Female Motivations for Terrorism and Gendered Counter Terrorism

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22nd Mar 2019 Security Reference this

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Female Agency & Motivations

           Before venturing into gendered approaches to countering terrorism, it is useful to provide a brief summary of female motivation and mobilization. Despite the stereotypes and passivity often associated with women, studies suggest they are driven to engage in terrorism for many of the same reasons as men: political motives, sociopolitical grievances, intention for increase economic benefits, desire for profound societal change, devoted commitment to ideological or religious beliefs, and revenge for the death of a loved one, violation of honour, or real or perceived humiliation.[1] Accordingly, there is no single template for the women who participate in terrorism and, similarly, there is no set motivation for why they join. Nevertheless, Mia Bloom has developed the “Four R Plus One” framework to explain key motivations influencing women’s engagement in terrorism. The Four R’s include: revenge, redemption, relationships, and respect. [2] Bloom’s research has found the most often cited motivation for women’s engagement in terrorism is revenge, for the need to avenge a personal or familial shame.[3] A clear example of this motivation was demonstrated in Chechnya. Chechen female terrorists, also commonly known as the “Black Widows”, were labelled as such based on their call to arms to avenge the death of their male loved ones killed at the hands of Russian soldiers. Chechen female militants’ participation in terrorism has largely been characterized based on their grief and revenge, rather than political motivations; many of these women were driven to acts of martyrdom to regain a personal or familial honour, lost from the routine rape they endured by Russian soldiers.[4]

            Secondly, the concept of redemption for a women’s past sins, often involves the idea that martyrdom rids a woman and her family of all her past sins and stigmas.[5] As highlighted in the previous section, the traditional patriarchal societies many of these women originate from societies that govern women based on a strict set of social, cultural, and religious rules, so when a woman breaks these rules, they and their families are overwhelmed with shame and become ostracized by the community.[6] Because of this marginalization, women may turn to terrorist groups as a means of regaining their honour through committing a suicide act. In other words, these women gain the dignity they lost in life, through their death.[7]

            Thirdly, relationships, Bloom highlights are crucial in understanding women’s mobilization. In particular, a woman’s relationship with a known insurgent is regarded as the single greatest predictor that she will engage in terrorist violence.[8] Moreover, the deliberate construction of kinship networks is often used to force women into marriage within a particular organization, ‘forcing’ women to commit violent acts. Finally, women are often motivated by a desire for the respect of their community, showing they are equally as committed to a cause as men.[9] Similar to the motive for redemption, these women often become role models in their death, particularly for young women leading difficult lives, a success they would not have achieved in life.[10] While these motivations may equally apply to men, it is important to note that men’s opportunities to win the respect of their peers are far greater than those opportunities open to women. For instance, men are more likely to be able to pursue their dreams such as attending University, than women who are often expected to stay close to home.[11]

            Bloom adds an additional “Plus One” motivation of rape, or sexual exploitation of women.[12] Besides the personal traumatic experience, once more, rape threatens a woman’s honour and tarnishes her future, particularly in societies with strong gender-specific norms regarding virginity and chastity.[13] Research suggests that a desire for re-embracing norms, rather than settling into a post-rape depression, may motivate rape victims to commit a suicide attack.[14] Evidence suggests rape was used in Sri Lanka, both as an organizational strategy of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and as a personal motivation for their female suicide bombers.[15] While reports linked female attackers to cases of individual and mass rape, and where both failed female bombers and female LTTE members cited rape as a general motivation for their participation, evidence also suggests the LTTE actively promoted this norm. For example, in one situation where women reported their rape to an aid organization, the LTTE had instead convinced them to become suicide bombers in order “to recover the family honor of having sex with Sinhalese men.”[16] Bloom highlights that these women are indeed victims of their situation as they are essentially involuntary recruits forced to work for the organization that has victimized them.[17]

            The pressure placed upon women in these societies, to uphold family ‘honour’ exhibits the presence of patriarchal, gender-based oppression. This honour is predominately connected to a woman’s sexual behaviour, regarding her chastity, modesty and sexuality.[18] Accordingly, if a woman portrays immodest behaviour or inappropriate sexual conduct, she brings shame and dishonour upon not only herself, but her entire family. Whereas a woman’s family honour is characterised through her pure reputation, a man’s honour is embodied through his courage, religiosity and hospitality. [19] In other words, women’s honour is regarded as passive and can only be lost, whereas men’s honour is active and can only be reclaimed or expanded. As such, a woman’s loss of honour, real or perceived, is a significant motivating factor for engaging in terrorism, and in some cases, may be one of the only viable options to regain lost honour.

