Much like their male counterparts, female terrorists are likely to be educated, employed and native residents of the country where they commit a terrorist act. The findings contradict stereotypes presented in previous studies that describe female terrorists as socially isolated and vulnerable to recruitment because they are uneducated, unemployed and from a foreign land.
These are just some of the findings that emerged from the largest available open source data set on biographical life histories of terrorists. Almost 500 to be exact; 222 female and 269 male terrorists connected to one of 13 conflicts involving nationalist-separatists, social revolutionaries or religious fundamentalists, including al Qaeda, the Irish Republican Army and the Popular Liberation Army of Colombia.
“We discovered that some of the popular notions about female terrorists do not reflect what has occurred in the past,” said the research lead author, Karen Jacques, PhD. “A more realistic description is helpful because it provides insights into the social dynamics that might promote an individual’s involvement in terrorist activities.”
In one study, Karen and I examined eight variables for each terrorist: age at first involvement, education, employment status, immigration status, marital status, religious conversion, criminal activity and activist connections. The majority of both female and male terrorists were between 16 and 35 years old, native residents, employed, educated through secondary school, not converted from another religion and rarely involved in a previous crime. Compared to male terrorists, women had on average more education, with the majority continuing beyond secondary school, and were more likely to be divorced or widowed, less likely to be employed and less likely to be immigrants.