In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender and Terrorism

  • Introduction

International Relations Gender and Terrorism
Caron Gentry
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0220


Even though conventional wisdom has it that women are not frequently involved in the political violence known as terrorism, women have in fact participated in the writing and dissemination of ideological beliefs, planning of attacks, and participation in such violence since, at a minimum, the mid-1800s. Terrorism studies grew as a field in the 1970s in response to the growing threat of substate violence in liberal democracies and anti-colonial violence, including from groups like the West German Red Army Faction, the Italian Red Brigades, the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), or the Irish Republican Army. Women have always been studied in terrorism studies, even if this work is limited in volume and perspective. Thus, an analysis of terrorism from a gender perspective is relatively new, with publications that focus specifically on gender, as opposed to women, emerging only as recently as the early to mid-2000s. The feminist work started with the classic question, “Where are the women?” As such, it was seeking to determine where and how women were involved. It evolved into deconstructing gendered discourse, looking at the agency and performativity of the women and men involved in terrorism, as well as how terrorist organizations are gendered in the international system. “Mainstream” terrorism studies and critical/feminist approaches continue to develop side-by-side, sometimes in conversation with each other and sometimes not; this is most evident in the work on suicide terrorism, radicalization, and counterterrorism. However, different instantiations of feminist theory continue to drive the scholarship into more critical explorations, including “intimate” terrorism and queer theory.

General Overview

Before one is able to look at how gender operates within the literature and study of terrorism, it is useful to begin with the scholarship that simply looks at women’s participation in terrorism. The work on women and terrorism began in the mid-1970s, with sporadic contributions over the next twenty years within (mainstream) terrorism studies. The feminist work emerged in the 2000s, seeing most of the earlier work as dissatisfactory in terms of understanding what gender is, how it operates, and how that generates limited understandings of women’s participation in terrorism.

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