Front Lines and the Home Front: Three Papers on Women’s Contributions to Non-State Armed Groups and the Gender Dynamics of Conflict

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Wood, Elisabeth


Women have always contributed to conflict dynamics, both through their active support to armed groups and as the targets of violence by these groups. In recent years, efforts to chronicle women’s participation as combatants in non-state armed groups and to systematically document the violence that women and girls face in war have enabled a much richer understanding of women’s experiences in violent contexts. Through three papers on the gender dynamics of conflict, this dissertation contributes to the study of women and war. In the first paper, I use new data on political violence targeting women to consider variation in rebel groups’ patterns of violence targeting women. Through a comparison of Boko Haram and Al Shabaab, I show that there is considerable variation in the scale and nature of violence targeting women between these two ideologically similar non-state armed groups. This paper underlines that there are important intra-ideological differences that drive rebel groups’ pattern of violence targeting women. In the second paper, I use the Women’s Contributions to War (WCW) dataset an original dataset that collects information on women’s non-combat contributions to non-state armed groups and the presence of all-female units affiliated with the armed group, to assess the effect of women’s participation on rebel groups’ practice of sexual violence. In this article, I introduce the concept of regulatory sexual violence, which I define as the use of sexual violence to mark and maintain wartime hierarchies. I hypothesize that in rebel groups without an ideology, regulatory sexual violence is more likely to emerge and that it is especially likely to emerge in non-ideological rebel groups with female combatants. Cross-national statistical analysis confirms this hypothesis, finding that non-ideological rebel groups with female combatants are the most likely to engage in sexual violence against civilians. This finding has implications for our understanding of rebel socialization processes, as well as civilian protection efforts. In the third paper, I consider the post-conflict political implications of women’s wartime mobilization into successful non-state armed groups (meaning those that were victorious or who achieved a peace agreement). I consider both what drives the oft-noted post-conflict increases in women’s rights, as well as why these gains are so frequently ephemeral. In cross-national statistical analysis, I find that female combatants are associated with gains in both women’s share of legislative seats and increases in their post-conflict political status. Women’s contributions in non-combat roles and the existence of all-female units are not associated with significant post-conflict gains for women. Through a qualitative case study of women in revolutionary and post-conflict Ethiopia, I find that women can, to some degree, leverage their identities as combat veterans to justify and legitimize their political demands. However, the proximity of these women to the rebel group also comes with the threats of marginalization, cooptation, and subordination to the broader political agenda. The findings presented in this paper document the political implications of the heterogeneity of women’s wartime experiences and shed light on the gendered aspects of the legacies of political violence.

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