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The Politics of Gender Over Terrorism Discourse

oleh: Fini Rubianti*

If Cynthia Enloe -one of monumental International Relations Feminist thinkers- in 1989 on her book ‘Bananas, Beaches and Bases’ questioned about “where are women in international politics?”, indeed this question is still relevant to be delivered in terms of global security and dispute around today’s world.

After the spreading of Islamic State (IS) in 2014, discourse over terrorism and its effect to civilians has been raised significantly and turning back state security approach to be anticipated most, placing terrorism as the most danger issue rather than any other security issues. Not only government, politicians, researchers, thinkers and so on, many of them appeared to comment and gave a recommendation for state to cure and prevent of those acts of terror. So does media, significant tools to spread information about terrorism, also became the ‘first former detective’ to investigate and maintain the issue.

But then, cited from Enloe’s analytical approach above who pointed women over international politics, similar but more specific question is remained to be delivered. Where are women in terrorism discourse? How they placed and portrayed in this kind of prolong transnational conflict?

To answer these questions, we might take back in 2001, when Laura Bush as wife of the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush, through the US White House radio station stated that “war against terrorism is also struggle for dignity and emancipation for Afghan women under patriarchal regime.” The statement feels debatable, thus if we detected US historical relations between Afghanistan in the Cold War era around 1980-1990s. At that time, the US is preferred to be kept silent over the Afghan women condition who ruled by the Mullah government.

The US policy then changed dramatically after 9/11, Pentagon attacked by the terrorist group. The US committed to win heart and mind the Afghan people, notably women. Aftermath, under Bush administration, the US maintained a key role as the ‘guardian’ for Afghan women, fostering development aid and recover the Afghan political system to place woman as significant actor inside their homeland.

In the other case, 14 years ahead after 9/11, woman as an ‘important variable’ within terrorism discourse still been existed. Take an example at current November 2015 Paris Bombing. Viewed the statement of French Prime Ministers, Manuel Valls from The Independent (November 17, 2015), argued that “France is not only targetted because the enemy of IS, but because we are as France, a secular nation either respected both of men and women’s right.”

Contrast with the US philosophical approach into Afghan women after 9/11 or Valls’s statement, we might see the different angle initiated from the terrorist group’s side. But at least, that reason placed in the same motives. Cited an opinion by Eric Hiarej in Jakarta Post, Monday March 28, 2016 written the motive why Husain Osman finally decided to join terrorist group, because women and children are killed by the American and British soldiers. The information as he got from media, then became a vital role to justify his decision joining terrorism group.

Responding those justifications, either from state formal statement as Laura and Valls did or by the terrorist’s side like Osman, J. Ann Tickner as IR Feminist thinkers pointed out an essential argument to see this phenomenon. Her article, entitled Feminist Perspective on 9/11 (2002) argued that gender in terms of terrorism, is no more seen as a variable to gain hostilities. Gender is claimed to foster act of killing enemies because they seen woman as an outsider actor. Thus, the action is not only contextual related to the socio-political tension, but also contaminated by the interest and egotistical motives.

Clearly, Tickner’s statement is strengthened by Anuradha M. Chenoy, an adviser to UNESCO on women in conflict area. Same with Tickner, Chenoy argued that what has been done whether by the state actors or by the terrorists, it just reflected the actions who dominated by ambitious and militaristic behaviour. Deeply, women oftenly seen as a victims. Different by men, women died as victims while men died as a soldier. There’s a hierarchical position within this case.

Referred to Enloe, Tickner and also Chenoy, gender as a variable is still less seen as a philosophical vision and mostly appeared as a part who felt longer suffers from the conflict, just as terror phenomenon. However, placing gender as hostilities motive isn’t justifiable in any ways and any reasons. If both of the state or the terrorist are strongly committed to protect and establish women’s right, it couldn’t place in ambitious reasons as terrorism done in these current times. Hence, gender shouldn’t be politicized.


*The writer works at Salihara Community and is an alumnus of

State Islamic University (UIN) Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta.

The views expressed are her own