Hafsa Ammar is a student of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Defence University, Islamabad. Her areas of expertise are hybrid warfare, narrative building, and nuclear deterrence in South Asia.
Terrorism has a wide impact, but its effects depend on the recipient as well. Gender-based vulnerabilities are often overlooked leading to a scant analysis of terrorism. It can have several types depending on the way it is being categorized whether it be the aim, geographical proximity, or means and methodology.
Time has given testament to the fact that there are thousands of end goals for terrorism. It can either be to intimidate the opposition (often the government) or create a sense of insecurity and turbulence in society.
There are two broad specifications concerning territory and it depends on the perception of the state. If within national borders and without external interference, it is known as domestic terrorism (969 Movement), and when it exists beyond state borders and in other states’ jurisdiction, it is referred to as international terrorism (ISIS). A terrorist group can function as a transnational entity such as the massive drug trade of Hezbollah enveloping several states into its grasp.
Unfortunately, advanced technology has given terrorists multiple avenues to go down. The most commonly used methods are suicide bombing, cyber operations, missiles, gang rapes, arson, Molotov cocktails, biological and chemical weapons, etc.
Role of Women
Traditionally, women are seen as victims of war or peacemakers – neither of which are positions that dole out violence. However, women have been participating in terrorism for a long time, be it voluntary or involuntary. Sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) is an active tactic used to this day.
Child soldiers in rehabilitation camps in Uganda lay a testament to these facts when they come forward and reveal details about their early indoctrination. A teenager when interviewed said that they were trained to kill men on sight and rape any woman they saw. He was a 12-year-old when he participated in his first gang rape of a 20-year-old woman. (War Against Women Documentary).
There is no doubt regarding the female gender and their contributions to society when men are away due to conflict; they run factories, manage households, raise children, care for the elderly, and feed the communities. However, when such actions are being applauded, one tends to overlook their role in promoting or carrying conflict as well. They play several roles, be it bookkeeping, recruiting other women, raising funds, indoctrination, education, or active combat.
Women face discrimination of every type and in every social class. In regions where a revolutionary spirit is part of the social fabric, women have often joined terror organizations to reclaim their sense of identity and to have a purpose beyond homemaking for the alleged oppressor. The RAF (Red Army Faction) helped foster radical feminist thought and recruited women such as Ulrike Meinhof who is idolized to this day.
Sri Lanka is known for being the first state to witness people partake in the act of suicide bombing. Kalaivathi, better known as ‘Dhanu’, was the first person to be known as a human bomb. She admired the LTTE movement and its demand for concrete recognition. She assassinated Rajiv Gandhi via a suicide bombing.
‘Tania the Guerrillera’ is another famous extremist who worked for the rebels of Bolivia. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia also had a massive female population. It is easy for women to partake in such acts of violence due to the non-seriousness with which men view them.
In general, they are seen as innocent, fragile, passive, calm, and obedient. This perception helps them pass through crowds and security checks with little to no scrutiny. There have also been cases where women have been known to hide drugs, arms, ammunition, and even bombs in fake molds of pregnancy bumps. Female participation in transnational crime and terrorism has risen by 52 percent, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Not all women who are part of these terrorist plots and organizations are doing so voluntarily. They are more often than not coerced and threatened with death and torture. Many are kidnapped as well. They are seen as a means to generate a larger following and are forced to give birth to children (especially sons) to create more members for the groups.
Many women in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen had to succumb to evil due to their homes and villages being overrun by militias. Their men (fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands) force them into a lifetime of servitude, and that subservience guarantees protection for their children and families.
GBV sows the seeds of discord and vengeance in women. The official manifesto of the LTTE included demands for gender equality and women’s rights. This goes to show that women who participate in such initiatives voluntarily do so because they see their ideological goals being achieved through terror groups more effectively than through state machinery. To counter this rising threat there is a need for gender analysis not only for terrorism but for the criminal justice system attempting to counter it as well.
Significance of a Gendered Analysis
Gender mainstreaming has made its way into being accepted as an important sphere of academia and discourse. There have been reports and resolutions passed by various international advocacy platforms for female empowerment such as the Handbook on Gender Dimensions of Criminal Justice and Responses to Terrorism published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and United Nations Resolution 1325.
As discussed above, women play a massive yet somehow invisible role in propagating terrorism across the globe. They are not just the victims but also often the perpetrators; without actively pursuing this perspective, social scientists and strategists will be unable to tackle the threat entirely.
DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration) and rehabilitation programs are designed while only keeping middle-aged men in mind, which has detrimental effects not only on the women combatants who try (and often fail) to readjust in society but on the entire foundation of peacebuilding programs.
Having a gender-specific lens to analyze and deconstruct terrorism will help formulate inclusive, collaborative, and thorough reintegration programs that can bring sustainable peace in the long term.
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