Women terrorists: an inadequately researched discipline

Women in Jihad

Gender in the Jihad: Characteristics and Outcomes among Women and Men Involved in Jihadism-Inspired Terrorism examined the characteristics of men and women involved in Jihadism, results of which unveiled distinctive characteristic features between men and women. Remarkable differences were observed especially in their backgrounds and their roles within the terrorist groups.

The research also highlighted the paucity of large-scale study to evaluate the characteristics of women terrorists. Reports suggest, there has been only one other investigation in this subject discipline and none that has exclusively highlighted the role of women in jihadism-inspired terrorist groups. Western Jihadism Project formed the central key to research for the team of North Carolina University. The project was based at Brandeis University and drew data on terrorists associated with Al-Qaeda-inspired organizations. A comparative analysis of 272 women and 266 men was scrutinized.  Results were matched to control for variables such as age at radicalization, ethnicity, and nation of residence.

The conclusions showed a considerable difference of background among men and women jihadis. For instance, compared to 19 percent of men, only 2 percent of women had a criminal background before radicalization. On the one hand, 14 percent of men had no profession in six months before their affiliation with a terrorist group, while on the other almost 42 percent of women were simultaneously unemployed. Moreover, the research also pointed out the difference of roles for women in terrorist action. They were less likely to be involved in planning or carrying out terrorist attacks than men. The involvement of women was more prominent ‘behind-the-scenes’, supporting the organization. In a statement by one of the researchers, “Only 52 percent of the women were involved in plots, compared to 76 percent of men.” It was also brought to light, that terrorist organizations were increasingly recruiting women. Data revealed that about 34 percent of women were born after 1990, while only 15 percent of men were born after 1990. The control for age at radicalization insinuated an increase in women’s involvement in terrorist groups.

The paper was published in the Journal of Threat Assessment and Management and highlighted the inadequacy of work done in regards to women terrorists.