Author:Diaz, Pablo Castillo


Since it held its first meeting in January of 1946, the United Nations Security Council has met more than 8,000 times to discuss matters related to international peace and security. On 13 October 2015, the Security Council reached its record number of speakers in a meeting: 110. (1) The occasion was the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security (WPS), the agenda item by which the United Nations addresses the protection and empowerment of women in conflict situations. In the last two decades, WPS has become one of the most important themes of the United Nations' work. This has been reflected not just in the meetings of the Security Council, but in the significant expansion of the global footprint of its programs, policies, media presence, and professionals of all kinds, such as civil society advocates, technical advisors in international organizations and the capitals of donor countries, and researchers in academic centers that focus on this topic.

Within this field, feminist academics have documented, and in some cases quantified, the impact that women's leadership and involvement can have in peace. Examples include making peace agreements likelier and more durable, accelerating the healing and recovery after wars, and preventing them altogether in the first place. They have also measured the impact war can have on women and girls including forms of violence like sexual violence, child marriage, or intimate partner violence, and a broad range of indicators such as maternal mortality, girls' education, women's access to livelihoods and land, food insecurity, and displacement. (2) However, the literature on WPS comparatively contains minimal examples about the role that misogyny plays in both armed conflict and extremist violence and its impact on women and girls. While there is a rich feminist literature on the topic of misogyny in general, this is rarely applied to conflict settings and international security.

This article uses Kate Manne's definition of misogyny as "a political phenomenon whose purpose is to police and enforce women's subordination and to uphold male dominance," rather than the more common understanding of individual hatred or hostility towards any and every woman, or women in general, simply because they are women. (3) We argue that there is an underexplored correlation between misogyny and acts of violent extremism across the world in recent years. This is illustrated by using two examples: the explicit ideology of today's most prominent terrorist groups in conflict-affected settings and the individual personal histories of domestic abuse or documented misogyny in the majority of perpetrators of acts of violent extremism in Western countries, where this factor has become more visible because of feminist journalists and activists whenever such data is available. We contend that misogyny is often the gateway, driver, and early warning sign of most of this violence, and note the implications that these findings should have for advocacy, policymaking, and further study.


The correlation between gender equality and peace is poorly known and rarely used in global policymaking, yet it is one of the least contested and most significant findings in peace studies in recent years. A growing body of research links higher levels of gender inequality and gender-based violence in society with a greater vulnerability to civil war and interstate war and higher levels of violence within these conflicts. (4) For example, increases in domestic violence and the percentage of female-headed households coupled with decreases in girls' school attendance have been identified as early warning signs of broader political instability and insecurity. (5) Academics have found that countries with 10 percent of women in the labor force compared with countries with 40 percent of women in the labor force are nearly 30 times more likely to experience internal conflict, and that the very best predictor of a state's peacefulness is not its level of wealth, the quality of its democracy, or its ethno-religious identity, but how well its women are treated. (6) Most of these studies have focused on gender inequality in general and both structural and societal indicators. What is often missing is analysis of the ideological motivations or background of individual or collective perpetrators of mass violence. For example, the main thesis of Sex and World Peace by Hudson et al. (2012) is that how a country treats half of its population is a very strong predictor of how it would treat other categories of "others" and its propensity to use violence. (7) This same logic could apply to the personal motivations of individuals when joining terrorist groups or committing acts of violent extremism.

Similarly, new academic studies in the field of gender and preventing violent extremism have proliferated in the last five years due to the increased levels of terrorism since 2012 and the growing recognition by the UN Security Council of the linkages between WPS and counterterrorism. (8) However, most of the new studies in this area have focused on women's role in prevention, their participation in terrorist groups, and the impact of specific counterterrorism strategies on women's rights or gender equality. (9) In fact, a number of the publications in this field object to the nexus between the preventing violent extremism and WPS agendas. They argue that any efforts to bring these together are detrimental to women's rights and lead to instrumentalization, tokenism, and further risks for women's rights activists. (10) So far, this field of research says little about the role of violent misogyny in terrorism, with some notable exceptions. For example, research by Monash University's Gender, Peace and Security Centre in three countries in Asia found that support for violence against women and hostile sexist attitudes are stronger predictors of support for violent extremism than religiosity, typically perceived to be one of the leading factors. (11)

One of the better known and most comprehensive academic compilations on conflict prevention in recent years is the joint study conducted by the UN and the World Bank, Pathways for Peace, which highlights the link between gender inequality and conflict throughout its 337 pages but does not mention misogyny once. (12) Instead, it does bring up the role of masculinities, which can be considered a close proxy. It is the field of masculinity and conflict studies where one finds more analysis on the nexus between misogyny and violent extremism. In spite of the obvious potential for cross-fertilization, this field is perhaps under-utilized by academics and advocates focused on WPS. The WPS literature has focused more on either the impact of war on women and girls or women's agency and roles as actors, from peacemakers to combatants. Masculinity studies are therefore likelier to unpack the role of men in this violence, but they do so primarily from the angle of aggrieved masculinity, rather than misogyny.

Examples of these studies include research linking the increased rates of domestic violence against women in refugee camps with men's inability to cope with life in these constrained settings; explaining how the unchecked rise of militarized masculinity and a warrior culture in South Sudan may have doomed peacebuilding efforts in that country; documenting how Latin American young boys in some of the most violent cities in the world articulate the reason for joining criminal gangs in related to perceptions and aspirations of manhood; and interviewing Congolese rebels to find that they commit sexual violence because of a sense of failed masculinity, such as not being able to provide for their families, not being respected by their communities, or being cheated off their salaries and rations by their commanders. (13)

However, the use of masculinities in this context focuses more on the interplay between the realities of conflict and the social, cultural, or political expectations placed on men, and in particular their inability to perform their traditional gender roles as family providers, protectors of their community, or fathers and procreators. In this sense, male violence is explained by social and economic pressures, rather than ideology, and affecting all of society, rather than specific individuals or armed groups. Ironically, this often leads to over-privileging a narrative of men's struggles and disaffection to the detriment of those experienced by women. The impact of armed conflict also makes it extremely difficult for women--not just men--to assert their roles or fulfill their socioeconomic needs, and yet, this does not make them resort to violence. Rather, it increases the likelihood that they will be targeted for this very reason. When women do engage in organized violence, this is more commonly explained as a result of coercion in many cases, as well as the desire for revenge--especially the loss of a loved one--perceptions of injustice, a desire for greater autonomy and freedom, and the need for protection. (14)

For example, although his main angle is men's disaffection and aggrieved masculinity rather than misogyny, Michael Kimmel's 2018 book on young men and violent extremism--based on more than 100 interviews with current or former extremists, including American neo-nazis and white supremacists, anti-immigration skinheads in Europe, and jihadists and Islamists in Western countries--puts gender at the center of the filtering process that makes some men cope and others turn to rage. (15) These include elements like a sense of manhood that feels thwarted by women's employment and education, changes in the global economy and political culture, perceptions that women and minorities have "preyed upon global sympathies to get special bargains," and an entitlement to holding "unchallenged moral authority over women and...

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