Duped: Why Gender Stereotypes are Leading to Inadequate Deradicalization and Disengagement Strategies


In narratives around insurgencies, terrorism, and other forms of armed political violence, the media -and policymakers- frequently portray women as victims or unintelligent pawns of men. Occasionally, when a women has a direct role in a violent act, she will receive more in-depth attention, with various often salacious details reported by the media about her family, motives, romantic relationships, and especially, her appearance (Brown 2011, Gentry and Sjoberg 2015; Gonsalves 2005; Laster and Erez 2015; Nacos 2005). Arguably, these violent women get significantly more media attention than their male counterparts because they are such a departure from social stereotypes of nurturing, peaceful women. But even these narratives of deviance reinforce societal stereotypes about women: they are emotional, easily manipulated, often deranged, certainly not political, or simply unintelligent. When Muslim women are involved in violent groups, such stereotypes are often even more exaggerated and paired with religious and racial stereotypes. The trope of oppressed Muslin women has been widespread in post 9/11 “War on Terror” rhetoric, from American justification that invading Afghanistan would liberate Afghani women, to the repeated language of “empowering Muslim women” in counter-terrorism program in the UK and elsewhere (Jabbra 2006; Rahsid 2014). This imagery is not complete without the counterpoint of the dangerous and abusive Muslim man – or, as Jabbra states, the age-old story of “white men rescuing brown women from brown men” (2006, 236). Such sensationalism, however, detracts from the much more common, systematic, and critical roles that women have in building and sustaining the legacy and strength of terrorist and insurgent groups.

Download Working Paper


TSAS WP 2018-07

Skip to content