This paper was part of a research methods course. If you are in the process of studying criminal justice or a related field, then you may find it helpful in crafting your own research proposals. I found the background research itself on this subject entirely fascinating and would encourage the reader to try to delve as deep as possible into the minds of female terrorists.


On April 25, 2006 a woman who appeared to be pregnant walked into a military installation under the guise that her husband was a military officer and she needed to visit the on base clinic. What no one realized at the time was that she was a Tamil terrorist intent on killing army commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseca, an opponent of ongoing peace talks with Tamil separatists in northern Sri Lanka. She detonated a prosthetic womb packed with explosives near Fonseca’s convoy killing 7 and wounding 29 including the general (Senanayake, 2006).

There are many similar accounts of women utilizing the false perception that women are incapable of violence to slip undetected to their targets (Ness, 2007). According to Knight and Narozhna (2005) “conventional wisdom holds that women, as bearers of life, lack the natural inclination for carrying out violent acts.” This predisposition that terrorism is a masculine activity that does not fit with notions of femininity makes female terrorism a significant threat in the twentieth century.

Ethno separatist terrorism due to its clandestine nature is difficult to study first hand, and even more difficult is the study of female ethno separatist terrorists. thus many prior studies have centered around the small numbers of captured female ethno separatist terrorists or on third hand accounts from newspaper reports. While these methods give us a glimpse into the problem of female recruitment and involvement in ethno separatist terrorist organizations, they do not provide adequate reliable data in any substantial quantity.

Previous studies have alluded to a concept that female ethno separatist terrorists do not differ considerably from their male counterparts; however, group socialization undoubtedly occurs once a woman has joined an ethno separatist terrorist organization. Studies have also indicated there is a strong possibility that women actually join ethno separatist terrorist organizations out of personal or family tragedy (Mitchell, 2006). Examples include rape of themselves or loved ones, loss of a family member, and even family intervention in their romantic interests (Jacques & Taylor, 2008).

Prior studies on terrorism and economic investment by governments of areas dealing with ethno separatist terrorism into the minority ethnicity areas has showed that investment in social programs shows a decrease in ethno separatist terrorist recruitment (Chalk & Cragin, 2003). There is however, no research on the specifics of what types of social investment impact rates of female ethno separatist terrorism recruitment.

Given the research that indicates that women are likely more apt to join ethno separatist terrorist organizations out of emotional turmoil and that recruitment is effected by government investment in social services, one stands to reason that government investment in social services aimed at helping women cope with emotional turmoil will have significant impact on rates of ethno separatist terrorist recruitment.

The surveys and data collection methods contained within this study aim to further explore this link and test it’s validity through a concurrent triangulation design (Cresswell, 2009).


The purpose of this longitudinal mixed methods study is to explore the validity of the concept that females are more likely to become involved in ethno separatist terrorism due to personal motivators and methods of government intervention in recruitment via investment in social services. The study will be carried out in the disputed areas of Sri Lanka. For the purpose of this study ethno separatist refers to individuals or groups from an ethnic group other than that of a ruling governmental party who seek independence from said ruling government; personal motivators will be defined as events or situations that cause a woman to lose hope or believe they have no future due to social stigma, depression, financial difficulty, or lack of venue for positive interaction with others.

The goal of this study is to decrease female recruitment in ethno separatist terrorist organizations. Results will help policy makers determine budgeting for police services versus social services within contested areas. Reduced recruitment will benefit areas where violence from ethno separatist violence are pervasive.

Literature Review

There have been many studies performed on female terrorism within ethno separatist terrorist groups. The Liberation Tigers of Timil Eelam in Sri Lanka, Chechnyan separatists, and Palestinians groups have all been studied a great deal. Psychologists have performed studies as have social scientists seeking methods to prevent ethno separatist terrorism.


According to Crenshaw (2000), psychologists have been unable to determine major psychological characteristics for terrorists. She does; however, point out that many studies point to certain narcissistic qualities that female terrorists exhibit, particularly an inability to match the expectations they have for themselves.

Psychic injury during childhood or adolescence can also be a contributing factor. Becoming a terrorist allows women to assume a new positive identity (Crenshaw, 2000).

