Explaining Extremism: Western Women in Daesh

Women participate extensively in armed, Islamist struggle. In recent years, foreign women have travelled from the West to join Daesh. Their participation perplexes policymakers, government officials, and researchers who call attention to the group’s gendered regulation, violence, and widespread use of rape. Consequently, observers often argue that women are deceived by the organisation or seduced by the promise of romance. This suggests that women would not, under rational circumstances, choose to join the group. In this article, we address two resultant questions: why do Western women join Daesh? Are their motivations distinct from other Islamist recruits? Using an original dataset of social media activity from 17 Western female recruits between 2011–15, we conclude that women are primarily driven by religious ideology that adopts an expressly gendered frame. We find that feelings of isolation and disaffection also drive migration. We suggest that female foreign recruits are not unique in their motivations and share many similarities with male fighters and women in other Islamist organisations. This research has valuable implications for security studies and counterterrorism, which tend to treat extremist women as unique. Female recruits should be taken seriously as insurgents intent on establishing an Islamic caliphate.

Tags: Content Analysis, Foreign Fighters, ISIS, Recruitment, Social Media, Violent Jihadism