            Other potential motives driving women to become terrorists may involve feelings of contributing to a cause, being part of a community and sisterhood, gaining an identity as a member of a terror organization, personal incentives such as marriage, and religious motivations including the perception of Islam as being under attack globally, and thus the call to defensive jihad.[20] Moreover, these are some of the motives compelling women to join Daesh. Specifically, Muslim women and youth in diaspora communities throughout the Western world have often been continually ignored, hated, and separated from the broader public. Muslim women and girls in particular, have become an easy and identifiable target because of the hijab and burka, as seen with backlash by governments such as France.[21] Consequently, ten percent of Daesh’s Western recruits have been women lured over social media platforms, with those European women acknowledging that alienation and restrictions on religious practices, such as head scarf bans, have pushed them to join the group.[22] Alternatively, in Muslim-majority countries, issues such as unemployment, forced secularity by regimes, and the inability of democracy to deliver have contributed to increased Daesh recruits. In addition, the organization has succeeded with recruiting women from around the globe based on underlying causes within Muslim communities, such as the continuance of patriarchy and paternalism defining gender roles, allowing Daesh to exploit women’s understanding of their role in society.[23]

            While studies have shown many of the above motivations for women are similar for men, gender-based oppression may establish an additional motivational element for women. As agents of violence, women are participating in the public domain and may no longer feel confined by their gender roles in the private sphere. This was especially evident in the findings of Anat Berko and Edna Erez on female Palestinian suicide bombers resistance to gendered oppression.[24] While it is without a doubt that Palestinian women have been motivated to take up an active role in their conflict for political and nationalist reasons, the resistance against gender oppression and the traditional patriarchal society can also be seen as contributing to their participation. Because of the restrictive Muslim-Palestinian society, young women are denied freedoms and are heavily controlled through gender-based oppression.[25] By becoming suicide bombers Palestinian women are taking control of their bodies, expressing their objections to the restrictive, patriarchal, gender-biased society. Nevertheless, Palestinian women’s attempt to challenge the narrative on oppression and inequality through martyrdom, has been unsuccessful in improving the situation for the women left behind. Specifically, when female bombers are unsuccessful in their attempt (they do not die) they are met with little approval by both their family and the community. In addition, they may become further marginalized as society perceives these women as stepping outside of their traditional ‘female’ role. Essentially, when “female suicide bombers die, they are praised – but not if they live.”[26] The consequences of stepping outside of traditional gender roles in these highly traditional communities can be damaging and lead to stigmatization and exclusion from social and communal benefits.[27]

            While women’s liberation is certainly an element in cases of female mobilization, the Palestinian example is perhaps an exception, as there is limited evidence in the analysis available.[28] Furthermore, research suggests feminism is actually not the primary motivation for female participation in terrorist movements. Often, women engaged in these movements look upon women’s rights as being a lesser priority or irrelevant to the cause. In other words, the idea of leveling the gender playing field was not an intention when they took up terrorist causes.[29]  O’Rourke argues that if female suicide bombers truly acted in rebellion of gender roles, they would likely not carry out attacks on liberal societies that embrace women’s rights.[30] Alternatively, while it seems women aspire to prove they are just as dedicated to a terrorist movement as men, this does not indicate they necessarily wish to be treated the same as men.[31] As such, female mobilization is not always based on a desire to replace traditional gender norms with gender-neutral norms inspired by Western feminists. O’Rourke goes further to suggest if states want to prevent female terrorism, particularly suicide terrorism, they need to refrain from implementing policies based on Westernizing societies in communities where female attackers stem from, and “publicly commit to tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity regarding the role of women.”[32]

            Provided the increase in women’s active participation in terrorist groups, it is curious that very few have risen through the ranks to a leadership position. Correspondingly, women’s involvement in these groups has not improved their rights or status within their respective societies either. Even when women play more significant roles in an organization, they are still second tier, climbing the ranks only when the men are incapacitated.[33] Accordingly, until women’s lives are valued equally to their deaths, direct female participation in terrorism will not advance women’s rights nor improve gender inequality. Not surprisingly, female engagement within these groups is actually more likely to result in harmful consequences for society: if the only opportunity for intelligent and politically driven women to engage in politics is through their deaths, then society is losing its most qualified women.[34] Women who will not be able to contribute to developing their communities and eradicating the harmful role model of a female bomber. 

            This chapter established that gender constructs do indeed influence women’s participation and role in terrorist movements. Accordingly, understanding women’s participation, role, and motivation in joining terrorist networks, is crucial to developing policies that effectively counter-terrorism. Only viewing women as passive vessels and victims of terrorism is counter-productive for the creation of effective counter-terrorism policies, and further perpetuates stereotypical views on the roles of women. Ignoring women’s agency and active participation in terrorism could lead to unintended consequences for counter-terrorism policies, including missing potential intervention opportunities to prevent possible propagation within women’s social circles. Moreover, by overlooking female’s agency in terrorism, researchers may not be taking into full consideration the grievances and potential motivations contributing to women’s radicalization and recruitment.[35] Accordingly, the following chapter will consider if implementing a gendered approach to counter-terrorism produces more effective strategies, and what role women can play in preventing and countering violent extremism and terrorism.

Gendered Counter-Terrorism Approaches

            The negation of women as potential terrorists is a clear outcome of not applying a gender-neutral profile, and has the potential to significantly constrain counter-terrorism measures. However, while gender stereotypes, specifically those denying women their agency in political violence and terrorism may create barriers to counter-terrorism laws, they may also justify giving greater powers to counter-terrorism provisions; and while recognizing women’s capacity for mobilizing into terrorist organizations is crucial for developing more effective counter-terrorism strategies, it is not a task easily met.[36] When seeking to protect a state, its institutions, and its civilians from female terrorism, governments counter-terrorism responses and policies may be overreaching and reactive. For example, impulsive responses may inadvertently challenge local cultural norms and target women directly for surveillance, stop, search and detention.[37] Consequently, arbitrary and abusive treatment of any population may act as a recruitment tool for terror groups, especially when outside forces begin to target women in societies with strong ideologies of purity, motherhood and honour. Accordingly, this chapter will address current counter-terrorism measures and their subsequent impacts on women’s lives. It will then examine whether approaching counter-terrorism with a gender perspective would improve human rights implications, specifically for women. First however, it is important to place gender within the context of human rights.

Situating Gender Within a Human Rights Framework

            Viewing counter-terrorism strategies through a gender perspective, requires consideration of how gender fits within the human rights context. In order to use human rights as an analytical tool to identify those violations stemming from gendered counter-terrorism practices, rights must be viewed as agreed upon, legally binding norms so as to provide a benchmark by which specific human rights violations can be measured, and solutions brought forward.[38] Accordingly, states are required to ensure non-discrimination and equality as enshrined within international human rights law, particularly within the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). More specifically, within a counter-terrorism context the most relevant of these rights include, the right to life; the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment; the right to freedom of expression and association; the right to privacy; the right to liberty and security; due process and the right to a fair trial; non-refoulement;[39] and non-discrimination (i.e., profiling).[40] A 2011 report published by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ), identified several key gendered human rights obligations specifically relating to the counter-terrorism context, that governments must adhere to as required by international law, including:

  • Avoid adverse human rights impacts through the obligation to prohibit discrimination (both direct and indirect) on the proscribed grounds of sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity;
  • Ensure equality, both de jure (formal) and de facto (substantive) between men and women in the enjoyment of all civil and political rights;
  • Recognize that traditional stereotypes and attitudes (e.g., cultural attitudes) undermine the enjoyment of rights of women and ensure that such stereotypes are not used to justify violations of equality;

  • Assess how discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity intersects with other grounds of discrimination, such as race, religion, and class, particularly in terms of impacts on Muslim, Arab, and South Asian (MASA) communities, and counter these effects;

  • Ensure participation of affected communities and that the rationale for inclusion is on the basis of equality and is rights protective;
  • Ensure the above obligations are exercised in all branches and levels of government, including in national security programs and national security institutions at the federal, state, and local levels;

  • Exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, and punish gender-based violence by non-State actors, such as terrorists.[41]

The obligations identified in this report, highlight the double burden states bear of both respecting and ensuring the rights of their population and in balancing terrorist threats with individual rights. Moreover, these rights must be facilitated and not just protected. Nevertheless, states counter-terrorism measures have been documented to have gendered consequences and significant direct and secondary effects on women, despite these obligations.

Current Counter-Terrorism Practices: Impacts on Women’s Rights

            Since the events of September 11, 2001, both domestic and international political discourses have centred around security. Domestically, terror threats have led to states enacting numerous emergency laws in an effort to increase security, whereas internationally, the concept of a global “War on Terror” has implied “that a security threat anywhere is a security threat everywhere.”[42] Essentially, this “War on Terror” indicates a potentially infinite war in terms of its scope, targeting an indefinite, yet threatening enemy.[43] In recent years however, counter-terrorism practices have begun to shift from a reactive to a preventative approach, whereby the ‘hard’ counter-terrorism measures involving militarisation, defence, law enforcement and intelligence, are increasingly being pushed aside in favour of ‘soft’ measures, such as diplomacy and development (winning “hearts and minds”), offering a more holistic approach to countering terrorism.[44] However, the dominance of  masculinised and militarised counter-terrorism strategies in the past, has limited scholarly research on the experiences and roles of women in security today. Moreover, because these traditional ‘hard’ approaches to counter-terrorism have been prioritized, funding for solutions to socio-economic conditions potentially conducive to terrorism, such as gender inequality, has been minimal.[45] As a result and as will be discussed below, the effects of this militarisation has disproportionately impacted women and children, particularly regarding their economic, social, and cultural rights.

            The post-9/11 “War on Terror” period has also encountered highly gendered narratives, as seen with the United States invasion of Afghanistan and the discourse to ‘save’ Afghan women; or as Laura Bush put it, “the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”[46] Consequently, this response only amplified those traditional concepts of women as victims in need of protection from men, further perpetuating gender stereotypes. Moreover, this ‘saving women’ rhetoric has allowed states to use women’s rights to distinguish between ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ cultures and countries in national security discourses.[47] Perhaps not surprisingly, there has been little meaningful effort in documenting and theorizing gender and human rights impacts on counter-terrorism practices, however states’ counter-terrorism policies, while often explicitly gendered, have often been found to silence both women’s presence and perspectives.[48] Correspondingly, Ramzi Kassem identified three key areas following the launch of the “War on Terror” that failed to encompass women: first, in those implementing the policies and practices; second, in populations indirectly impacted by the policies and practices; and third, in those populations who were directly affected by the policies and practices.[49]

            Human rights literature on counter-terrorism tends to focus on the “unspoken assumption” that men are more likely to suffer from security measures, both in numbers and in endured rights violations, than women.[50] As such, human rights advocates prioritize those government policies that primarily victimize men through measures such as, indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition, and torture, effectively neglecting the costs for women and sexual minorities.[51] Consequently, by prioritizing male victims of governmental abuse, the human rights community is not only reinforcing the gender bias toward males as victims of civil and political rights, but they are also inadvertently undermining women’s rights by “prioritizing responses to governments’ counter-terrorism measures over women’s experience of terrorism.”[52]

            Victims of gender abuse, are often trapped between the cruelty endured by terrorist groups on one end and a State’s counter-terrorism measures on the other, which often fail to prevent, investigate, prosecute or punish the violations endured, and frequently facilitate additional human rights violations of their own.[53] The unseen “collateral damage” of these policies remain mostly undocumented, with little focus by international organizations on the impact of these abusive governmental measures on spouses and family members of those targeted.[54] There are various situations involving these collateral impacts of counter-terrorism  measures on female family members including, enforced disappearances, extraordinary rendition, forced deportations, and prolonged detention without trial. These circumstances leave female family members, especially wives, to share in the trauma, anxiety, and terror of the experience, and then to deal with consequences such as harassment, social exclusion, and economic burdens, particularly if the male was the primary income source for a family.[55] These consequences exemplify the disproportionate impacts of ‘hard’ counter-terrorism policies on the economic, social, and cultural rights of women.