Women who grow up in homes where there exists a tyrannical father figure and weak mother figure sometimes find themselves later in life searching for opportunities to side with people or groups who are opposing a more powerful opponent. Such women are susceptible to groups espousing they are standing up to a tyrannical oppressor (Crenshaw, 2000).

Sri Lanka

The conflict in Sri Lanka has been raging since a 1983 attack by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) (Mitchell, 2006). The LTTE have been referred to as the most successful terrorist organization of modern times. The LTTE are well known for their use of women and children in committing terrorist acts, including suicide bombings (Bloom, 2007, Mitchell, 2006).

The life described for young Tamil girls in Northeastern Sri Lanka is one plagued by hardships. Mitchell, during her interviews with Tamil youth, described daily rocket attacks, roadside bombings, and air raids. While it was not uncommon that girls were swept up into LTTE training camps to watch recruitment videos, they did not seem to factor into actually joining the LTTE (Mitchell, 2006).

Bloom (2007) writes that “as the example of the Tamil women demonstrates, women generally become involved, at least initially, for personal, rather than ideological, reasons.” Rape in particular is pointed to in studies on LTTE enrollment as a cause women join. The woman who joins may or may not be the victim herself, she may join after witnessing rape or upon learning of a friend or family member being raped (Bloom, 2007, Mitchell, 2006).


Chechnya has been seeking independence for 200 years and has a history of conflict with imperialist nations going as far back as the Ottoman Empire. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chechnya has officially attempted to secede from Russia twice; however, both wars were unsuccessful and costly. There have been several terrorist groups involved in the fighting as well.

While little is known about the Chechen terrorist organizations, it is known that women occupy many roles within their ranks. The most infamous group is called the Black Widows, named after the widows of Chechen fighters who comprise the group of female suicide bombers; despite the name they are also comprised of sisters and mothers of deceased Chechen fighters (Bloom, 2006). The Black Widows during suicide bombings regularly kill double the number of targets compared to Palestinian terrorists (Cunningham, 2007).

Bloom believes that there are two possible reasons that lead Chechen women to acts of terrorism. She states that many become involved initially for personal reasons, such as the case of Zarem Muzhikhoyeva, the first Black Widow to be caught, who was both widowed and had been living with the shame of having stolen $1,000 worth of jewelry from her relatives. A second possible cause comes from an idea of female empowerment, which is not realized in ordinary Chechen society (Bloom, 2006).

There is indication that Chechen women fill roles aside from suicide bombers, and that it is not uncommon for them to achieve ranking positions within terrorist organizations. Some of the known roles include counter-espionage, intelligence agent, snipers, cooks, and nurses. The 2002 Moscow hostage scenario in which Chechen terrorists took 900 people hostage was evidence of women becoming more prominent as half of the attackers were females (Cunningham, 2007).


During the 1980’s Syrian intelligence opted to encourage Lebanese women to become suicide bombers as a method of force multiplication against their Israeli foes. This led to 16 year old Khyadali Sana to become the first female suicide bomber in 1985 when she attacked an Israeli convoy using a car packed with explosives (Knight & Narozhna, 2005). In 2002 Yasser Arafat called for female martyrs, on that same day Wafa Idris became the first female Palestinian suicide bomber (Patkin, 2004)

Through interviews with failed female suicide bombers, Berko and Erez (2005) discovered that many bombers had experienced loss or an emotional setback. Patkin (2004), however, states that female suicide bombers commit terrorist acts out of religious and female equality reasons. There are conflicting reports as to the screening or lack thereof of female bombers and there are cases of coercion (Berko & Erez, 2005, Patkin, 2004). Many bombers reported feeling detached while traveling to their intended targets and several felt sad or disillusioned when their missions failed (Berko & Erez, 2005).

Despite the prevalence of female suicide bombers in Palestine, the patriarchal nature of Palestinian society severely restricts the involvement of females in roles other than suicide bombing or couriers (Bloom, 2007).


Peter Chalk and Kim Cragin (2003) conducted studies on the improvement of social infrastructure within North Ireland, Palestine, and the Philippines and the effects upon ethno separatist terrorism support and recruitment. They determined that by improving social infrastructure terrorist support is weakened and fewer recruits are available for terrorist groups.

