974 and 2006 are used to illustrate how a feminist approach to conflict resolution can serve as an innovating starting point in theorizing about and attempting to resolve conflict.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Paramilitaries, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Security, Terrorism, Violence Regions: Europe Countries: United Kingdom

Year: 2009

Female Suicide Bombers


Zedalis, Debra D. 2004. Female Suicide Bombers. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific.

Author: Debra D. Zedalis


Suicide bombers are today’s weapon of choice. Terrorists are using suicide bombers because they are a low cost, low technology, and low risk weapon. Suicide bombers are readily available, require little training, leave no trace behind, and strike fear into the general population. The success of suicide bombers depends upon an element of surprise, as well as accessibility to targeted areas or populations. Both of these required elements have been enjoyed by women suicide bombers. Female suicide bombers were used in the past; however, the recent spate of them in different venues, in different countries, and for different terrorist organizations forces us to study this terrorist method.

This research paper reviews historical female suicide bombers, focuses on female suicide bomber characteristics, analyzes recent changes in application by various terrorist organizations, and provides implications of change within a strategic assessment of future female suicide bombings.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Gender, Women, Terrorism

Year: 2004

Myths in the Representations of Women Terrorists


Talbot, Rhiannon. 2001. “Myths in the Representations of Women Terrorists.” Eire-Ireland: Journal of Irish Studies 35 (3-4): 165-86.

Author: Rhiannon Talbot


The average depiction of women terrorists draws on notions that they are (a) extremist feminists; (b) only bound into terrorism via a relationship with a man (c) only acting in supporting roles within terrorist organizations; (d) mentally inept; (e) unfeminine in some way ; or any combination of the above. The representations of women terrorists within this particular discourse tend to present them as a dichotomy. The identity of a women terrorist is cut into two mutually exclusive halves; either the "woman" or the "terrorist" is emphasized, but never together. The construction of a "terrorist" is a strongly masculine one, whereas, the perception of femininity excludes use of indiscriminate violence. Not surprisingly, when a woman terrorist is represented, her culpability as an empowered female employing traditionally masculine means to achieve her goals very rarely emerges. She is seldom the highly reasoned, non-emotive, political animal that is the picture of her male counterpart; in short, she rarely escapes her sex. This essay explores the above dichotomy in five parts. First is a contextualization of women’s contribution to terrorism globally. Then consideration centres on how criminological explanations inform debates about women terrorists and our understanding of deviant and rebellious women. The main body of the paper offers an analysis of the explanations given for why women become involved in terrorism, including a critique of the separation of the “feminine” from the “terrorist.” The fourth section considers the perceptions of women who become involved in terrorism; discussion centres on the role of women as auxiliaries and depictions of terrorists as “unfeminine” women. The concluding section concentrates on female participants’ experience with terrorism: it examines what women terrorists do and how they subvert stereotypes to their own advantage, thereby corroborating the existence of the dichotomous representation. The material herein addresses the scholarly representations that often feed those of popular culture. Academic discourse is regularly presented as a superior form of knowledge. Whenever a terrorist attack or crisis occurs, general media sources frequently turn to academics for guidance in understanding the situation – and its actors. Thus, scholastic constructions of women terrorists can be particularly powerful propaganda tools.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Masculinity/ies, Femininity/ies, Terrorism, Violence

Year: 2001

Rocking the Cradle To Rocking the World: The Role of Muslim Female Fighters


Ali, Farhana. 2006. “Rocking the Cradle To Rocking the World: The Role of Muslim Female Fighters.” Journal of International Women’s Studies 8 (1): 21-35.

Author: Farhana Ali


Attacks by the mujahidaat are arguably more deadly than those conducted by male fighters and could motivate other Muslim women to adopt suicide as the tactic of choice. The use of Muslim women to conduct martyrdom, or suicide, operations by male-dominated terrorist groups could have implications on the jihadi mindset, challenging more conservative groups such as Al Qaeda, to reconsider the utility of the Muslim woman on the front lines of jihad. These terrorist groups will likely exploit women to conduct operations on their behalf to advance their goals and achieve tactical gain. Muslim women are increasingly joining the global jihad, partly motivated by religious conviction to change the plight of Muslims under occupation, but others are actively recruited by Al Qaeda and local terrorist groups strained by increased arrests and deaths of male operatives to fight in the name of Islam. Convinced of the operational advantages of using a female fighter, and the media attention she garners—including some sympathy from the Muslim world—men began to rely on women to carry out attacks. While women enlisted and played a pivotal role in operations, including the veteran Palestinian female Leila Khalid for a myriad of successful hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, counterterrorism experts and analysts rarely focused on female terrorists. According to Dr. Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist, the notion of a woman perpetrating acts of violence “runs counter to Western stereotypes and misconceptions of male terrorists; we assume that women are second-class citizens and rely on the men to run the organization,” rather than challenging our prejudices of women in these terror networks.

Topics: Combatants, Female Combatants, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, Religion, Terrorism

Year: 2006

The History and Evolution of Martyrdom in the Service of Defensive Jihad: An Analysis of Suicide Bombers in Current Conflicts


Ali, Farhana, and Jerrold Post. 2008. “The History and Evolution of Martyrdom in the Service of Defensive Jihad: An Analysis of Suicide Bombers in Current Conflicts.” Social Research 75 (2): 615-54.

