L. A. O’Rourke
eight during the 1980s to well over one hundred since 2000; women havestruck in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Pakistan, Russia, Somalia,Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.
Moreover, suicide attacks conducted by females are substantially more lethal than those conducted by men. Beyondmere numbers, however, female suicide attacks are considered especially shocking since such actions violate the gender norms of the societies from which the attackers emerge. Given this, female suicide terrorism (
) hasevoked a number of critical questions: What is special about
? When doterrorist organizations employ women as attackers? Do female attackers offerterrorist organizations any strategic advantage? Do female suicide terroristsembrace or resent societal norms? Despite signiﬁcant media and scholarly attention,
has not been the object of a sufﬁciently comprehensive study,capable of providing conclusive results.Female suicide attackers do not ﬁt popular conceptions about them.Furthermore, they have yet to receive signiﬁcant attention within the centraldebate on the causes of suicide terrorism (
), which focuses on whether
is primarily a strategy against military occupation or a result of the culturesfrom which it emerges. On the one hand, scholars such as Robert Pape andMohammed Hafez argue that
is adopted as a coercive strategy to forcestates to make certain territorial or political concessions, such as removingtroops from territory that the terrorists consider their homeland.
On theother hand, scholars such as Daniel Benjamin, Martin Kramer, Mark Sagemen,Steven Simon, and Ehud Sprinzak suggest that religious ideology, speciﬁcally Islamic fundamentalism with its conception of martyrdom and jihad, is theprimary driving force behind
Although there is disagreement on whetherstrategy or ideology is the main propelling force behind
, there seems tobe little doubt that it results from one or the other.Given the growing number of women as suicide attackers, much jour-nalistic attention and a separate academic literature has emerged on
. Women, we are told, become suicide bombers out of despair, mental illness,religiously mandated subordination to men, and a host of other factors spe-ciﬁc to their gender. Indeed, the only thing everyone can agree on is thatthere is something fundamentally different motivating women and men. By
Although other studies have placed the number of female attackers as high as 225, my numberis lower because I do not include failed attacks or those in which the death of the perpetrator was notrequired for the successful completion of the mission. Medea Group Limited, “Female Suicide Bombers— Practical Implications,”
Strategic Security and Analysis
2, no. 2 (15 August 2007).
See Robert Pape,
(New York: Random House,2005); Mohammed Hafez,
Why Muslims Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic World
(Boulderand London: Lynne Rienner, 2003).
See Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon,
The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and the Strategy for Getting it Right
(New York: Times Books, 2005); Martin Kramer, “The Moral Logic of Hizballah,” in
Origins of Terrorism
, ed. Walter Reich (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990),131–57; Mark Sageman,
Understanding Terror Networks
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,2004); Ehud Sprinzak, “Rational Fanatics,”
(September/October 2000): 66–73.