Rebel Women: Violence and Legitimacy in Civil War (book project in progress)
My book manuscript asks how women’s participation in rebellion affects conflict outcomes. I argue that gender can fundamentally shape organizational strategies and rebels’ engagement with core constituent audiences to advance their cause, and thus I call attention to the ways in which women offer strategic benefits to rebel groups. I contend that women’s participation can legitimize rebellion, helping de-fang violent actors by integrating them into local communities and making them appear less like fringe extremists and more like broad movements rising up against oppressive states. I suggest that women's participation consequently contributes to improved tangible outcomes during conflict and shapes internal and external perceptions of political violence.
I explore these theoretical arguments in three ways. First, I leverage an original cross-national dataset of women's participation in front-line, auxiliary, and leadership roles in 150 rebel groups formed between 1960-2020 (the Women in Rebel Organizations (WIRO) dataset) to demonstrate that organizations with visible female involvement fare better during war. I highlight the importance not only of combat insurgents, but of women's contributions as couriers, spies, logisticians, and recruiters behind the front-line. Second, I use a novel, cross-national database of over 2,800 visuals from global militant organizations (see more below) to demonstrate that rebels capitalize on women's participation in their propaganda to build legitimacy and shape narratives among domestic and international audiences. I show how this messaging attempts to reconcile the legitimizing aspects of women's participation with deeply ingrained gender norms proscribing women's involvement in violence. Finally, I explore how women's participation shapes rebel accountability, showing how the same narratives underlying women's participation during conflict influence local and external concepts of participation and responsibility. To this end, I analyze case documents in U.S' prosecutions of Islamic State members and truth and reconciliation commission reports from over 20 civil wars.