Gender and Terrorism (Female Suicide Missions)

Social and Traditional

Freedom Birds an LTTE Female Unit

Photo: “The Freedom Birds”, a special all-female unit was created in 1984, and female suicide bombers all belonged to the special suicide squad called “The Black Tigers”. http://www.dontpaniconline.com/magazine/radar/fighting-females

Social Motivation

On social levels, female suicide terrorism is likely to appear in societies sharing at least five conditions:

  1. the perception of a bitter ethnic conflict or foreign country invasion understood as a danger for ethnic or national identity;  
  2. religious or cultural norms restricting women’s access to public sphere;
  3. structures of a patriarchal society that are in stage of defragmentation;
  4. this defragmentation leads to replacement of traditional cultural values, authorities and priorities by new ones; 5) radical organizations making their choice in favor of female suicide terrorism.[i]

Traditional Society and Patriarchy

Obviously, the key concept is traditional society and patriarchy. Patriarchy is usually understood as a social system with strictly defined gender roles, in which men keep leading positions. However, some authors put the emphasis on the power distribution and control mechanisms:

“Patriarchy is understood as the domination and repression of women by men, to the benefit of the latter. A patriarchal society is one which affords its male members privilege and superior status by virtue of their gender and in which women are often exploited to the advantage of men; such a society is based upon a gender hierarchy in which men dominate women…. In traditional societies, cultural norms enforce a male-female duality that gives men control of both the public and private spheres; women’s activities, however, are relegated to the latter”. [ii] 

At the same time other researchers are more interested in power construction and recognition of masculinity:

“It is not men-on- top that makes something patriarchal. It's men who are recognized and claim a certain form of masculinity, for the sake of being more valued, more "serious," and "the protectors of/and controllers of those people who are less masculine" that makes any organization, any community, any society patriarchal.”[iii] 

To characterize this kind of society one can also add that they are “traditional hierarchical honor-based” ones, where “the transition from norms of honor to norms of equal dignity” has still not been executed.[iv] These are societies “based on honor codes that rank humans in lesser and higher beings, including gender ranking”.[v] These societies allow women– to some extent –  to choose how to die, but not how to live. 


[i] DRONZINA, T. 2008. Female suicide terrorism. Military publishing House, Sofia, pp.309-310

[ii] STINSON, K. 2005 "Freedom Fighters: Women Terrorists and the Battle for Female Liberation" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Hilton Hawaiian Village, Honolulu, Hawaii Online accessed 2009-05-26 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p69982_index.html (This paper is no longer available online.)

[iii] A Conversation with Cynthia Enloe: Feminists Look at Masculinity and the Men Who Wage War Author(s): Carol Cohn and Cynthia Enloe Source: Signs, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Summer, 2003), pp. 1187-1207 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3175849 Accessed: 23/08/2009 05:07

[iv] LINDER,   E. 2006. Humiliation, War and Gender: ‘Worse Than Death: Humiliating Words.’ In New Routes: A Journal for Peace Research and Action. Special Issue: GenderPerspectives. 11 (4). pp. 15-18.

[v] This paper is an excerpt from Lindner, Evelin Gerda (2005). Humiliation, killing, war, and gender. In Fitzduff, Mari and Stout, Chris E. (Eds.), The Psychology of Resolving Global Conflicts: From War to Peace. Volume 1: Nature vs. Nurture, pp. 137-174. Westport, CT, London: Praeger Security International, http://www.life-peace.org/sajt/filer/pdf/New_Routes/nr200604.Evelin%20Lindner%20Humiliation.pdf

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