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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 41,490 men, women and minors, who travelled to, or were born into, the Islamic State project.

From our global dataset of 80 countries, is estimated that at least 4,761 women made that journey— with 1,023 (13 per cent) of the 5,904 Western Europeans that joined Islamic State between 2013 and 2018. The women that went have diverse profiles: from professionals and students to housewives and mothers. A significant number took their children with them, while many also fell pregnant in Syria and Iraq, resulting in 730 confirmed infants from a total of 4,640 foreign IS minors.

Western scholarship on Islamic State has primarily focused on the group’s ideology, communications, recruitment, and military operations, and, on occasion, the testimonies of its female members. While useful, these analyses of the group have tended only to focus on IS hyper-violence and sexual enslavement, or its female migrants and the roles of wife, widow, or mother that await them. Few enquiries have provided nuanced analysis of the drivers and circumstances surrounding foreign (and local) women’s interactions with the group.

With IS’ military defeat and the fall of its so-called ‘caliphate’, 7,366 persons have now returned to their home countries (20%), or are reportedly in the process of doing so. However, the status of many foreign affiliates, in particular women and minors, remains unknown. Going forward, individuals face long-term consequences of their affiliation with IS, including detention and prosecution, ostracism, trauma and, in the case of infants, potential orphanhood and statelessness.

To understand the scale and scope of women and minors’ engagement with Islamic State, this project will:

  • Collect and publish global statistics on women and minors who travelled (or were born into) Islamic State territory in Syria and Iraq, as well as figures for female (and minor) returnees, and those who moved on to third-party countries or conflict zones.
  • Examine the recruitment drivers and roles of women and minors in Islamic State through analysis of the group’s official and unofficial propaganda and testimonies of its former members.
  • Consider responses for long-term challenges and consequences of IS’ ‘caliphate’ rule and reach, including repatriation of returnees; gender- and age-conscious de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes; orphanhood and statelessness of minors; and inclusive legal and judicial frameworks at local, national and international levels.

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