“violence establishes social relationships … it marks and makes bodies … it constitutes subjects even as it renders them incomplete.”

– D’Cruze, S., & Rao, A. (2004).
Violence and the vulnerabilities of gender. Gender and History , 16 (3), 495-512.

Women In Conflict

In an age of unbridled violent extremism where social networks remain critical to our ability to achieve sustained peace, quelling the spread of extremism will never be achieved if half the population remains marginal to our understanding of both conflict and peacebuilding. We have systemically erased women’s active roles in conflict settings and are subsequently missing vital opportunities to involve women in the peacebuilding process. Women In Conflict aims to broaden our definition of “what is woman” away from passive victim and toward a more accurate, nuanced, and in-depth understanding of women as both combatants and peacebuilders. Outputs will engage audiences in the US Department of State, USAID, UNDP, and implementing field-based stakeholders in refreshing what is now ineffectual countering violent extremism (CVE) policy blind to the multiplicity of women roles and peacebuilding contributions.


In an era of violent extremism, CVE policy has fallen flat for more than a decade. As ISIS continues to grow with a greater number of international recruits and Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab remain vibrant threats, missing the role of women has crippled our ability to counter violent extremism.

CVE policy has erased women’s active roles in extremism and conflict, presuming a passivity which marginalizes them to the peacebuilding process and narrows our focus to a literal partial understanding of violent extremism. The presumed neutrality and universality of the “combatant,” is in reality a male actor whom policy orbits around. We rely heavily on gendered stereotypes of women – as weak, submissive, victimized and entirely inactive – and men – as strong, aggressive, and violent. Moreover, we remain entirely blind to the role women have and continue to play in conflict settings, as both combatants and local peacebuilders. Examples of active women abound, from the Black Widows in Chechnya, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) in Columbia, the Popular Front for the Liberation (PFLP) in Palestine, the Weather Underground in the United States, a number of al-Qaeda subsidiaries, and even ISIS. Women are, in a sense, the invisible operative in that their presumed passivity relegates them to the margins of CVE policy.

Understanding women’s roles as active leaders, recruiters, organizers, and even violent extremists will allow policy makers in the US Department of State and Department of Defense and the UN CTITF, implementing bodies at USAID and UNDP, and field-based stakeholders to effectively counter the expansion of violent extremism.

With violent extremism on the rise, we must listen to women’s experiences and understand their roles so as to improve what is now ineffectual CVE policy.

Female Terrorist
Female Speaker
Weather Underground


Women In Conflict fills a distinct gap in domestic and international CVE policy. The project will reorient CVE policy and implementation to include the active roles of women through an explicitly gender-sensitive methodology.

Background desk research, focused globally, and brief field research, in Central Asia, have been completed prior to this point. The Women In Conflict project is now ready to proceed with an initial period of field study in Beirut, Lebanon. The project will follow an integrated three-phase process as it build during future iterations in four additional field locations, each contributing a context-specific case study and serving to grow the quantitative dataset and interactive website components of this project. In total, case studies will be focused on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with field research conducted in Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, Palestine, and Libya.

Challenges around personal security during data collection and sensitivity of the data will be addressed through institutional support and review with local and international organizations, and local partnership with women’s groups and community leaders. All data will be anonymized and provided publically following completion of a rigorous approval procedure.

Phase I: Data collection

  • In-depth, semi-structured interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Quantitative survey

Phase II: Transcription and dataset construction

  • Interview transcription
  • Quantitative dataset construction (R, STATA, XLS formats)
  • Qualitative dataset construction (using NVivo)
  • Design and creation of interactive website (including portal for accessing the dataset with permission)

Phase III: Data analysis, white paper, and industry panels/presentations

  • Mixed-methodological data analysis (bridged across NVivo and R/STATA)
  • Write white paper
  • Arrange 5 industry panels/presentations addressing:


The Women In Conflict project offers unprecedented opportunity to refresh stale CVE policy. The data-driven, gender-sensitive, and mixed-methodological approach of this work will expand our understanding of women’s roles and contributions in conflict and peacebuilding. The explicit inclusion of women will translates into the literal presence of woman as participants in CVE programming and peacebuilding efforts. No longer will our policy be entirely blind to the role women have and continue to play in conflict settings.

Furthermore, the interactive nature of the Women In Conflict website will inform ongoing research of the PI, Jillian Foster, and the broader CVE community. Data will be visualized and made publically available. Cross-organizational and departmental collaboration will be fostered during industry panels, presentations, and one-off consultations.

Outputs: (May 2015 – January 2016)

  • Dataset
  • Interactive website
  • White paper
  • 5 Industry panels/presentations addressing

Outputs: Expansion (2016 – 2017)

The Women In Conflict project will be expanded to four additional field locations in throughout the MENA region in 2016 and 2017. Ideally, support for this project will allow future iterations to include two field locations per year. Project methodology will continue as outlined above.


Interested in collaborating or supporting this project? Contact Jillian Foster.