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Gender and explosive violence

Examining the gendered impacts of explosive weapons: an overview of existing datasets

Explosive weapons cause immense suffering across populations, from the immediate impact on the victim’s body, to lasting psychological damage, to the destruction of homes and communities. Recent conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and beyond have seen explosive weapons cause severe damage to their civilian populations. Yet while explosive weapons are – in themselves – indiscriminate, such violence has a relatively predictable impact. When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, for instance, over 90% of casualties are civilians.

Between 2011 and 2017, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) traced a 165% increase in civilian deaths as a result of explosive weapons, as reported in English Language reporting. This increase highlights the disproportionate harm that explosive violence inflicts upon civilians.

However, what is the gendered breakdown of such findings? How are civilian men and women impacted by these bomb blasts and air-strikes?

This report sets out to examine those datasets that monitor explosive weapons, and to do so through a gender lens. It does so acknowledging that these datasets examine only the primary or immediate harm caused by explosive weapons through casualties; there exists but a small (albeit growing) body of literature which explores the devastating long-term damage caused by explosive weapons to public health, education, displacement, and infrastructure. The gendered implications of these effects are even less understood. However, such impacts are not captured by these datasets and are thus not the subject of this report.

Over the past few decades, datasets, NGOs, governments, and international bodies have rightfully acknowledged the appalling impacts that war and conflict has on the lives of women across the globe. The UN’s Women, Peace and Security agenda has encouraged a global turn towards this focus. Indeed, datasets such as Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict have increased awareness and knowledge of how women are significantly more vulnerable to particular types of violence in conflict.

In light of such calls, it is important to examine explosive weapons casualty data from a gendered perspective. Such an investigation demands to know who is being targeted by explosive weapons, how different perpetrators use explosive weapons (and their gendered effect), the impacts of different weapons types on gender, and how conflicts change over time in terms of their gendered impact. The aim of this report is not to either diminish or exaggerate the experiences of particular demographic groups. Rather, it aims to encourage accurate and detailed casualty recording in order to better understand the devastation caused by explosive weapons on men and women.

This report looks firstly at the datasets which record both gender and explosive weapons as a cause of death. It then looks at the datasets which do not cross compare both but nonetheless provide useful data for the report’s purposes.

AOAV’s report identified six datasets which record both the gender of the victim and the fact that explosive weapons were used. It identified a further seven which, while they do not record both the gender of the victim and the type of weapon used, still provides relevant data. The following key findings emerged:

Gendered Casualties Breakdown

  • All datasets reviewed showed that male civilians were significantly more likely to be a casualty of explosive weapons than female civilians.
  • In AOAV’s own data on explosive violence,where gender was specified, women account for 16% of total casualties between 2010 and 2019.
  • In the Yemen Data Project between March 2015 and March 2019, 8,338 fatalities were recorded. Of these, 84.6% were adults. Within these, 11% were identified as female and 89% male.

Weapons Breakdown

  • Women were more likely to be harmed by manufactured weapons as opposed to IEDs.
  • Landmine Monitor reports that from 2011 to 2016, when gender was recorded, 87% of landmine casualties were male and 13% female.

Perpetrator Breakdown

  • Different perpetrators have different gendered impacts.
  • The Violations Documentation Center shows that, since the Syrian conflict began, explosive violence by Russian troops resulted in a higher proportion of adult female civilian deaths (32%).
  • Explosive violence by ISIS resulted in the highest proportion of adult male civilian deaths (86%).

Datasets which record both gender and explosive weapons

Action on Armed Violence Explosive Violence Monitor

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) produces an Explosive Violence Monitor which records the casualties caused by explosive violence globally. The monitor includes, where possible, gender of victim, age of victim, location, perpetrator, civilian status, and weapons type.

In 2018, AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor recorded 32,110 deaths and injuries from the use of explosive weapons around the world. This a threat which has significantly increased in recent years. AOAV found that Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, and Pakistan saw the highest number of civilian deaths and injuries in 2018, with 9,587, 4,260, 1,807, 1,508, and 1,215 civilian casualties respectively.

AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor records when a casualty is identified as female by English-language media – unfortunately, such granularity is rarely reported and where gender is reported it is often only provided for civilian deaths and not for injuries. In total, only 15% of incidents mentioned women among the casualties (3,509 incidents of 24,041), and only 13% gave a figure for the number of women among the casualties (3,090 incidents of 24,041).

From October 2010 to May 2019, AOAV recorded 242,806 civilian casualties (325,188 casualties including security forces) from explosive weapons. Where a figure was given for women among the casualties, women account for 16% of total casualties (7,187 women were recorded among 44,010 civilian casualties).

