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In an era where female suicide terrorism is on the rise in conflict regions such as the Middle East, the North Caucasus, and South Asia, why has Afghanistan been largely immune to this trend? Why do some violent groups use female suicide terrorism and others avoid it? This is a critical question for policy makers and analysts attempting to understand a dangerous terrorist phenomenon and how it may evolve in Afghanistan. During the anti-Soviet jihad, narratives were woven of men and women marching through the mountains of Nuristan to “offer their blood for the Islamic revolution like red tulips at springtime.” But today, women are wholly absent from the Taliban and their jihad in Afghanistan. This article analyzes, in particular, the absence of women in Taliban martyrdom operations. There are three primary findings from this study that explain the low propensity for female suicide bombers in Afghanistan. First, a permissive social and geographic environment in Afghanistan gives insurgents freedom of mobility and a resistance capacity characterized by a reduced necessity for female suicide bombers; second, the capacity of a fiercely conservative culture restricts female participation in both Afghan society and within insurgent organizations; and third, the pronounced absence of a female culture of martyrdom limits women from participation in insurgent actions and narratives.

“Like Red Tulips at Springtime: Understanding the Absence of Female Suicide Terrorism in Afghanistan,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 33:12, 2010. DOI: