“We are just at the beginning of this process.” An agency-level interrogation of women in U.S. counterterrorism efforts

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


9/11 fundamentally transformed how the U.S. approached counterterrorism (CT) and led to the unprecedented evolution and expansion of U.S. CT strategies, policies and practices. While the body of research interrogating U.S. CT efforts is rich and vast, there remains a significant two-fold gap. First, women are increasingly visible in post-9/11 CT discourses and practices, yet remain neglected in research. Second, interrogations of how the agencies responsible for diverse aspects of CT have conceived of ‘women’, engaged them in their CT efforts, and the factors that prompted changes to these have not been adequately mapped out or analyzed. This research asks, “how have the roles of women been understood and embodied in post-9/11 U.S. CT discourses and practices?” It investigates discourses and practices linked to international CT efforts between 2001 and 2015 at the agency level in the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of State, and USAID.

The major conclusion is that while many positive changes occurred in this period, women have been largely overlooked in CT efforts, and each agency has assumed specific, and often limited or flawed roles for women. Yet, the picture is more complex than this. This research argues there were seven dominant categories women became visible in related to U.S. CT efforts. These were viewed flexibly, and evolved significantly based on eight key factors at the discursive, operational and agency level that occured over this period. There were also three prominent discourses that were commonly referenced to justify how/why ‘women’ should contribute to CT.

These findings provide a unique and original framework to map and theorize women in CT efforts. The research argues that if women are to be better engaged and considered in all aspects of CT efforts, assessing how ‘women’ are viewed at the agency level and the factors that impact how these evolve in practice is crucial.

Date of Award1 Apr 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorVivienne Jabri (Supervisor)

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