Women’s Participation in Violent Non-State Armed Groups: Re-Thinking International Law

women soldiers military salute group
  • Thursday 09 May 2024
  • 9am - 10:30am
  • Online
  • Free

Registration Required. This roundtable will discuss female participation in violent non-state armed groups from the perspective of human rights and international law.

In 2022, the International Committee of the Red Cross affirmed there were 524 non-state armed groups of humanitarian concern globally. Despite their proliferation and fragmentation over the last 30 years, little attention has been paid to the gender-specific motives for membership and participation in violent non-state armed groups and the implications this has for international law. Indeed, the majority of existing studies on non-state armed groups overlook the matter of women’s participation in combat from the perspective of international criminal law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and transitional justice. Studies suggest that this is partly due to continued gendered coding of armed conflict situations where men are assumed to have a monopoly on violence and women are presumed to be victims and advocates for peace. In reality, a considerable proportion of non-state armed groups have women members within their ranks. The Women in Armed Rebellion Dataset (WARD) has established that between 1964 and 2014 approximately, 40% of non-state armed groups had women members who “underwent military training, received combat arms, and directly participated in organized violence on behalf of the organization in any capacity during the conflict.”. Such groups include the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the National Liberation Front (FLN), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, the Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) in El Salvador and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). However, despite many of these groups’ rhetoric of gender equality, the hierarchical structure of these groups continues to be mostly dominated by men. Only 20% of non-state armed groups are estimated to permit women to hold leadership positions despite being “powerful symbols” and presently “prominently in organizational imagery and propaganda.”

Conversely, women’s participation in non-state armed groups also has implications for post-conflict societies by influencing gender norms. In particular, studies suggest that organisations formed by women within non-state armed groups, such as all-female combat units and political wings, can eventually develop into civil society organisations and lobbying groups. Thus, it can be posited that women’s membership and participation in non-state armed groups shapes the activities, capacity and direction of non-state armed groups. This one-day virtual workshop will discuss different theoretical and doctrinal approaches to female participation in violent non-state armed groups from the perspective of human rights and international law. Thank you to the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation which provided a grant to support preliminary research for this online workshop.