The Issue of Gender in Terrorism

According to Bloom (2011), terrorism is widely used by the weak in the struggle against the strong. Terrorism is non-conventional battle to resist strong and conventional armies’ of the countries. Modern armies are well armed in terms of equipment and labor; however, most of the terrorist groups lack the resources or labor to fight such a war.

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Instead, terrorism is an attractive option because it focuses on soft targets, specifically the civilians that are hard to protect but they cause damage and create fear. The objective of terrorism is to create fear to force the strong group to accept concessions if the enemy does not want to engage in an endless war.  Terrorism is mostly associated with the men but women are also actively engaged in terror activities. However, the impact of terrorism is different for men and women. Women, although they can be perpetrators, are likely to be victims. Children, on the other hand, are victims and perpetrators but they experience violence differently. Their young and impressionable mind makes them easier to manipulate to engage in all forms of atrocities while also suffering as victims.

Women are mostly victims of terror attacks. Women have suffered from terror attacks around the world for various reasons. However, on the other hand, some women around the world have joined terror groups. According to Weinberg & Eubank (2011), women actively participated in violent activities in Russia long before women in the west gained the right to vote. For instance, a Russian woman almost killed Lenin, the Russian revolutionary leader who introduced communism in Russia. In The Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR), women were also active. In general, the group used terrorism to achieve its objective and one of its branches was the Combat Organization that carried out a string of assassinations until the outbreak of the revolution in Russian that replaced the monarchy with communism.

In the United States and the west in general, anarchist groups had women as their most important members. One of these women was Emma, whom the government jailed severally for her activities of fomenting chaos and violence.  Women also played a role in Israel and particularly former president Meir. In Algeria, they also played a role in fighting against the French. In Palestine, one of the symbols of the resistance against the Jewish rule is a woman named Khaled.  Even today, women continue to play a critical role in the struggle against the Jewish state by protecting jihadists or aiding them in many ways. For instance, liberation fighters use unarmed women to provoke Israeli soldiers to attack them so that the resultant media coverage can benefit Palestinian cause and discredit the Israeli state.

Despite the clear involvement of women in terrorism and terror-related activities, international law response to terrorism has refused to consider the fact. Therefore, existing studies explore the issue from a gendered perspective where the perpetrator is male (Huckerby, 2014). The result is the exclusion of experiences of women and an unclear picture of what really happens to women in terror-prone regions. Furthermore, the exclusion of women had led to a situation where the impact of counter-terrorism activities on women is unknown. If the impact is negative, efforts meant to address violence leads to adverse outcomes on women and girls, different from the original intention of the policymakers.

Despite the exclusion of women, governments are implementing measures to address the issue. One of the ways they are doing that is to explore the impact of terrorism on women. Secondly, governments fighting insurgents are using to fight propaganda from jihadists (Huckerby, 2014). Moreover, because women play a critical role in society such as mentoring young people, sharing messages that counter those of terrorists make it harder for groups to recruit young men and women in communities. Their role in fighting insurgents is attracting attention. Women are prominent members of the society and have influence in their own right and including them in the fight against terror groups can yield good results.

The United Nations have recognized the important role of women in recognizing early signs of radicalization and dealing with it. In discussions on how to fight international terrorism, experts now think that women can offer help (Chowdhury, Zeiger & Bhulai, 2016). The problem, though, is the role of women in addressing the issue is now well studied. However, despite that, emerging evidence from Pakistan suggests that with the right training, women can make children reaching adulthood avoid recruitment.  Women are closer to children, so they can use that closeness to advise them against joining terror groups (Chowdhury, Zeiger & Bhulai, 2016). In that sense, women can act as preventers of terrorism. The problem with that strategy is that it might expose them to greater danger of violence from terror groups. However, women are not just victims. Researchers have documented that women do act as perpetrators of violence. They fight in the frontlines or in supportive activities like making bombs and generally offering moral support to attackers. Therefore, by engaging with them directly, it reduces their chances of engaging in acts of terror.

According to Horgan, Taylor, Bloom & Winter (2016), some aspects of children’s response to large-scale violence are not well studied. One of the less understood areas is the motivation to use children as targets of terror and as perpetrators. However, preliminary evidence suggests that terror groups and even government soldiers target children to create an environment of fear. In Pakistan, the Taliban targeted children so that they can cause fear and terror in families. Also, by killing children of government officers or soldiers, the group hopes to inflict the pain on those who fight the group on the frontline. The objective is not just to kill but inflict pain by targeting the innocent and helpless ones. The killing of children also provokes a massive amount of revulsion mixed with fear, which is the objective of any terror group. Without causing fear, terror group cannot be effective or force the government to negotiate.

The extent of the violence against children is massive (Horgan, Taylor, Bloom & Winter, 2016). Even in developed countries such as the United States, violent groups have not spared children from violence. Episodic violence such as Sandy Hook attack leaves scores of children dead or injured.  Children are also easy targets for recruitment by groups because they are vulnerable. Terror groups recruit them to serve as fighters or as sex slaves if they are girls. Some groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda used children exclusively as fighters.  During the American war of independence, the revolutionaries used children extensively. Children, some as young as seven years’ old, played important roles as war as scouts or in supportive functions. Boko Haram, a terror group operating in northern Nigeria uses children as suicide bombers. Hamas use young people or adolescents as suicide. These groups find children easier to handle and indoctrinate so that they can cause mass causalities in the war on terror.

Children experience terror differently compared to men and women. On one hand, they are victims when attackers kill them. When they survive death, terror groups use them as a form of human shields when fighting government soldiers. They fight in the frontline, taking much of the fire, while the older fighters remain in the background.   Once they have softened the attack, the mature men attacks now join the frontline. During its war with Iraq, Iran extensively by encouraging them to walk on mined fields to demine them. Also, non-state actors such as Boko Haram victimize children when they kidnap them to act as sex slaves and suicide bombers. Some groups, particularly in Africa, exclusively use children as soldiers. One such group is the Lord’s Resistance Army that used to operate in Northern Uganda. On those dimensions, the experiences of children are different. For women, they might suffer violence and sex slavery but rarely do fighters force them to join the war.  For men, terrorist groups might force them to take arms but they do not suffer from sexual exploitation.

In conclusion, it is evident that women and men can be victims as well as perpetrators of terrorism. In the case of women, they are often likely to be victims, judging from the latest incidents of terrorism in the Middle East and Africa. In the Darfur region of Sudan, terror groups rape women as part of ethnic cleansing and erasing the identity of undesirable groups. In the Middle East, ISIS use women as sex slaves. Men not allied to the terror groups are killed or forced to join the violence as perpetrators. In some cases, women have been fighting for terrorists. Therefore, the experiences of women and men differ to some extent. However, in international law and studies on terrorism, the focus has been on men to the exclusion of children and women. The gendered view has led to some misunderstanding but it is now clear that including women in every aspect of counter-terrorism has benefits. One of the benefits is fighting the propaganda messages from terror groups. Other than women, another group whose experiences in dealing with terror the international law has relegated to the periphery is children.

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