Women in war: militancy, legitimacy, and rebel success

TitleWomen in war: militancy, legitimacy, and rebel success
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsLoken, Meredith, and Elizabeth Kier

This project examines the role of women militants in influencing rebel engagement with civilians and improving rebel outcomes. A wide literature points to civilian support as key to insurgent success. I demonstrate that rebels believe that women's militancy can make civilians more receptive to their grievances and that they recognize the importance of civilian support to tangible conflict successes. I further contend that women-inclusive groups do experience more conflict-related success, operationalized as territorial control during conflict and favorable conflict outcomes. I suggest that women's militancy in front-line, support, and leadership roles can have ideologically and politically legitimizing effects among civilians. Rebels capitalize on women's participation in ways that legitimize political violence by invoking gendered narratives, signaling the exigency of struggle and integrating the insurgency into local communities. Further, because women are generally unexpected actors they can increase rebel capabilities on and off the front-lines. Rebels reference women's successful violence to valorize their campaigns, but also to increase civilian confidence in their strength. My conclusions are based on a multi-method research design. First, I argue that rebels portray women militants and civilians in their political visuals to legitimize grievances, integrate their struggles into local communities, and increase popular support. I adopt a qualitative strategy that explores rebels' gendered attempts to generate legitimacy in visual propaganda. I conduct a detailed case study of 532 unique Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other republican visuals produced during the Troubles (1968-1998), a secondary, and less systematic, study of Palestinian political posters, and a third micro-comparison of Afghan, Namibian, Lebanese, Angolan, South African, Mozambican, Nicaraguan, Bangladeshi, and transnational jihadist militant groups' visuals to establish the transportability of gender tropes in conflict propaganda across time and space. I find that rebels of varying affiliation, ideology, and tactics use their visual platforms to shape narratives about gender and women militants in ways intended to build legitimacy for their campaigns Second, I employ quantitative methods to demonstrate that organizations with women militants experience more conflict-related success, specifically territorial control during conflict and certain favorable conflict outcomes. I introduce an original dataset, the Rebel Women Data Project (RWDP), of women's participation in 146 cross-national insurgencies operating between 1960-2016. Using these data, I find that women-inclusive rebel organizations are significantly and substantively more likely to control territory than other groups. I further find that female combatants, auxiliaries, and leaders make rebel victory significantly more likely and may sometimes increase the odds of peace agreements. I emphasize the role of civilian support in rebel success and I highlight the myriad ways in which women's participation affects conflict dynamics.