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A Path out of Patriarchy? Political Agency and Social Identity of Women Fighters

  • Güneş Murat Tezcür


Violent movements in different parts of the world have employed large numbers of women fighters. I address the question of how and why so many women from diverse backgrounds join an ethnic insurgency. Informed by an intersectional approach, I suggest that when gender and ethnic inequalities overlap, an ethnic insurgency promising gender emancipation would have strong appeal among women. At the same time, the intersection of class and gender shapes distinctive patterns of mobilization among women of an ethnic minority. In particular, uneducated women with lower class backgrounds join the movement because it provides them with the most viable way out of patriarchal relations. I employ a multi-method research design to study a paradigmatic case of women in arms, the Kurdish insurgency. I use an original large dataset containing information about more than 9,000 militants, from extensive fieldwork entailing dozens of in-depth interviews, and an archival study of sources in primary languages. My findings reveal the effects of unequal relationships based on ethnicity, gender, and class on violent political mobilization and the ambivalent relationship between women’s political agency and empowerment.

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A list of permanent links to Supplemental Materials provided by the authors precedes the References section.


Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at:

He gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. The fieldwork received Human Subjects approval from the Loyola University Chicago and University of Central Florida Institutional Review Boards. Earlier versions of this paper were presented in the American Political Science Association Annual Conference in 2015, the Gendered Dynamics of International Security Conference at University of Central Florida in 2017, and the Middle East Centre of London School Economics in 2018. This article has significantly benefited from four Perspectives reviewers and editor Michael Bernhard’s feedback. For comments on earlier versions of this article, the author thanks Dara Kay Cohen, Kerstin Hamann, Zeynep Kaya, and Elisabeth Jean Wood. All interpretations and remaining errors are his.



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A Path out of Patriarchy? Political Agency and Social Identity of Women Fighters

  • Güneş Murat Tezcür


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