Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


International Studies (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Bryan Page

Second Committee Member

Costantino Pischedda

Third Committee Member

Bradford McGuinn


The number of women perpetrating acts of terrorism as well as joining terrorists groups has risen sharply. Women have participated and participate in armed, Islamist struggle. In recent years, foreign women have travelled from the West to join ISIL. The participation of these muhajirat (pl. female migrants) perplexes policymakers, government officials, and researchers who call attention to a group’s gendered regulation, violence and widespread use of rape. Observers often argue that women are deceived by the organization or seduced by the promise of romance. Given that in the West, women have equal rights as men and have free liberties, these observers suggest that women would not, under rational circumstances, choose to join ISIL. This thesis will address a central research question: why do Western women join ISIL? There are three primary sections to this thesis. The first section focuses on the theoretical framework and concept of gender Orientalism. The second maps the motifs which prime women down a path of violent radicalization to the point at which they decide they must make hijra (migrate) to join ISIL. The final section of this report uses a dataset from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) on social media activity for 17 Western female recruits between 2011-2015 who have been identified as having successfully made the journey to join ISIL. They are residents in the so-called Islamic State and share their experiences and emotions through narratives on their social media accounts. This thesis suggests that female foreign recruits are not unique in their motivation and share many similarities with male fighters and women in other Islamist organizations. Female recruits, through the dynamics of alienation, attraction, and agency should be taken as seriously as male insurgents intent on establishing an Islamic caliphate and a possible fighting threat. Given that ISIL is losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it is very likely they could employ women as suicide bombers (like its predecessor group, Al-Qaeda) within those countries and may also try to do so in Western countries.


gender; western women; ISIL; terrorism; orientalism; social media