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The Women and Minors of Islamic State

The Women and Minors of Islamic State

At its peak, Islamic State governed over 11 million people in Syria and Iraq in a territory that once exceeded the size of the United Kingdom. Among these millions were an estimated 52,808 international citizens, each of whom travelled to the region to become foreign volunteers in the Islamic State project.

It is estimates that at least 6,902 women made that journey, and around 15 percent of the 6,000+ Western Europeans that joined Islamic State between 2013 and 2019. The women that went have diverse profiles: from professionals and students to housewives and grandmothers. A significant number took their children with them, while many also fell pregnant in Syria and Iraq.

Western scholarship on Islamic State has primarily focused on the group’s ideology, communications, recruitment, and military operations, and, on occasion, the experiences of its female ‘citizens’. While useful, these gender-inclusive analyses of the group have tended only to focus on its female migrants, and the roles of wife, widow, and mother that await them. Few enquiries have been made about the experiences of the local Arab women that joined the group.

To understand how and why Islamic State implemented its particularly gendered approach towards governance and warfare, this project is investigating both sides of this equation, examining how the group’s governance affected – and continues to affect – the women, both foreign and local, that lived under its rule.

Shifting the focus away from Islamic State propaganda to women’s first-hand accounts of life in the ‘caliphate’, it will:

  • Embark on a gendered analysis of non-state actor governance, analysing the myriad ‘everyday’ experiences of the various female constituencies that lived under Islamic State rule: Western female migrants, ethnic minorities, and local Sunni Arab women;
  • Conduct primary source interviews with women who fled from the ‘caliphate’ to neighbouring host countries (Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey) and other parts of Iraq, as well as women who were detained for the participation in Islamic State;
  • Develop gender-sensitive accounts of Islamic State’s rule, addressing in particular the issue of silencing and stigmatisation of women’s experiences of war and conflict; and
  • Collect and publish global statistics on women that travelled to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic State, as well as figures for women who have returned to their home countries.

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