Helfstein (2006) later went on to further study causes of terrorism and economic prevention. He discovered that like many before him, the motivation for recruitment into terrorist organizations tended to stem from humiliation or a feeling of helplessness. The humiliation or feeling of helplessness could be due to an individual event or from restrictive government policies. Helfstein (2006) discovered that terrorists tended to be well adjusted individuals who had limited opportunity for advancement or were somehow shamed or humiliated.

It is unknown if any research regarding prevention of female terrorism via economic or social means currently exists. Which makes it an important topic of study.


Throughout all of the research that was discovered on female ethno separatist terrorists, only handfuls of captured female ethno separatist terrorists have been interviewed. Other studies focus on accounts from newspaper articles that may have their own bias. We are left to assume that the women and their families would answer questions as to their reasons for becoming involved in terrorism the same both before and after group socialization within an ethno separatist terrorist organization has occurred. In reality it is unlikely that after joining extremist groups that an individual does not change dramatically in ideology.


H1: Women who become involved in ethno separatist terrorism will have had a precipitating emotional event such as the loss of a loved one, a rape (of themselves or someone close to them), an affair, or family intervention in relationships with a romantic interest.

H2: Women who have good emotional support systems such as available counseling and/or close supportive friends are less likely to become involved in acts of terrorism.

H3: Locations which spend more money on services for women, will have lower percentages of women involved in ethno separatist terrorism.

H4: The women who become involved in ethno separatist terrorism are more likely to feel they have low self worth.

Research Questions

Q1: Does adequate emotional support decrease the likelihood of women becoming involved in ethno separatist terrorism?

Q2: Are women who feel that there is no hope for their future more likely to become involved in ethno separatist terrorism?

Q3: Is the emotional developmental stage of a woman in disputed areas a factor in her becoming involved in ethno separatist terrorism?

Q4: Is a woman who finds herself in an environment that is unresponsive and unrewarding, more likely to increase her effort to change her environment through terrorism?

Collection Plan

Quantitative data will come from two sources and be analyzed as trends over the course of many years. The first source will be Sri Lanka terrorism statistics from the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC). NCTC reports are by nature qualitative; however, reports will be simply coded as female involvement or non female involvement in the given report. The number of female involved reports will be tallied and stored according to year of incident.

The second source will be government spending reports from Sri Lanka. The reason for including Sri Lanka as opposed to other countries is that it does not see influxes of terrorists from other countries. Other countries data would be unreliable due to international recruiting efforts being perpetuated by terrorist financiers and recruiters.

Spending projects or sectors which directly effect an individual females ability to cope with loss or a psychic injury data will be stored for this study. These sectors include education spending on females, economic development spending targeted at females, welfare services for females, and counseling services for females.

Yearly spending will be tallied between the different spending sectors and matched with that year’s number of female involved terrorist incidents. The result will indicate whether or not a correlation between spending and female ethno separatist involvement in terrorism.

The second half of this study requires the collection of qualitative data from Sri Lankan Tamil women themselves. The concept is to collect first hand accounts from women who have witnessed friends, neighbors, or themselves becoming involved in ethno separatist terrorism.

Participants for an anonymous survey will be selected in northern Sri Lanka amongst the Tamil minority. The sampling method will be based around convenience samples of women aged 15 through 30 years of age as the overwhelming majority of female suicide bombers fall into this age bracket. Areas where participants will be sought include religious centers, schools and universities, and social centers.

Researchers and research assistants will inform groups of participants of the study and ask for their voluntary participation. Participants will also be informed that they may exercise the right to discontinue their involvement with the study at any time.

Upon receiving consent, groups of women will be given surveys to complete and hand back to the researcher. In the event that a participant is illiterate yet still wishes to participate, the researcher will be available to interview the participant.

Questions will aim at personal and second hand accounts of events prior to the participant or a close personal friend or relative became involved in terrorism. Questions will be open ended allowing participants to unfold individual accounts. There will also be questions directed at speculation as to why women in the area are becoming involved in terrorism and whether or not they feel adequate support is offered to women who face personal or family tragedy.

The responses will be then be coded by three separate researchers as a survey that indicates psychic injury was not a factor in an individual becoming involved in terrorism, or as a survey that indicates psychic injury was a factor in becoming involved in terrorism. At the same time the researchers will code whether or not a survey indicates a lack of social services contributed to involvement in terrorism and also code whether or not a lack of family or friend support systems existed. Examples of lack of social services would be responses such as “she didn’t have any money” or “she was raped but didn’t have anyone to turn to.” A final code would be whether or not the individual felt they had low self worth.