            Alternatively, while males have constituted the majority of the population targeted by these counter-terrorism measures, it is important to consider the direct impacts on the female terrorist. Although minimal scholarly research has been conducted into how female insurgents experience these same counter-terrorism policies while in state custody, Kassem’s research regarding the deliberate erasure of female prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, is a compelling example. He highlights that while the extensive abuse of male prisoners by US forces at Abu Ghraib was made public and acknowledged by the United States, research indicates that the country also went to great lengths to prevent the dissemination of information regarding the detention and heinous torture its forces committed against female prisoners.[56] In particular, he argues that because one of the key narratives providing legitimacy to the United States’ “War on Terror” and subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, was the fight against terrorism to improve the rights and dignity of women, if evidence was made public regarding the United States’ torture and abuse of those women it was supposed to be ‘saving’, its legitimacy would be significantly undermined.[57] 

            On a similar note, gender-specific interrogation practices that are sanctioned by counter-terrorism laws, often violate international human rights law, specifically with respect to the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, a right guaranteed under customary international law.[58] Specifically, female terrorist suspects are subject to rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, as was discovered in the underreported treatment of female detainees at Abu Ghraib by the United States. Of course, the more publicized abuse of male detainees at that same facility, among others, also involved gendered-based interrogation protocols often consisting of methods involving the “feminization” of Muslim male prisoners meant to humiliate them.[59] These techniques were undertaken to exploit perceived notions of cultural and religious understandings of masculinity, femininity, and gender roles, in an effort to provoke feelings of emasculation and shame.[60] Not only do these counter-terrorism techniques amount to discrimination, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, but by arousing feelings of emasculation suspected terrorists may over-compensate with hyper-masculinised feelings accepting or strengthening violent behaviours, actually impeding the fight against terrorism.[61]

            Another counter-terrorism measure impacting women’s rights involves those female relatives of suspected terrorists, who are not suspected of terrorist offences themselves but are also subjected to collective sanctions such as unlawful detention and interrogations. These measures of often employed in an effort to either gain information from the female regarding the suspected male relative, or to act as leverage to compel male suspects to provide information or make a confession.[62] In addition to being discriminatory, these counter-terrorism methods directly violate the detained woman’s civil and political rights as enshrined in the ICCPR, including the right to liberty and security of the person[63] and the right for those deprived of their liberty to be treated with humanity.[64]

            Counter-terrorism practices have also been widely recognized for profiling whereby gender stereotypes are used as a proxy for profiling on grounds of race, nationality, ethnicity, or religion. For instance, in his 2009 report on a gender perspective for countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, highlighted French police interrogations questioning of male terror suspects on their views regarding women’s equality, and female suspects wearing religious headdress, on why they wore it.[65] These practices equate gender inequality with a certain, race, nationality, ethnicity or religion, suggesting that males and females from such groups are more likely to be terrorists, and are highly discriminatory.[66] In addition, profiling based on gender-stereotypes of persons of a particular ethnicity or religion, such as Muslim women, has become more common in recent years with restrictions on women’s religious dress.[67] These profiling measures are discriminatory as they associate women who wear a veil with radical ideologies that are deemed to not equate with national values, and therefore a state considers them a potential threat to national security. Moreover, these Muslim women who choose to wear a veil are especially vulnerable in European and North American contexts, to increased racism, discrimination, harassment and abuse, in the wake of Islamist terrorist attacks.[68]

