From Pawn to Knights: The Changing Role of Women’s Agency in Terrorism?

Authored by: Mia Bloom and Ayse Lokmanoglu

Categories: Violent Conflict
Sub-Categories: Violent Extremism
Region: Middle East and North Africa
Year: 2020
Citation: Bloom, Mia and Ayse Lokmanoglu. “From Pawn to Knights: The Changing Role of Women’s Agency in Terrorism?” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, April 2020.

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As terrorist groups became more technologically advanced with their media campaigns, the global audience began to see pictures of women in black burkas pledging allegiance to the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and posing with guns. Although there is a backlash against such change that the authors see reflected in the ideologies of violent extremism; the shifts in gender relations within these groups are significant to examine. Further, the authors face questions about the repatriation of ISIS women and children to their countries of origin – notably questions of agency and culpability within the mainstream media. This paper asks: to what extent have women’s roles changed within and across terrorist groups? Is there a move toward women’s empowerment, or is it a facade? Analyzing the three cases of Al-Qaeda (AQ), Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) does their advent represent a significant shift? The emergence of ISIS and Boko Haram’s explicitly gendered strategies of violence and recruitment within the highly patriarchal and misogynistic Salafi-jihadist culture, and PKK’s postconflict gender-equal political advances demonstrates that addressing women’s agency through a gendered analysis outside of the masculine domain is imperative. Scholars should challenge the idea that women have limited roles.