The three researchers coding will then be compared for inconsistencies, in the event that consensus cannot be reached, the survey will be coded as majority vote. The coded responses will then be uploaded to a database where the relationship between personal motivators and female involvement in terrorism will be expressed as a percentage. A second percentage will be taken from cases coded as psychic injury and expressed as the percentage of cases where an individual became involved in ethno separatist terrorism as a result of lacking social services to address their economic or psychological needs.

The results will then be compared with the hypotheses. Hypotheses one, two, and four will be compared to the results of the qualitative study while hypothesis three will be compared to the quantitative study. If a high percentage of women become involved in terrorism as a result of a personal or family tragedy the hypothesis one will be considered true. If, however, a low percentage is found then then hypothesis one will be considered false.

Hypothesis two will be proved based on a high percentage of individuals who become involved in ethno separatist terrorism also being coded as having low levels of support available to them. Hypothesis three will be based upon the results found within the quantitative study, a high rate of female terrorism combined with low social spending or vice versa will result in considering the hypothesis to be true. Should high rates and high spending or low rates and low spending result the hypothesis will remain as unproven.

Hypothesis four will be considered proven should a high percentage of surveys be coded as the individual that became involved in terrorism exhibiting low self worth. Should very few surveys indicate that the individual exhibited low self worth the hypothesis will remain unproven.

As hypothesis two and three have a symbiotic connection, should both be true or both be false the results are further validated. Should one prove true and the other false, then additional studies are required.


By using a mixed method approach and concurrent triangulation design, we intend to test theories, which could provide implications for reductions in violence due to less recruitment by ethno separatist terrorist organizations.

Proposed Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. Topic
      1. Female ethno separatist terrorism
    2. Research questions
      1. Q1 through Q4
    3. Significance of the study
      1. Prevention tool for policy makers
  2. Literature Review
    1. Psychology
    2. Sri Lanka
    3. Chechnya
    4. Palestine
    5. Prevention
    6. Findings
      1. Similarities
      2. Unanswered questions
  3. Research Design
    1. Method: longitudinal concurrent triangulation
      1. Participants
        1. Tamil women between 15 and 30 in Sri Lanka
      2. Sampling
        1. Random sampling of women 15 through 30
    2. Design
      1. Variables
      2. Controls
    3. Procedure
      1. Data collection methods
        1. Qualitative methods
        2. Quantitative methods
    4. Analysis
      1. Statistics
      2. Responses
      3. Correlations
  4. Results
  5. Conclusion
  6. References


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Bloom, M. (2007).Female suicide bombers: A global trend. Daedalus. 136(1), 94-102.

Chalk, P., & Cragin, K. (2003). Terrorism & development: Using social and economic development to inhibit a resurgence of terrorism. USA: Rand.

Crenshaw, M. (2000). The psychology of terrorism: An agenda for the 21st century. Political Psychology. 21(2), 405-420.

Cresswell, J. (2009). Research design: Qualitative quantitative, and mixed methods approaches, 3rd edition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska.

Cunningham, K. (2007). Countering female terrorism. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. 30(2), 113-129.

Halfstein, S. (2006).A political economic approach to terrorist generation: Spending, allocation, and aid as tools in counter-terrorism. International Studies Association. 2006, 1.

Jacques, K., & Taylor, P. J. (2008). Male and female suicide bombers: Different sexes, different reasons?. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. 31(4), 304-326.

Knight, W. A., & Narozhna, T. (2005). Social contagion and the female face of terror: New trends in the culture of political violence. Canadian Foreign Policy. 12(1), 141-166.

Mitchell, J. A. (2006). Soldier girl? Not every Tamil teen wants to be a tiger. The Humanist. 66, 5, 16-18.

Ness, C. D. (2007). The rise in female violence. Daedelus. 136(1), 84-93.

Patkin, T. T. (2004).Explosive baggage: Female Palestinian suicide bombers and the rhetoric of emotion. Women and Language. 27(2), 79-88.

Senanayake, S. (2006, April 26). Sri Lanka bomb kills 9 and wounds army chief. Retrieved April 14, 2009, from The New York Times Web site: