A Cause Worth Fighting For: The Contribution of Female Combatants to Rebel Success

Several studies suggest that armed resistance movements deploy female fighters because doing so offers specific strategic or tactical advantages; however, little is known about the potential impact of female fighters on the group’s ability to achieve its objectives. I therefore investigate this relationship in this manuscript. I identify several plausible mechanisms through which the presence of female fighters potentially influences the effectiveness of the armed groups that employ them. I argue that female fighters benefit the groups that employ them by: 1) directly expanding the base of available troops; 2) positively influence audience attitudes about the group and its goals; and 3) signaling the group’s commitment and resolve. Each of these factors influences the durability of the movement and its ability to mount a successful challenge to the incumbent regime. Based on these arguments, I hypothesize that rebel groups that include greater proportions of female combatants are less likely to suffer defeat and more likely to achieve a negotiated settlement. Results from competing risks analyses using a novel dataset on women's participation in rebel organizations active between 1979 and 2009 provide support for the hypothesized influence of female fighters on conflict outcomes.

Reed M. Wood is an associate professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University. His research focuses on civilian victimization during civil war, the links between gender and armed conflict, and women's participation in armed rebellion. His recent work has appeared in International Organization, the British Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, and the Journal of Peace Research. Dr. Wood His current book project investigates rebel leaders' decision to utilize female fighters and the impact this decision has on the group and the conflict. He is also a co-creator of the Women in Armed Conflict Dataset (WARD) and a co-manager of the Political Terror Scale (PTS).

Date & time

Thu 14 Sep 2017, 12am


L.J. Hume Centre, Copland Building (24)


Associate Professor Reed Wood, School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona State University


Jessica Genauer


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