Women Participating In Political Violence Throughout History Criminology Essay


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Women have participated in political violence throughout history. Yet, the active involvement of women has not been widely accepted. The possibility of political motives is not often considered and according to the myth of protection, men are the cause of violence and women and children the ones who suffer(Oliver 2007, 25). Since 9/11 the attention has shifted to international terrorism and the war on terror, which is a problem of today not easy to solve.

The focus of international terrorism has traditionally been on men, due to the belief that women have assumed a passive and less interesting role in extremist groups. However, female involvement in terrorism has become widely increased and has created a greater challenge of political violence. It is evident that women are increasingly playing a role in terrorism. Women are no longer solely the suffering party, but are now also martyrs(Oliver 2007, 26). Female involvement creates a new dimension of international terrorism and the increased role of women in terrorist activities is likely to play an important role in the development of a new conception of international terrorism.

In this paper, women involvement in international terrorism is explained by researching how female involvement affects the conception of gender and international terrorism and the role of the media in portraying women acting as international terrorists. War and international terrorism are mainly associated with masculinity. This image is being challenged by an increasing number of women active in terrorist activities. The media plays an important role in influencing public opinion and by implementing gender in their portrayal of international terrorism the influence perceptions of gender in relation to international terrorism. Ever since 9-11 and the following war on terror, international terrorism has become more widespread. The involvement of women in this arena is new to the public even though women have participated in violence for centuries. How does female involvement affect perceptions of gender and international relations?

As a result, the main research question will be:

Based on a postmodern feminist approach, to what extend proposes the involvement of women in terrorist activities, as presented in the media, a challenge to the conception of gender and international terrorism post 9-11?

With 2 sub questions:

In what way influences the media the perception of female violence in international terrorism?

What are the implications of female involvement in international terrorism?

By using the postmodern feminist approach the emphasis will be on the gender issue in international terrorism. The term gender refers to the social construction of difference between 'men' and 'women'. Postmodern feminists see gender and gender roles as fairly fluid, contextual and arbitrary. Gender is socially constructed through mainly language. Postmodern feminists explicitly reject conceptions of 'women' as a homogenous category since power operates in many facets and women are as capable of being exploitative, caring, compassionate, or violent as men. Women have been involved in acts of political violence and terrorism for centuries; however, it has often been assumed that women are involved in these acts due to emotional and therefore less rational or strategic reasons than men. However, there is no single causal explanation for understanding the motivation of female terrorists. Postmodern feminists do not view women and political violence as necessarily any more or less of an important topic as men and political violence(Baylis 2008, 183; Eager 2008, 20-21).


In what way influences the media the perception of female violence in international terrorism?

The media is important in shaping the public opinion. What people know about the world is mostly based on information that is reported by the media. The way the media choose to frame the news is representative of their preferred world view. The media shape public understanding of, and thus public opinion about, female terrorists(Nacos 2007, 180).

Public opinion has traditionally seen women as unlikely warriors, not appropriate for combat because they are unable or unlikely to be responsible for violence. Even though reality has contradicted this notion, women's roles have historically not been viewed as equal to men(Eager 2008, 213). Publicly engaging in international terrorism is newsworthy regardless of gender since it violates the norm. In contrast, women publicly engaging in international terrorism, have gained more significance in the media given that female involvement with terrorism has widened since 9/11(Friedman 2008, 841-842). Moreover, the media has difficulty reconciling the "nurturing female" with a "calculating killer", maintaining the cultural myth "that women do not kill"(Gardner 2007, 911). The image of women as terrorists disrupts the traditional notion about gender. In search of an explanation, women who kill become the subjects in the media(Friedman 2008, 841).

The media cover women to the exclusion of men, but not to suggest they are a homogenous group. There is no single motive to explain female suicide bombers; motivations for engaging in terrorism are varied and complex. Explanations resulting in motives of revenge, liberation, strategic desirability, desperation and the influence of men(Friedman 2008, 845-849) bring about a gendered stereotype of women. By actively calling attention to the fact that terrorist activities are being executed by women, the media construct a gender difference and diminish the role women as terrorists(Nacos 2005, 442).

There is no evidence that male and female terrorists are fundamentally different in terms of motivation, ideological fervor, and brutality; however, the media is consistent in gender stereotyping actors in the political arena(Nacos 2005, 436). In explaining female involvement, journalists have the tendency to be stereotypical, including a focus on physical appearances, implications of aberration, and placing woman within the context of her family or another domestic environment(Gardner 2007, 911). In addition, they frame female inclusion as unnatural and worthy of explanation. In fact, women who participate in armed conflict merit news coverage because their actions seem unusual and controversial(Speckhard 2008, 999).

In the media, women are portrayed as being gender distinct from men and motivations attributed to women are not the used in the case of male involvement. Even though men and women perform acts of political violence for largely similar reasons, the media has attributed several motivations specifically to female participants which are predominantly personal rather than political or social motives(Gardner 2007, 912). The focus on personal aspects of a female terrorist consequently involve that behaviour is accorded to external factors and thus, the actions are attributed to factors over which the female has no power. As a result, this diminishes not only personal influence, but also the credibility of the women as terrorist(Jacques 2009, 505). Female involvement is further marginalized by locating victimization as the root of female terrorist activity. They perpetuate the larger cultural stereotype about women and victimization, where: public opinion typically considers women as victims of violence, including terrorism, rather than perpetrators(Gardner 2007, 924).

The media either cover stories of female involvement with great disbelief that women would willingly engage in terrorist activities or focus on gender and fall into a stereotypical portrayal of women(Friedman 2008, 853).

What are the implications of female involvement in international terrorism?

While men are seen as having a certain familiarity with violence; women, by contrast, are associated with nurturing and caring. In engaging in violence and international terrorism they alter the traditional view of women(OSCE 2005, 7-9). In terms of individual motivations female terrorists are not significantly different in relation to male terrorists. Whether organizations recruit women out of gender equality or as a tactical response, organizations find it to their advantage to use female terrorists since there is no difference in the act that a women executes and that of a man(Sutten 2009, 16-20). The involvement of women opens up a whole new demographic on the counter-terrorism side. Women bring in new arenas, and as such may be able to reach the enemy in new and innovative ways(OSCE 2005, 7-9).

Many organizations see the female gender as unexploited resource and are increasingly willing to make concessions in their ideology to include women(Sutten 2009, 16-20). Organizations that were hesitant to recruit female terrorists in the past have adjusted in order to surprise their targets. As a result, female participation has given international terrorism another dimension due to the tactical advantage and the element of surprise women give to terrorist organizations(Nacos 2005, 447). The trend of recruiting women and women who are motivated by themselves to join has been widening. The widening trend is seen ideologically, logistically, throughout all activities that constitute a terrorist act, and geographically(OSCE 2005, 7-9).

Female terrorists are most often unanticipated, underestimated, and highly effective since their potential is denied, ignored, and diminished. Therefore, women are not often viewed as significant and meaningful actors. As a result, they are not seen as exploitable resources for intelligence on organizations, their leaders, and for developing scenarios. Terrorist organizations have benefited from this and have used the cultural assumptions of their opponents to obscure meaningful assessments of female participation by downplaying and amplifying female participation levels and roles in an effort to disrupt, disorient and distract their opponent(Cunningham 2007, 122-123).

Moreover, terrorism is a psychological weapon. Terrorism rarely limits the influence of their violence solely on their victims but rely on the media to report their actions and to amplify the effects to society at large. By recruiting women, society's view of women as actors in general, and in particular women capable of violence is crucial to how the use of female terrorists can be useful or detrimental to group's political cause(Speckhard 2008, 1001).

