Review the available literature on women and violent extremism: What role have women played in preventing, promoting and participating in violent extremist groups and violent extremist acts over the last 15 years? What is the relationship between violent extremism and violence against women and girls?
While gender has tended to be ignored in the literature on terrorism and political violence, a gender perspective of violent extremism has started to receive media and academic attention. However, experts identify the need for more systematic research on gender implications in terrorism and counter-terrorism studies. This rapid review of the literature finds that:
- Women’s roles – as policy shapers, educators, community members and
activists – in countering violent extremism have started to be
- Various initiatives funded by international government and
non-governmental organisations aim to support women’s role in
preventing violent extremism, including by working with local
grassroots women’s organisations.
- There is growing recognition that women’s complex roles may involve
supporting or encouraging violent extremism.
- There has been a rise in women’s direct engagement in violent
extremist acts, notably as suicide bombers, in the last thirty years
for secular and (more recently) religious violent extremist groups.
- A large body of literature explores the drivers that contribute to
women becoming suicide bombers, with mixed findings on women's
- There appears to be a lack of systematic research exploring the
relationship between violent extremism and violence against women and
Some insights into different facets of this relationship include:
- Cultures of gender-based violence can be exacerbated during conflict.
- Violent extremists with conservative or reactionary gender agendas are
likely to victimise women.
- Sexual violence and rape are a form of terrorism and used as a tool by
violent extremists, notably towards women and girls.
- Counter-terrorism measures may lead governments to fail to prevent or
punish gender-based abuses.
- There are mixed findings on whether personal trauma, most notably
rape, is one of the fundamental motivations for women’s involvement in
- Some experts raise issues in seeing all women as victims of violent
extremism, arguing that this essentialist view does not reflect the
more complex reality.
Carter, B. Women and violent extremism (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 898). Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2013) 13 pp.