Women’s involvement in terrorist acts has typically been minimal throughout history until recently. There is not as many female terrorist profiles out there as there are males, and due to this, security personnel all across the nation are at a disadvantage when dealing with a female terrorist threat. They are not looked at under the same light. Explained in this comparison are the differences between female and male terrorists on a variety of factors such as reasons for involvement/radicalization, motivational factors, age group, education, employment, etc. The end result is that female terrorists become involved in terrorist groups for far different reasons than their male counterparts. Female participation in terrorist activities/organizations has grown exponentially in the last few decades; mostly due to the expansion of terrorism through the internet and the slick propaganda used within it through ads, magazines, videos, etc. Misconceptions about female involvement in terrorism is also discussed.
There are various misconceptions about female terrorists that are spread throughout the world. Some of these misconceptions include female terrorists being an isolated, unemployed, uneducated individual, that lacks attachments to a social group. There are also studies that show that criminality has little to no link to terrorism, or at least that is the case with current data. The world will react differently when a female commits a terrorist act v. when a male commits a terrorist act (Milton-Edwards, B., ; Attia, S. 2017, p.1). This is a weakness for our security networks in itself. Overall, women have received more media attention when involved in a terrorist act v. if is was a male terrorist (Milton-Edwards, B., ; Attia, S. 2017, p.1). The media, and the societal view that we are giving off is that females are not expected to be involved in violent terrorist attacks, or that they play less significant roles in terrorism. This is backed up by many general misconceptions such as, men are more violent, more dominant, and less emotional v. women who are considered more nurturing and caring (Milton-Edwards, B., ; Attia, S. 2017, p.1). These misconceptions create a state of mind that limit our security agencies to be properly prepared when a female threat is involved, or to be vigilant of a female terrorist threat.
The motivations for females deciding to join terrorist organizations are of high importance if we are to create a working profile of a female terrorist (Ness, C. D. 2008 p.3). Women are gaining more and more ground in terrorist organization every year. Every year we see an increase in females arrested for terrorist acts. As stated by Schoeberl (2018, s.34), “The number of women arrested on suspicion of jihadist terrorism related offences has increased in the EU in the last years from 6 (2013), to 52 (2014), 128 (2015) and 187 (2016).” If we ignore that the role of women in terrorist organizations are growing, then we will be ignoring a growing threat that is becoming increasingly more visible. There is a lack of available female terrorist profiles; most of the ones available today are of male offenders (Ness, C. D. 2008 p.3). There is very little research as to women’s role in terrorism, and due to this, we are at a great disadvantage and more susceptible to attacks from female perpetrators (Milton-Edwards, B., & Attia, S. 2017, p.1). The motives and reasoning for why women join a terrorist organization vary greatly depending upon the individual, we can still work on a general profile of what comprises a female terrorist (Ness, C. D. 2008 p.3). By doing this, we will have a general guideline security personnel can use in order to locate potential female terrorists.
Women that are involved in terrorism have not always consciously joined. They could have been forced to join by family or joined for personal reasons (rape, abuse, poverty, etc.). Often women join these groups in order to find freedom through independence as a collective and some form of equality (Sundlof, H. 2017, 12). There are a variety of reasons why women may join a terrorist organization. Some of these motivations may be the desire for political change in a country, a strong belief in a cause, vengeance, etc. Women may join these terrorist organizations in order to answer injustices done to them by the government, the loss of a loved one, etc. There are also two factors that we must acknowledge in order to understand why women join terrorist organizations; did they join of their own free will or did they join by coercion? What determines this could depend on the surroundings at the time, the region of the world the individual lives in, the political situation in that country, etc. (Sundlof, H. 2017, 12). Due to this, many women feel hopeless and feel they had no other option than to join or compromise in some fashion. There is a theory for why women join terrorist organizations called the four R’s (Sundlof, H. 2017, 12). The first R is revenge, and as discussed previously, it has to do with women joining terrorist organizations in order to take revenge on those that wronged her. The second R is redemption, which is when a woman joins a terrorist organization in order to redeem herself from committing a sin. The woman joins the organization in order to repent for her sin. An example of this would be having an affair that her family condemned. The third R is relationships, which are when a woman’s partner is involved in terrorism and she joins due to the romantic notions and/or to show loyalty to her lover, or when a member of her family is involved, and she joins because of their involvement. If a member of the female’s family is involved in a violent terrorist organization, this increases the chances of that female’s potential involvement greatly (Sundlof, H. 2017, 13). The final R is respect, which is when women join terrorist organizations in the hopes of becoming respected within the community. They want to prove to the community that their commitment is just as serious as that of the males in the organization (Sundlof, H. 2017, 13). There is a fifth R that was later added into the theory, rape. Rape is being used as a weapon for terrorist organizations, as well as a recruitment tool. Women that are raped are being forced to join terrorist organizations in order to regain their honor (Sundlof, H. 2017, 14). By using these five categories, we can better understand what motivates women to join terrorist organizations, forced or otherwise. Every motivation deals with deep and complicated emotions for these women, whereas on the other hand, male terrorist join for similar, yet less emotion involved reasons. Men typically join terrorist organizations due to personal dissatisfaction, resentment, the need for excitement, glorification, ideological reasons, etc. When comparing men and women involved in terrorist organizations, Sundlof (2017) found that women are more likely to be widows/divorcees, less likely to be employed, favor individual involvement over group involvement, etc. Women and men join terrorist organizations for a variety of overlapping reasons, but it is very clear that women join for far more emotionally invested reasons than their male counterparts.
There are distinct differences between male and female perpetrated terrorism, and these factors are not always accurately depicted by the media. These factors also do not match up accurately with modern profiles of male terrorists (Ness, C. D. 2008 p.5). Women are becoming more involved and active members of terrorist organizations with each passing year. We must accept this as a fact and treat them as a credible threat. Women are seen as weaker, less credible terrorist threats (Ness, C. D. 2008 p.5). Due to this, they are more efficient at slipping through security and pose a greater potential of success when carrying out an attack. The motivating factors between men and women differ, but women are more emotionally driven to participate in terrorism than men are. In order for security personnel to accurately combat female terrorism, we must view them as a highly motivated and credible threat. Security personnel need to make a profile of a female terrorist as well as they can based upon the current information. Further research is needed to fully understand and develop an accurate profile for the female terrorist. The only thing we can be certain of is that female terrorism is on the rise and the motivations behind it are complex.