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”.

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 (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: 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,

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