Violent extremism has become one of the most pressing security issues of our time. All over the world, people are joining ideologically-motivated groups, taking up arms, and waging lethal violence in defence of their cause. Scholars of international relations have sought to understand the drive to violence in terms of the various push factors (economic, political and social marginalization and inequalities that give rise to grievances) and pull factors (benefits derived from participation), and developing a profile of those most prone to joining armed groups. However, a key element has been missing from this research: what work is gender doing? By focusing on both the individual-level and structural-level influences that drive people into armed groups, this research aims to shed light on the gendered effects of globalization and neoliberalism that deepen the affective response of individuals to both the push and pull factors of violence.
Violence has been examined by critical political economists as a rational response to neoliberal globalization, which has caused growing socio-economic inequalities both in local contexts and globally, between societies and between states (Escobar 2001; Barkawi & Laffey 1999). There are clear connections between economic development programs, inequality, and war, the result of the ‘hollowing out of the state’ that has occurred under neoliberal globalization. Yet, despite the insights garnered from studies on the political economy of war, this literature has neglected to account for the role that gender plays in informing violence. Contemporary political violence is very frequently tied to what Peterson calls “coping, combat and criminal economies” (2008: 15). Violence is embedded in the global political economy through systems of trade and commerce that are intimately connected to hierarchies of power and hegemonies, both political-economic and gendered. And though Feminist Security Studies has offered important theoretical interventions regarding the operation of gender in contemporary war, very little empirical work has been done to systematically answer the question of how gender operates across multiple levels to make war and political violence likely. This research will add to our empirical knowledge of the relationship between gender norms and expectations and the role that these play in motivating men and women to join or not join armed groups, as well as the behaviour and ‘repertoires of violence’ (Wood 2007) used by armed groups.