Normally, men are observed as the leaders of equipped rebellions while women are often deemed as victims of violence rather than being perpetrators of the attack. In radical organizations, though, this stereotype is broken repeatedly as women have gained numbers in their membership. Also, women are usually found to be embracing non-traditional roles, for example in Islamic State (IS); like doctors, health care workers, even they are often observed to be involved in violence also for these organizations; such as Morality Police Forces consisted of entirely women in IS called ‘Al-Khansaa Brigade’. No doubt, women are also part of militant organizations in traditional role like domestic help and wives of militants (e.g. Al-Shabab); more often they are forced to work as sex slaves.
Women’s involvement in these militant organizations is seemed to be shocking, mainly in the social order where their actions violate fixed gender norms. While women have historically been found to be as participant in many terrorist organizations, even the number of female suicide attackers has also been raised in the world. This lift up the questions;
Whatever drives men towards militant organizations also work for women like financial benefits or strong pull of any religious ideology. Other than that various Counter-terrorism (CT) studies has previously indicated that a woman retains the inclination of returning towards her old gender roles fixed by cultural norms of any community. Also, women carry certain insecurities related to her future life and marriage, therefore, it drives her in most of cases towards militant organization (as have been noticed in Al-Shabab as well), to find and marry someone at younger age by taking the escape from headache oriented long route of getting education and establishing their carriers etc. But off course, sometimes women are being inducted against their will or either they have been intimidated for denying to carry out militant sort of responsibilities or have been sexually assaulted.
But in the country like Pakistan where women carry a huge respect and position under the cover of its cultural norms, also have been observed to be participating actively in militant organizations. Though in start, their role was entirely passive being only facilitator or abettor they were supposed to be providing cover to suicide bombers or militants as vehicle carrying ladies wasn’t used to be checked at all at check posts. But gradually we noticed the same international trend in Pakistan also, where the militant organizations were seemed to be more inclining to place women at forefront as ‘combatant’ after losing their strength and territory at actual ground such as; IS employed its newspaper named as ‘Al-Naba’ in order to influence women towards jihad.
More importantly, Pakistan’s policymakers have always taken up a ‘male-centric’ approach while dealing with terrorist groups, underestimating or negating the critical roles women have been playing in the past within the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Al-Qaeda, and now in IS. These groups undoubtedly, limit women’s roles and basic rights by banning their education, above all by relegating them to domestic sphere only. However, heedless of these structural types of gender inequalities that supposed to be embedded within conception of an ‘Islamic Society’, these militant groups envisage the chipping in women under essential and more specialized roles that can be pigeonholed as “women’s jihad.”
The recruitment of women that took place under TTP is often mirrored by Al- Qaeda or IS. The recruitment patterns of ISIS seemed to be very lethal as it’s engaging women of educated middle as well as upper-middle class mainly from urban centers; such as Lahore, Sialkot, and Karachi. In February 2017, the case of Noreen Laghari; who was a young medical student belonging to highly educated family came to the fore, later after arresting in her own confessional video she herself claimed that she was radicalized by IS online and later she got married to a militant and also was about to detonate herself at church in Lahore.
It seems rather absurd that most erudite and cultured women would readily like to join any terrorist group that openly denies them the same rights and privileges as the men enjoy candidly as well as above all those restricts their mobility. Sometimes, gendered or individual explanations are often installed to explain women’s participating in these violent groups. Per se, the woman is assumed to be following her males; father, husband, or brother or supposed as she is seeking reprisal for their killings by the opponent group or the state.
On the other hand, in mid of year 2016, Bushra Cheema desolated her husband and she left for Syria in order to adhere with ISIS with her four children. And, in a voice note that has been sent to her husband, she said, “I love ALLAH and his religion… If you can’t join us then at least pray that your wife and children die in jihad.” Question arises in mind that what had motivated Bushra Cheema to join ISIS?
Bushra Cheema’s radicalization primarily can be premeditated as opposing the madrasa-terrorism nexus, instead of showcasing an identity crisis that is stemming from umbrage and pique toward the state in the form of multiple kinds of grievances; political and economic. This process of women’s radicalization seems to be a sign of the same considerations; with the solution ingrained within ISIS’s ideology of making an “Islamic” state, involving the members; men and women; stakeholders functioning within the sphere of their own specialized roles.
No doubt, in society like Pakistan female-suicide bombers are emerging as a dire security alarm, owing to their ability to access security check-posts with no trouble at the same time covering their suicide jackets beneath their clothing’s or burqas as recently happened in a terrorist attack carried out by TTP in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s (K-P’s) Dera Ismail (DI) Khan that took place on 21st of July 2019 where the female bomber, aged around 28 years, came on foot and blew herself up. This quandary is seemed to be concurrent to the low induction of females; within the Pakistani police and security forces. In 2011 only0.89 percent of the Police Force comprised of women according to a report by the National Police Bureau of Pakistan. Off course, this number is insufficient considering an estimated percentage (48-50) of the total population manages to skip security check-points, because men are unable to conduct physical checks according to social norms of society. Hence, further recruitment of women in Pakistan’s Police Force for sure would better facilitate the security establishment to respond to as well as counter threats more effectively emanating from women than ever before.
Also, Pakistani society is rooted in a strong family structure, which paves the ways for women to play an active part in bringing home more precarious and family-based radicalization of their children. In the milieu of this long-term horrible threat, women’s education, emancipation and political and economic empowerment could hold the only key to putting off the growing footing of extremist ideologies as a good choice to the current status quo.
It’s no more secret fact that major extremist groups are now heavily relying upon women to get strategic advantages, by recruiting them as facilitators and martyrs even as, benefiting from their conquest. Therefore, understanding and addressing women’s vulnerabilities and paths to radicalization and the roles they take part in VE is decisive for sure to disrupting terrorists’ abilities to engage, install, and misuse them. By integrating in women’s idiosyncratic perspectives hence, can bring about enhanced intelligence gathering and more precise and targeted responses to latent security threats. Also, women-led civil society groups are mostly deemed to be critical partners in extenuating violence, nonetheless counterterrorism efforts to fail to enlist them over and over again.
Even so, within Pakistan women-terrorism nexus has remained always a bitter reality but now it should no longer be neglected by the both; state and security related officials. Even though it is not likely that feminization will be widely held phenomenon in the lines of these conventionally misogynist and patriarchal groups, but their active enrolment signals are posing a staid threat to the state which sturdily needs to be tackled at the moment. Also, this demands a fair substitute of the age-old and male-centric approach to counter-terrorism but with an extra gender oriented neutral perspective.
ITCT does not necessarily endorse any or all views expressed by the author in the article.
. More information can be accessed at, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/07/the-women-of-isis/375047/.
. Islamist militant group al-Shabab is battling the UN-backed government in Somalia, and has carried out a string of attacks across the region. The group, which is allied to al-Qaeda, has been pushed out of most of the main towns it once controlled, but it remains a potent threat.
. Analysis of al-Shabab suicide attacks between 2007 and 2016 found 5% were carried out by women
.District police chief Salim Riaz said the blast was a suicide bombing carried out by a woman, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2018090/1-six-policemen-martyred-gun-bomb-attack-di-khan/.
Analyst - Counter-terrorism - South Asia Desk (Pakistan)