            Restrictive immigration controls have also shown to disproportionately affect female asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants, specifically in regard to those seeing protection from gender-based persecution.[69] For example, female asylum seekers who meet the definitional requirements for refugee status have been denied international protection for having provided “material support” to terrorist actors, a provision added to US legislation following 9/11 regarding ‘terrorist activities’.[70] However, in some communities many women who have been forcibly coerced, sometimes through sexual violence or threats of sexual violence, to provide domestic services for their attackers, are frequently denied opportunities for safe refuge based on this perception of providing material support to a terrorist organization.[71] The use of the threat of terrorism to establish restrictive legislation which denies refugee protection to eligible asylum seekers, is again a violation of human rights law and non-refoulement guarantees under international refugee law.[72]

            Finally, while the protection and promotion of gender-related rights should be prioritized at all times, some governments have in fact exploited gender inequality using these rights as a bartering tool to advance counter-terrorism objectives. For example, in 2009 Pakistani authorities signed a peace deal with the Taliban agreeing to implement the Taliban’s restrictive interpretation of Islamic law in exchange for peace.[73] Consequently, this interpretation was a significant impediment to the advancement of Pakistani women’s rights, and saw the closure of girls’ schools, prevention of women from working, and attending markets unaccompanied, and resulted in the beating of women for disobeying these laws.[74] While the bartering of gender-rights for counter-terrorism advancement is a direct violation of a State’s human rights obligations, it also implies human rights are optional.

            From the above examples, it is clear that state compliance with international human rights law in the counter-terrorism context has often not been prioritized or enforced in any meaningful way. Indeed, many of these instances are in line with conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism as identified by the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and adopted by the General Assembly under Resolution 70/291, including:

Prolonged unresolved conflicts, dehumanization of victims of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, lack of the rule of law and violations of human rights, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, socioeconomic marginalization and lack of good governance.[75]         

And while this negligence could constitute a thesis in itself, this section has only attempted to highlight those gendered counter-terrorism strategies impacting women’s rights. Accordingly, having situated women and their rights in the current counter-terrorism discourse, this paper will now move on to a more in depth exploration of gender and gender perspectives, before applying them to counter-terrorism strategies.

What is a Gender Perspective?

            Before engaging in a discussion on the impacts of applying a gender perspective to counter-terrorism strategies, it is essential to elaborate on what gender means. According to the United Nations Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, ‘gender’ refers to:

The social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context/time-specific and changeable. Gender determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a woman or a man in a given context. In most societies, there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities. Gender is part of the broader socio-cultural context.[76]

Distinct from sex which is typically understood as biological and binary, gender is largely recognized as socially constructed and flexible. Moreover, gender is not synonymous with women, and includes various gender identities and sexual orientations.[77] A gender analysis then, requires attention to how sex and gender interact and involves the systematic collection and evaluation of information relating to gender differences and social contexts to help “identify and understand the different roles, divisions of labor, resources, constraints, need, opportunities/capacitates, and interests of men and women (and boys and girls) in a given context.”[78] Whereas a gender perspective, refers to the consideration of the distinct needs, experiences and status of women and men, and boys and girls, and their subsequent impact of those factors on these groups. This perspective examines how sex and gender interact with other forms of socio-cultural differentiation, including age, race, ethnicity, religion, class, poverty level, disability, and nationality, thus improving situational awareness.[79] Accordingly, the concepts of femininity, masculinity and the immutability of gender identity are incorporated into a gender perspective.

            While today, the international human rights system, various government agencies, and international security institutions, recognize gender as inherently social, it was not always the case: the term ‘gender’ does not appear in any of the major human rights conventions.[80] Nevertheless, significant progress has been made regarding gender-related human rights concerns, as demonstrated through CEDAW. Although the term ‘gender’ is not explicitly mentioned in CEDAW, it is embodied in the text, requiring states to refrain from prejudices based on “the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.”[81] Moreover, other major human rights treaties include prohibitions on a wide variety of discriminatory bases including ‘sex’, which has come to be interpreted to encompass protections for both sex and gender based violations.[82] Along with these advances in the interpretation of ‘gender’, a paradigm shift has occurred whereby traditional human rights concepts are no longer state-centric, where violations of gender were protected by international law. As a result, feminists and gender advocates have effectively brought forms of gender-based violence under treaty protection.[83] Because of the importance of the public/private dichotomy to understanding the historical marginalization of women’s rights and as a key foundational point of feminist theory, a more in depth discussion will follow in Chapter V.  

