With an unprecedented number of women joining IS, the role they play has morphed into one more complex than simply being a "jihadist bride". Women are assumed to be passive agents in their involvement, but they play a key role in the formation of the "state" – from the dissemination of propaganda and the recruitment of female support. While it is one thing to send out fighters to destabilise an area, it is another to create the next jihadist generation.
.... According to others, the direction of IS changed when Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate. Dr Erin Saltman, a senior extremism researcher for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, says the focus shifted from being a group to a state – which involves women taking limited roles as dictated by strict Sharia law.
"It was a call for women engineers, mothers, doctors – all of sudden they weren't just calling for fighters – this was about building a state. Their role is more than becoming a bride because the propaganda around bringing women out to Isis-controlled areas is very significant as it represents state-building," says Saltman.
There are, however, limitations to what women can do in terms of the more violent acts of extremism. Female suicide bombers are nothing new and can be traced back to the early 1980s, when at the age of 16, Syrian Social Nationalist Party member Sana'a Mehaidli blew up an explosive-laden Peugeot next to an Israeli convoy during the occupation of south Lebanon.
Currently, there are no signs of IS women carrying out attacks but, according to Saltman, it is not something that can be ruled out in the future.
"Within strict Sharia law rhetoric, there is the message that women's roles are not naturally in combat or the military – they would only take up jihad if male forces were depleted to the point that jihad could not be carried out," she says.
A historical example is the active role played by Chechen female suicide bombers who fought after their husbands were killed by Russian forces in Chechnya. Saltman adds: "So there is potential for these women to become militarised in the future – many have expressed that they want to carry out violence or attacks, but currently that is not the case."
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