On 13 October 2015, the UN Security Council called upon its member states to integrate a gender perspective into their terrorism prevention strategies. This was timely as the interplay between gender and terrorism is becoming difficult to ignore. A French intelligence report recently warned of an increasing ‘feminization of the French terrorist contingent’: the percentage of women leaving for Syria and Iraq had increased from 10% in 2013 to 35% at the end of 2015. Yet, while women have become more visible in the media portrayal and literature on terrorism, studying ‘female terrorists’ is not enough. Integrating a ‘gender perspective’ means to grasp how ideas of ‘femininity’, ‘masculinity’ and other gender constructs shape terrorism and counter-terrorism. Such gender dynamics have received scant attention both in counter-terrorism strategies and in the literature. Terrorism is still treated as ‘men’s business’. If women are perceived in terrorism, it is as troubled women driven into terrorism by personal grievances (‘black widows’) or as naïve women who have been seduced by jihadist fighters. If women are addressed by counter-terrorism policies, it is through their traditional roles as mothers and wives.
Similar blind spots exist in the literature: feminist legal scholars and criminologists have cautioned against extending the UN Women, Peace and Security agenda to terrorism and counter-terrorism for fear of reducing it to another legitimation narrative for coercive state and military practices. Security and terrorism scholars, on the other hand, tend to regard women and gender as of marginal importance to understanding the functioning of male-dominated terrorist and security institutions. How can we move beyond the ‘neglect’ of gender in counter-terrorism without further stereotyping, stigmatizing and securitizing women?
This project aims to fill this gap through an original comparative, cross-cultural study of the interplay between terrorism, counter-terrorism and gender in the UK, Kenya and Lebanon. Closing this gap is crucial for two reasons. First, the literature’s failure to grasp the way terrorist organizations use gender limits our understanding of how they sustain and legitimate themselves. Second, gender blind counter-terrorist practices may end up creating new insecurities for women especially at a time when public discourse is awash with terrorist fears spurring governments into rash action. The project’s research will involve textual analysis of counterterrorist legislation and policy documents, online ‘terrorist propaganda’, as well as qualitative fieldwork in the three countries interviewing both counter-terrorist practitioners as well as people, particularly women, affected by such policies. In this way, the project aims to move the literature beyond its focus on the individual radicalization of women through a comprehensive gender analysis that explores constructions of femininity, masculinity and other gender constructs in both terrorism and counter-terrorism.