What is the role of women in terror?

Last month, Dr Katherine Brown was a panellist at a Cambridge Union discussion on the role of women in terror

In the new age of terror, a key question is why a number of women have opted to join terrorist groups which are, from a Western standard, sexist and misogynistic. What are the differences between women who support, women who join and women who become actively involved in terrorist groups? Why are there fewer female terrorists than male ones? And what kind of impact do women have on these groups, when they are normally sidelined from executive decision-making?

On 23 November, with an audience of over 300 people, Katherine and the panel discussed the significance of gender in women’s participation in political violence, and assessed stereotypes and tropes, such as romantic adventurism, naivety and the allure of social media, which are commonly described in literature on women's involvement in terror. Katherine discusses some of the myths about women participating in terrorism in this article.

Katherine was joined on the panel by Dr Laura Sjoberg (an American international relations and security scholar), Devorah Margolin (a doctoral researcher looking at the role of women in terrorist organisations at King's College London), Dr Joana Cook (a Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence) and Neil Basu (Deputy Assistant Commissioner is Senior National Coordinator for Counterterrorism Policing in the United Kingdom).

The Cambridge Union is the oldest debating society in the world and hosts public debates and guest speakers on a variety of topics.