            Despite these advances, many states have shown resistance to the inclusion of a gender perspective in domains where it had traditionally been absent, notably so in the context of national security and human rights.[84] This opposition came to the fore when the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism presented his report to the UN General Assembly in 2009. The report integrated a gender perspective, defining gender as distinct from sex and inclusive of social constructions, and explored the relationship between gender equality and counter-terrorism.[85] However, both the report’s nuanced approach and findings, of counter-terrorism undermining both women’s rights and the rights of LGBTI individuals, generated much criticism from Member States’.[86] Ní Aoláin highlights this criticism is indicative of states willingness to accept counter-terrorism strategies when focused on the protection of women and their victimhood, but hesitancy to fully engage in the broader context of gender perspectives within the counter-terrorism domain.[87] Despite the international community’s strong debate over the definition of gender and the meaning of a gender perspective, the practice of governmental and inter-governmental entities and their application of these concepts has been relatively consistent.[88] Based on this consistent application of a gender perspective, the next question to be addressed is why and how might counter-terrorism benefit from a gendered perspective?


[1] Barakat, Chowdhury Fink and Shetret, supra note 84, at 3.

[2] Bloom, Bombshell, supra note 26, at 234.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cindy D. Ness, “In the Name of the Cause: Women’s Work in Secular and Religious Terrorism,” in Female Terrorism and Militancy: Agency, Utility, and Organization, ed. Cindy D. Ness (New York: Routledge, 2008), 19.

[5] Bloom, Bombshell, supra note 26, at 234.

[6] Katharina Von Knop, “The Female Jihad: Al Qaeda’s Women,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 30, no. 5 (2007), 400.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Bloom, Bombshell, supra note 26, at 235.

[9] Ibid., 236.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] O’Rourke, supra note 81, at 712.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 713.

[17] Bloom, Bombshell, supra note 26, at 236-37.

[18] Anat Berko and Edna Erez, “Martyrs or Murderers? Victims or Victimizers? The Voices of Would-Be Palestinian Female Suicide Bombers,” in Female Terrorism and Militancy: Agency, Utility, And Organization, ed. Cindy D. Ness (New York: Routledge, 2008), 149.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Cervone and Peresin, supra note 87, at 497.

[21] Ispahani, supra note 101, at 103.


[22] Jayne Huckerby, “When Women Become Terrorists”, New York Times, January 21, 2015, accessed July 20, 2017,

[23] Ispahani, supra note 101, at 103.


[24] Berko and Erez, supra note 134.

[25] Ibid., 160.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ní Aoláin, Situating Women in Counterterrorism Discourses, supra note 36, at 1096.

[28] Ibid., 1099.

[29] Bloom, Bombshell, supra note 26, at 245.

[30] O’Rourke, supra note 81, at 703.

[31] Bloom, Bombshell, supra note 26, at 246.

[32] O’Rourke, supra note 81, at 718.

[33] Bloom, Bombshell, supra note 26, at 244-45.

[34] Ibid. 245.

[35] Rafia Bhulai, Naureen Chowdhury Fink and Sara Zeiger, “Introduction”, in A Man’s World? Exploring the Roles of Women in Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism (New York: Hedayah and The Global Center on Cooperative Security, 2016), 10.

[36] Ní Aoláin, Situating Women in Counterterrorism Discourses, supra note 36, at 1093.

[37] Ibid., 1094.

[38] Huckerby and Satterthwaite, supra note 27, at 5-6.

[39] The principle of non-refoulement is found in Article 33 (1) of the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which prohibits State Parties from returning a refugee to any country where their life or freedom may be threatened based on their race, religion, political opinion or membership to a particular social group (United Nations, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Geneva: United Nations, 1951), Art. 33, para. 1) [hereinafter UN Refugee Convention].

