Student entries

Coding Women in Political Violence


This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.


Coding Women in Political Violence

Katherine Coate

This is my first semester coding for the Prosecution Project and I have learned a lot over the semester and my expectations of what the project would be like have changed a lot also. Something that I expected coming in that ended up being true though was that I believed that women would commit many fewer crimes that we would study than men. So far I have coded many cases that were men but only a few that were women. However, I did not think about why this is or what this would mean for the justice system.

Some people may not think about females carrying out political violence, and when they hear about it, are surprised. Carrie Hamilton, a professor at Roehampton University in London, wrote about females in political violence, specifically focusing on the radical Basque nationalist organization, ETA. As women’s positions in society changed, she noticed their positions in terrorist organizations changed as well. First of all, there were more women in the organization and they were able to do more violent activities to help the organization.

Changes in wider social relations – including gender – over the past several decades have had a significant impact on patterns of women’s participation in ETA, with more women entering the organization, especially as armed activists and leaders.” (Hamilton)

Women are playing bigger roles in terrorist organizations according the Hamilton, however she did not write about women committing political violence who are working alone.

In coding my cases I have not worked on cases of women working alone to commit political violence. This helps prove the point made by many that women get into political violence because a close male relation around them who invites them and convinces them this is the thing to do. Hamilton also writes about this in her essay specifically writing about “couple terrorism”.  There is a belief that men convince women to join terrorist groups while also having a relationship with them. The men separate the women from their families and take away any other option the woman had and make them feel like it is their choice because they choose the man. Hamilton writes about how this is not the case all the time and that there are other ways women get into political violence. She writes about how it does not have to be a significant other and how it can be the situation around them but they have more of a choice than people believe.

The assumption that women do not choose to commit political violence but are forced into it by the situation around them carries over into how they are punished. In tPP, we read a paper by Audrey Alexander and Rebecca Turkington that discusses how gender affects justice in relation to terrorism. They argue that women are punished less severely than men for similar crimes because people view women as the victims and do not believe they will make the same choice again. They write about a complete misunderstanding of women in the justice system and beyond.

While inconsistencies are most apparent in the legal system’s treatment of female terrorists, the roots of this problem extends far beyond defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges. News media that sensationalize women in terrorism, or exoticize them as transgressive or misled enigmas, misguide public opinion. Academics who ignore gender in their studies of radicalization and recruitment dynamics produce incomplete analyses of current trends. Policymakers who exclusively cast women as victims of conflict create blind-spots in strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism.” (Alexander)

Women in political violence are very misunderstood and this is concerning because the numbers of women in political violence is increasing. In coding my cases I have noticed women committing political violence but there are still not very many. As more analysis of this project is done, it will be interesting to see what the data has to say about women and hopefully it can start to fill in some of these gaps in the research.

Works Cited:

Alexander, Audrey, and Rebecca Turkington. CTC Sentinel, September 2018, 24–29. https://miamioh.instructure.com/courses/104552/files/12479543/download?wrap=1

Hamilton, Carrie. “The Gender Politics of Political Violence: Women Armed Activists in ETA.” Feminist Review, no. 86 (2007): 132–48. www.jstor.org/stable/30140854

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