Women and International Conflict

UNIFIL Malaysian women peacekeepers in Lebanon UNPhoto Pasqual Gorriz(Photo from: Soroptimist International)

One of the unfortunate aspects of scholarship regarding security policy is that we tend not to be the most diverse group. As such, important perspectives are sometimes missed. Luckily for Sp403 we get to work with some outstanding scholars like Jennifer Inglett. She is currently working on (among other things) the participation of women in conflict and shared some thoughts:

Women provide a necessary component to the longevity and efficiency of an insurgency, revolution, or terror campaign. Once recruited, they bring with them a vast network of contacts, supporters, and possible recruits through family ties. As we have seen in Sri Lanka, Chechnya, and Ireland active violence by terrorist organizations is not restricted to the arena of men. This trend in female extremism seems to have taken root in even the most fundamentalist organizations whose religious and cultural foundations traditionally restricted female participation to the benign support function of caretaker. While the use of females as suicide bombers puts the US security forces at a tactical disadvantage- mainly due to the need of the armed forces to maintain legitimacy in eyes of societies that from day one viewed their presence with deep rooted suspicion- do these “Jihad Janes” have any other impact on either the organization’s operations or effectiveness? How do the societies in which these organizations are embedded react to the recruitment of women?

            While the use of females as a tactical tool, particularly by the underdog, is not new, the twisted feminist inside reacts to Al Qaeda’s call for women in a smug fashion; however, the historian quickly reasserts the reality of the tactical use of the female fighter. Their participation, while lauded as an unfortunate necessity at the time and many male fighters will view these women with respect during conflict, the conclusion of the conflict is quickly followed by the retrenchment of patriarchal traditional practices that can sometimes be more fervent and salient than prior to conflict.  I would argue that the use of females in combatant roles prolongs the life of terror organizations and the duration of conflict that they are associated with. If this holds true, then counterterrorism agencies and state policies should shift their focus to proactive agendas that decrease the incentive for female participation.  

Further reading here and here.

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