A large-scale research project has sought to evaluate the characteristics of women involved in jihadism-inspired terrorism. Coincidentally, one of the suicide bombers in the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka was a woman. The researchers, led by a PhD student at North Carolina State University, drew on data from the Western Jihadism Project, based at Brandeis University, which collects data on terrorists associated with al-Qaeda-inspired organisations. They conducted comparative analyses of 272 women and 266 men, who were matched to control for variables such as ethnicity, nation of residence and age at radicalisation.

Among the findings:
The researchers said the data suggests that terrorist organisations may be increasingly recruiting women. For example, 34% of the women in the sample were born after 1990, compared to only 15% of the men. Having controlled for age at radicalisation, the researchers said this suggests an increase in women’s involvement in terrorist groups.

Different roles
“Women were less likely than men to be involved in planning or carrying out terrorist attacks. Only 52% of the women were involved in plots, compared to 76% of men,” the university quoted PhD student Christine Brugh as saying. “In many ways, the roles of the women in these terrorist groups are consistent with traditional gender norms. The women were more likely to play behind-the-scenes roles aimed at supporting the organisation,” associate professor Sarah Desmarais was quoted as saying.

Background differences
Only 2% of the women had a criminal background before radicalisation, compared to 19% of the men. And 14% of the men had no profession in the six months preceding their affiliation with a terrorist group, while almost 42% of the women were unemployed during the same timeframe.

Beyond jihadism
Brugh was quoted as saying: “We need to see what, if anything, sets these people apart from their counterparts in the general population. Are there relevant variables that could inform threat assessments or models of radicalisation? It would also be good to see if there are similar patterns in other types of terrorism. Are the differences we found in this study particular to jihadism-inspired groups? In short, there is a lot of work to be done in this field.

(Adapted from The Indian Express)