[40] Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ), A Decade Lost: Locating Gender in U.S. Counter-Terrorism (New York: NYU School of Law, 2011), 16.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Vasuki Nesiah, “Feminism as Counter-Terrorism: The Seduction of Power”, in Gender, National Security, and Counter-Terrorism (New York: Routledge, 2013), 129.

[43] Ibid., 130.

[44] CHRGJ, supra note 156, at, 13.

[45] United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, Doc. A/64/211, (United Nations, August 3, 2009), para. 24 [hereinafter Doc. A/64/211].

[46] Laura Bush, “The Weekly Address Delivered by the First Lady”, The American Presidency Project November 17, 2001, accessed July 19, 2017,  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=24992.

[47] Huckerby and Satterthwaite, supra note 27, at 3.

[48] Ibid., 1.

[49] Kassem, supra, note 2, at 15-16.

[50] Ní Aoláin, Situating Women in Counterterrorism Discourses, supra note 36, at 1106.

[51] Huckerby and Satterthwaite, supra note 27, at 4.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Kassem, supra, note 2, at 17.

[54] Ní Aoláin, Situating Women in Counterterrorism Discourses, supra note 36, at 1106.

[55] Doc. A/64/211, supra note 161, para. 30.

[56] Kassem, supra, note 2, at 27.

[57] Ibid., 29.

[58] Doc. A/64/211, supra note 161, para. 44.

[59] Kassem, supra, note 2, at 20.

[60] Ibid., 20-22.

[61] Doc. A/64/211, supra note 161, para. 45.

[62] Ibid., para. 31.

[63] United Nations General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (United Nations, December 16, 1966), Art. 9, para. 1.

[64] Ibid., Art. 10, para.1.

[65] Doc. A/64/211, supra note 161, para. 37.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid., para. 39.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid., para. 50.

[70] Kate Ogg, “Separating the Persecutors from the Persecuted: A Feminist and Comparative Examination of Exclusion from the Refugee Regime”, International Journal of Refugee Law 26, no. 1 (2014), 86.

[71] Kara Beth Stein, “Female Refugees: Re-Victimized by the Material Support to Terrorism Bar”, McGeorge Law Review 38 (2007), 823-824.

[72] It is important to note that where counter-terrorism measures inhibit asylum seekers from claiming refugee status, international refugee law provides protection from gender-related persecution within article 1A (2) of the UN Refugee Convention, as clarified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Guidance Note on Refugee Claims Relating to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (UNHCR, Guidance Note on Refugee Claims Relating to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (Geneva: UNHCR, November 21, 2008)).

[73] Doc. A/64/211, supra note 161, para. 36.

[74] Ibid.

[75] United Nations General Assembly, The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy Review, Doc. A/70/291, (United Nations, July 19, 2016), 4 [hereinafter Doc. A/70/291].

[76] United Nations Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, Gender Mainstreaming: Strategy for Promoting Gender Equality (New York: United Nations, August 2001), 1 [hereinafter Gender Mainstreaming].

[77] Doc. A/64/211, supra note 161, para. 20.

[78] CHRGJ, supra note 156, at, 17.

[79] Sahana Dharmapuri, “UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and Countering Violent Extremism: Using a Gender Perspective to Enhance Operational Effectiveness”, in a Man’s World? Exploring the Roles of Women in Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism (New York: Hedayah and The Global Center on Cooperative Security, 2016), 37; see also Huckerby and Satterthwaite, supra note 27, at 5.

[80] Huckerby and Satterthwaite, supra note 27, at 6.

[81] United Nations General Assembly, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (United Nations, December 18, 1979), Art. 5, para. A.

[82] Huckerby and Satterthwaite, supra note 27, at 6.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Doc. A/64/211, supra note 161, para. 52.

[86] CHRGJ, supra note 156, at, 15. In fact, Member States responses were so negative to the report, the UN General Assembly agreed to delete all references to the report from its annual resolution on human rights and counter-terrorism (Ní Aoláin, Situating Women in Counterterrorism Discourses, supra note 36, 1117).

[87] Ní Aoláin, Situating Women in Counterterrorism Discourses, supra note 36, 1117.

[88] CHRGJ, supra note 156, at, 17.

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