Female terrorists not only receive more media attention because of the widespread assumption that women are inherently non violent, and as a result increase sympathy for the terrorist cause; in addition, they are able to pass security measures more easily than men again largely because of the expectation that women are not violent and are more dispensable because women are rarely in leadership positions(Speckhard 2008, 995). By using women and erasing the barriers between terrorists and innocent people, the terrorist threat becomes more apparent and has moved beyond an extreme phenomenon(Bloom 2007, 99-101).

However, the rising numbers of female participants within terrorist organizations has not emerged as official interest to security organizations, even though there is an understanding within the security environment that female terrorists are just as likely as their male counterparts. Reports on international terrorism still focus tremendously on male leaders and perpetrators and official scenarios are nonexistent of female operatives(Cunningham 2007, 115). The female terrorist is still perceived as an exception to the rule. The media has continued to frame stories of women and terrorism along the lines of traditional stereotypes that portray the female terrorist as a paradox which not only affect public opinion, but is also likely to affect the opinions of people charged with fighting terrorism(Jacques 2009, 511).

Security organizations must be willing to exploit the range of female participants in terrorist organizations in order to provide for a fuller picture of organizations and participants. By focusing on men in particular, the preoccupation of national security organizations with violent actors runs the risk of overlooking participation trajectories that move from nonviolent to violent behaviour which are also followed women. It is necessary that national security organizations remain open-minded when looking at female involvement, especially when it moves to violent behaviour and international terrorism(Cunningham 2007, 122-123). The process of integrating a gender perspective into all the stages of both terrorism prevention and in formulating counter-terrorism measures and strategies ensures that the concerns of men and women are equally considered(OSCE 2005, 10).


Based on a postmodern feminist approach, to what extend proposes the involvement of women in terrorist activities, as presented in the media, a challenge to the conception of gender and international terrorism post 9-11?

Public opinion has traditionally seen women as non-violent, not appropriate for combat. Female involvement in terrorism interferes with this perception and has become more newsworthy since female involvement with terrorism has widened since 9/11. By actively calling attention to the fact that terrorist activities are being executed by women, the media construct a gender difference and diminishes the role women as terrorists. In the consistent stereotyping of women by the media, they suggest that women and men are fundamentally different in terms of motivation, ideological fervor, and brutality. This picture is constructed by the media, but does little to help the image of women, and challenges the image of gender in particular. The involvement of women changes not only our perception of gender, but also opens up a new dimension of international terrorism.

Women and terrorism are not intrinsically different from men and terrorism. There is no single causal explanation for understanding the motivation of female terrorists and often they are equal to those of men. However, media coverage of female involvement is seen as more newsworthy due to the social construction of women as a homogenous group not capable of violence, nurturing, and caring. Through the media a stereotyped image of women is portrayed. Through language gender is socially constructed and women are given the traditional social and cultural characteristics; though, power operates in many facets and women are as capable of being exploitative, caring, compassionate, or violent as men. As a result, perceptions on gender and international terrorism are influenced by the socially constructed image of the women who do not kill.

The increasing number of women taking part in terrorism is an alarming trend for the future security environment. In the modern-day environment, it is becoming more advantageous and more acceptable for terrorist organizations to turn to females. By including women in their organizations and publically engaging in terrorists acts has brought the gender issue to international terrorism. Gender should be included in the perception of international terrorism to fully understand the issue at hand . Women participate at all levels of extremist organizations and governments must not ignore the role of females in understanding international terrorism. The integration of a gender perspective into counter-terrorism practices could generate more practical, accurate and realistic results on which to base the formulation of strategies.

In conclusion, female involvement proposes a challenge to the conception of gender and international terrorism post 9-11 to a certain extent. Gender is socially constructed through language and the media plays an important role in portraying female involvement. Even though women are not a homogenous group and do not differ from their male counterparts as to their motivations, the public has trouble reconciling the female terrorist with their traditional view of women. When people come to terms with women who are violent and engaged in terrorist acts, the public will become more capable to understand international terrorism better and security agencies will be able to respond to international terrorism more adequately.

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