WOMEN AND TERRORISM

WHY ARE WOMEN TERRORISTS?

From  Lori Poloni-Staudinger and Candice Ortbals.  Terrorism and Violent Conflict:  Women’s Agency, Leadership and Responses. New York:  Springer Press.  2012, Chapter 3.


What are women’s motivations for joining terrorist groups?  Mia Bloom argues “women across a number of conflicts and in several different terrorist groups tend to be motivated by [the four Rs]…revenge [for death of a family member], redemption [for past sins that have damaged their self image], relationship [with insurgents, such as a father or husband], and [desired] respect [from their community for their dedication to the cause]” (2011, 235).  Gentry (2009) explains that motherhood motivates women terrorists, as terrorists are sometimes women who “did not or could not have children” (244) or are violent mothers who “can be a martyr after giving birth to martyrs” (244), calling this a type of “twisted maternalism” (Gentry 2009, 242).

Women also have been motivated to join terrorist groups because of deep attachment to the ideological or cultural goals of the group, desire for emancipation, and security concerns and coercion (Morgan 2002; Cragin and Daly 2009).  Like men, women are dedicated to the goals of terrorist groups.  As Sjoberg (2009) states, women “participate in terrorism as terrorists...who happen to be women” (69).  Many women are politically motivated to become terrorists as a way to end their own suffering and that of their people.  Interviews with failed suicide bombers in Palestine reveal that women and men alike participate in violence “for revenge of the Jews” (Berko and Erez 2005, 611).  Sixta (2008) agrees, stating, the “new women” terrorists of today “are committed to public activism….[they] want social reform to preserve their own cultures and religions from the invading and increasingly intrusive Western culture” (262).

Women and men terrorists also share idiosyncratic reasons for violent participation.  One Palestinian man, interviewed by Berko and Erez, decided to become a suicide bomber for the money.  “In responding to why he needed the 100 shekels he received for agreeing to be a suicide bomber, the interviewee stated that if he were to feel hunger on his way to the suicide mission, he could go to a restaurant and eat.  He also said that he used the money to buy a cooking pot for his mother” (2005, 613).  A woman interviewee, who had been living in a refugee camp, had a similarly idiosyncratic explanation.  She “relayed how she and her girlfriend…were preparing homework assignments at her home.  They...felt that ‘there was nothing to do’ and looked for some excitement…and decided that they would volunteer to be terrorists” (Berko and Erez 2005, 611).

Women may seek gender equality through their participation as terrorists.  George-Abeyie (1983) argued that emancipation accompanies women’s involvement in terrorist groups.  For example, women like Tamil LTTE leader, Thamalini, have achieved respect through terrorist participation.  Ulrike Meinhof, a terrorist from the German Red Army Faction (RAF), also claimed women’s emancipation through terrorism.  However, O’Connor (2010) argues that women’s liberation does not motivate many terrorists, as only three terrorist groups – the German RAF, the Red Brigades in Italy and the Shining Path in Peru – were strongly committed to gender equality.  Moreover, after a struggle is over, women can face trouble reintegrating into society as they are confronted with patriarchy, a social system in which men hold power over women and children (Morgan 2002).

In some terrorist groups women face rape within the group and are motivated by personal security (O’Connor 2010; Bloom 2005).  Becoming a terrorist shields them from society’s ostracism and provides redemption.  Alternatively, women may be coerced into joining the group if they feel shame due to rape.  In Sri Lanka, women who are raped cannot reenter society, so they join the Black Tigers, the suicide wing of the LTTE.