Women & Extremism: The Mystery Behind the Desire

The first image one thinks of when picturing a terrorist is typically not one featuring a female.  For many reasons women have not been closely associated with terrorist plots en masse the way men have.  This is largely attributed to the status of women in societies where terrorism remains a  pervasive concern, particularly the Middle East.  While this has been typical, it cannot be taken for granted as terrorist organizations often find inventive ways to see through plots of destruction and harm.  Because of this, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a special report detailing the growing role of women in both perpetrating and preventing violent extremism highlighting the need to understand these demographics of women.  The report found that analyzing women in extremism can often fall victim to the assumption that women can be studied as a homogeneous group without taking into account the nuance of personality factors that lead to extremism.  Women are also not necessarily to be viewed as fundamentally different than men when studying terrorism though their roles may differ; even in societies where gender norms are especially rigid, often what motivates certain men to join radical extremist groups motivate certain women equally.  Additionally, many of the circumstances that may lend towards radicalization (lack of education, poverty, resource insecurity, etc…) afflict men and women equally.

But while there are women aiding terrorist organizations, there are more women fighting back this report suggests.  Women are continually being integrated into counter extremism efforts to help deter others from being seduced by the false promises of extreme ideology.

Plenty of current research suggest that while men make up the majority of the terrorist population, women are underrepresented in research as they are not all together absent from that population.  This gap in research has been partially filled by reports from various institutions like the Global Center on Cooperative Security and the United States Institute of Peace (all of which are hosted on the HSDL website) with various contributions to this still-mysterious population.