According to recent data from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), young women make up 10–30% of armed forces and armed groups worldwide. Young women are involved in violence or the provision of support to armed groups worldwide and in various roles. These can be leadership roles or specialised roles (such as suicide attackers), but also non-combatant, support roles in organisations including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and Boko Haram.
Poor economic conditions and the comparatively low opportunity cost of joining an armed movement typically increase the potential for recruiting alienated youth, particularly in regions struggling to meet the growing demands for education, employment, opportunities and resources that would otherwise enable the transition to adulthood. In certain cases, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, armed groups are perceived to have fought for and have access to greater economic resources than much of the local population. Young women may therefore be motivated to join more by the possibility of profiting from a higher economic and social status, than by a close ideological affinity with the armed group. In many countries, including Eritrea, Rwanda and Liberia, the abduction or coercion of young women constitutes a common recruitment tactic. Yet, despite women’s increasing involvement in conflict, efforts to engage them at all levels of post-conflict stabilisation initiatives have so far been insufficient and largely ineffective.