Authors: Farhana Ali, Jerrold Post


This paper explores the transformation of martyrdom, a legitimate Islamic concept, into suicide terrorism. The authors argue that the original application, meaning, and glory of martyrs (shahid) in Islam is violated by extremists' use of suicide terrorism that is being justified with the misappropriation of Islamic principles, narratives, and themes. That extremists are able to redefine martrydom and jihad--two terms that are hotly debated and a source of controversy in the Muslim world--creates not only tension among the West and Muslims, but seeks to strip Islam of its true authenticity. The question of how to restore the fundamental values of classical Islam as well as the need to revive Islam in an effort to marginalize, if not eradicate, extremists is beginning to occur on a global scale. However, reversing the extremist ideology and strengthening moderate Islam will require a sustained effort and coordination among various Islamic groups, communities and countries to have a lasting effect in defeating suicide terrorists.

Topics: Gender, Women, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, Religion, Terrorism

Year: 2008

Feminist IR and the Case of the "Black Widows": Reproducing Gendered Divisions


West, Jessica. 2005. “Feminist IR and the Case of the ‘Black Widows’: Reproducing Gendered Divisions.” Innovations: Journal of Politics (5): 1–16.

Author: Jessica West


Feminism has been a marginal approach to International Relations (IR) since its inception following the Cold War, however in an effort to reinvigorate its analytical power, Charlotte Hooper demonstrated how the practice of IR actively reproduces as well as reflects gender identities in the form of hegemonic masculinity. The purpose of the following study is to challenge and extend Hooper’s argument by investigating whether or not the practice of international relations also produces a hegemonic femininity. By examining the popular portrayal of Chechen women terrorists commonly referred to as the ‘Black Widows,’ [West] argue[s] that our interpretations of international events do indeed produce a hegemonic femininity that places women in the familial world of emotion and victimhood. In effect, a feminine niche is created for women who partake in traditionally masculine activities. This analysis speaks to two additional controversies in feminist literature: the effect of adding women to andocentric categories and whether or not women’s violence should be represented in feminist theories. The difficulties that feminist encounter with each of these issues is demonstrative of the need to eschew rather than clamour for a position within the strictures of mainstream IR. Instead, feminists should embrace their position on the margins of IR and the opportunity that it provides to destabilizing the hierarchies, exclusions and violence upon which it is based.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Gender, Women, Masculinity/ies, Gender Roles, Femininity/ies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, Terrorism Regions: Asia, Europe Countries: Russian Federation

Year: 2005

Terror-Crime Nexus? Terrorism and Arms, Drug, and Human Trafficking in Georgia


Traughber, Colleen M. 2007. “Terror-Crime Nexus? Terrorism and Arms, Drug, and Human Trafficking in Georgia.” Connections 6 (1): 47–64.

Author: Colleen M. Traughber

Topics: Terrorism, Trafficking, Arms Trafficking, Drug Trafficking, Human Trafficking Regions: Central Asia, Europe Countries: Georgia

Year: 2007

Why Do People Become Terrorists? A Prosecutor’s Experiences


Spataro, Armando. 2008. “Why Do People Become Terrorists? A Prosecutor’s Experiences.” Journal of International Criminal Justice 6 (3): 507–24. doi:10.1093/jicj/mqn033.

Author: Armando Spataro


Undeniably the marginalization suffered by many Islamic emigrants (particularly from North Africa) and the consequent difficulties in fitting in the land of adoption, constitute contributory causes — of a socio-economic nature — of their drift into terrorism. However, a distorted view of the principles of Islam and a violent and criminal interpretation of the obligation of Jihad constitute the main factor of their drive. Statements made in the course of interrogation by arrested terrorists (especially by supergrasses, referred to in Italy as ‘repenters’) as well as ideological documents disseminated internationally on the internet or items seized in the course of various judicial enquiries consistently show that the religious view of the world, obviously in the distorted perspective specific to terrorists, constitutes the main reason for their behaviour, whereas practically no importance attaches to the aspiration to liberate specific occupied territories or oppressed peoples. Another possible motivation, at least for suicidal acts, is linked with those of an economic nature: in connection with various judicial investigations it has emerged that sums of money collected as voluntary contributions from the ‘faithful’ serves not to finance the ‘terrorist act’ as such, but to guarantee a future for family members of a suicide attacker, or someone who died in the course of a terrorist action.

Topics: Economies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, Religion, Terrorism

Year: 2008

Interrogating Imperialism: Conversations on Gender, Race, and War


Riley, Robin L., and Naeem Inayatullah. 2006. Interrogating Imperialism: Conversations on Gender, Race, and War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Authors: Robin L. Riley, Naeem Inayatullah


This collection of multiple perspectives on the "war on terror" and the new imperialism provides a depth of analysis. Looking at the imperialism and the "war on terror" through a lens focused on gender and race, the contributors expose the limitations of the current popular discourse and help to uncover possibilities not yet apparent in that same discourse. (Amazon)

Keywords: imperialism, gender, race, war on terror, war

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Gendered Discourses, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Race, Terrorism

Year: 2006


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