Does Terrorism have a Gender? - The Place of Women in Global Islamic Terrorism

Seminar Paper, 2008

18 Pages, Grade: 92




Gender Distinctions: Women and Terrorism
Defining the Gender association:
Gender roles within Islam:
The role of men and women within Islamic societies and terror organizations:

Overlook into history:

Facts and Arguments:

Woman within terrorist organizations

Terror organizations and their impacts on women

Influence of the media

Palestinian female suicide bombers: New social and religious motives




In the western world, the participation of women in higher ranked positions is no longer questioned. The equality between man and woman is considered a given fact. However, in regards to terrorism, the difference in gender is still considered an issue, and femininity and masculinity plays a role. The gender theory, the significance of being a man or a woman, has gone into new dimensions, by affecting fundamental Islam and giving terrorism a new identity. Years ago, the occurrence of suicide bombings was considered the embodiment of “evil“, and had evoked from the public consternation and incomprehension. Today, these one-time occurrences have become a recurrent trend, known as a martyr phenomenon, heard daily on news. Up until recently, most of the suicide bombers, known as “Shahids”, were men who committed the act in order to be remembered in history and upon being promised that it will lead them to paradise. However today we see more and more women, especially Muslim/Islamic women, who decide to die as “female martyrs”.

Since the attack on the World Trade Center in September 11, 2001, terrorism has become a matter of every-day public issue, discussed as one of the top topics in daily news. However, these discussions rarely focus on the implication of gender on the issue, and Islamic terrorism is intuitively perceived as “masculine” rather than “feminine”. When the issue of gender in the Islamic world is finally brought up, the focus is usually around the political and domestic oppression of woman, an issue that has been analyzed thoroughly by political scientists, legal practitioners and historians from all perspectives. However, rarely is the feminine role, or lack thereof, discussed in the pretext of terrorism. No public emphasis has been given to the question, of how is it possible that these all-around oppressed women, whose role in their society, by stereotype, is to be the caring housekeeper - to give birth to children, to stand for values like education, etc. - have suddenly taken the role that has long been reserved for men, by turning to violence and volunteering for suicide missions.

It begs the question, does terrorism have a gender? Is terrorism a “masculine” means, increasingly utilized by Islamic women to raise their low standing in society and achieve liberation? Is it used by women because “only with the weapon of the classical symbol of masculinity and with particular cruelty, [an Islamic female may achieve] the conception to be a perfectly emancipated woman[1] ”? Or, is terrorism merely a “unisex” act of war that so happens to be used by women? When a woman takes on a suicide mission, is she doing it as an Islamist fundamentalist, in the name of Islamic liberation, or is she doing it as an oppressed feminist, in the name of women’s emancipation? Some would claim that neither answer is correct, that no political or social significance should be attributed to women’s involvement in terrorism, because Islamic women are incapable of taking a stance, and therefore any involvement they may have is individual, due to personal agony, rather than collective, in the name of higher aims.

This paper will reflect on the phenomenon of Islamic female suicide bombers, using fundamental palestinian women and their individual case patterns, to analyze the impact of gender issues in the context of Islamic terrorism. The case patterns will show empirically that females who took part in terrorist activities, unlike most of their male counterparts, were not purely driven by Islamic liberation motivations, and took into consideration additional factors, such as personal circumstances that left them with nothing to lose or a thirst for revenge. Though no case has shown that a palestinian woman was motivated in the name of female emancipation alone, it will be argued that the byproduct of the phenomenon, perhaps subconsciously, is the beginning of feminism in the Islamic world.

Gender Distinctions: Women and Terrorism


While “male” and “female” are sex categories, “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories. According to the World Health Organization, “gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women[2]. And so, while aspects of sex do not vary substantially between different human societies, aspects of gender vary greatly.


Feminism focuses with gender inequality and places an emphasis on women’s rights, with an active desire to change the status of women in society. Furthermore, feminists emphasize the relationship between the genders as a primary vehicle for the oppression of women[3].

Defining the Gender association:

Radical female “aggression” is rather masochistic in its nature and women tend destroy themselves, instead of destroying others, like it is oftentimes the case with extremist men. Sadistic women are an exception. In this connotation, one tends to search for reasons; in what family environment she has been raised and to what extend she got socialized. In fact, it seems “unnatural” that women are capable of violence and as a suicide bomber one may actually don’t want her to be able to help what she has done. Most preferably one lays the blame on the cruel father, husband, brother or other male relatives, who coerced her in the first place. However, fact is, that women not only destroy themselves, but also other by committing a suicide attack. It is a myth to assume that women are pacific and these female committers are an exception of the rule. They have always existed, such as the women who guarded in the concentration camps during the Nazi regime. If one assumes, that Islamic women are victims, their status of being or being treated as an object ceases. The idea, that a woman acts inhuman out of her own accord, may nevertheless seem to some of us absurd. A female suicide bomber proofs the opposite and breaks therewith a taboo on two levels. She not only violates against the norm of the civilized Human being, she rather than goes actually one step further and joggles the foundations of the idealized image of women within Islam. All of the sudden the biological gender plays a role. Yet, the question remains if there is “female sadism”.

Between the cruelty of women and men there is not necessarily a difference, since both genders have most likely been taught sadism during their childhood, by both their parents and educator. They most likely have been treated with cruelty or even in a perverse manner and were not allowed or couldn’t to defend themselves, according to the Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller.[4] The coil of torture and being tortured sustains within men and women. However, it is usually the parent’s responsibility and subsequently the society who transmit the aggressions to the children.


[1] “Der Spiegel” (German: “The Mirror“), 1985.




Excerpt out of 18 pages


Does Terrorism have a Gender? - The Place of Women in Global Islamic Terrorism
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Does, Terrorism, Gender, Place, Women, Global, Islamic, Terrorism, Seminar
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Hagar Figler (Author), 2008, Does Terrorism have a Gender? - The Place of Women in Global Islamic Terrorism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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