YearTotal incidentsIncidents with number for women among casualties% of incidents where number of women is recordedWomen casualties recordedTotal civilian casualties from these incidents% of women among incidents where they are recordedTotal civilian casualties recorded
2011252224710%527345015%21,689
2012274535813%754593713%27,014
2013242724110%599391615%30,893
2014270237114%982701914%32,662
2015217021610%690394517%33,307
201623002019%502311116%32,088
2017382669818%1424721520%31,906
2018346248014%1135695316%22,350

The lowest percentage of female casualties was in 2016 with 1.6% and the highest in 2018 with 5%. Of incidents where women are recorded among the casualties, the lowest percentage was in 2012 with 13% and the highest in 2017, with 20%.

Out of the countries that AOAV has identified as witnessing the highest number of civilian deaths, Iraq has the lowest proportion of female civilian deaths at 0.9% and Afghanistan has the highest proportion at 4.3%. The other countries, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan, recorded 3.8%, 3%, and 4% respectively.

CountryTotal incidentsIncidents with number for women among casualties% of incidents where number of women is recordedWomen casualties recordedTotal civilian casualties from these incidents% of women among incidents where they are recordedTotal civilian casualties recorded% of total casualties recorded as women
Syria5650114720%26211826414%696004%
Iraq44012085%494376513%570941%
Afghanistan307030810%953451021%219494%
Pakistan237431413%830486017%206304%
Yemen123914812%460228820%151853%

The proportion of female civilian casualties for each country often fluctuates significantly throughout the period. In Iraq, when the overall number of explosive weapons civilian casualties was at its highest in 2013 (12,799) and 2014 (10,735), the proportion of female civilian casualties was at its lowest with 0.3% and 0.5% respectively.

Inversely, when the overall number of explosive weapons civilian casualties was at its lowest in 2018 (1508), the proportion of female civilian casualties was at its highest with 2.1%. This was a trend noticed across the other worst-impacted countries also. This is possibly due the likelihood that in periods of greater violence and casualties, reporting loses granularity due to a multitude of factors, including reporting fatigue and reduced journalist access.

AOAV noted 2,467 incidents in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan from 2010-2019 where women were amongst the casualties. 2,125 of these gave a figure for women among the casualties.

AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor is also disaggregated by weapons type. Out of the 17 categories of weapons type identified by AOAV, mines appeared to see the highest levels of female casualties reported, with women accounting for at least 7.4% and 15.5% of total civilian casualties for landmines and anti-vehicle mines respectively, or 36% and 26.5% of casualties recorded in the incidents where women were noted among the dead or injured. This high rate of women among the casualties may also be due to the lower rate of casualties per incident as well as a lower rate of incident.

Looking at the data by launch method can perhaps make the data clearer. Landmines continue to see the highest levels of female victims recorded, but it also becomes clearer that all forms of manufactured weapons see a higher rate of women recorded among the casualties.  When you only examine victims where gender is specified from weapons that are clearly manufactured, of the 24,485 casualties, some 4,840 were women – or 19.7%

Compared this to IEDs, which have the lowest levels of women reported among the casualties; just 1.5% of total casualties recorded were reported to be women, or 13.3% in incidents where women were mentioned among the casualties.

Air-launched and ground-launched weapons see women account for at least 5% and 4.4% of total civilian casualties respectively, or 17% in incidents when female casualties are reported.

This could be for a multitude of reasons and warrants further investigation. For example, it could be due to the targeting used, or the higher rate of incidents and casualties in general, which leads to less granularity in reporting. They also saw the lowest rate of incidents which reported on women casualties.

Weapon typeTotal incidentsIncidents with number for women among casualties% of incidents where number of women is recordedWomen casualties recordedTotal civilian casualties from these incidents% of women among incidents where they are recordedTotal civilian casualties recorded
Air Strike487782617%20761190517.4%41379
Air-dropped bomb55711821%281226412.4%8641
Anti-personnel mine700%0008
Anti-vehicle mine21523%186826.5%116
Artillery shell4307718%18373225%2924
Car bomb21611366%46261047.6%51955
grenade152622315%415152027.3%8501
Landmine5415310%8222836%1109
Missile85213716%481198724.2%4846
Mortar135722917%418206520.2%12457
Multiple explosive weapons7309813%39450587.8%20832
Non-specific IED54274328%933653714.3%61969
Roadside bomb26852108%210175612%8472
Rocket68014121%247121620.3%5893
RPG13597%166923.2%324
Shelling197837819%582216127%12565
Tank shell771722%5933817.5%813

 

Launch-methodTotal incidentsIncidents with number for women among casualties% of incidents where number of women is recordedWomen casualties recordedTotal civilian casualties from these incidents% of women among incidents where they are recordedTotal civilian casualties recorded
Air-launched6168106417%27041577917.1%54243
Ground-launched6474112117%2161983222%49312
IEDs103827858%19501464813.3%128017
Mine5685810%10029633.8%1233
Multiple types3654913%25733757.6%9307
Naval10220%21020%47
Unclear741014%116816.2%645

 AOAV’s data on female casualties from state and non-state explosive violence show a similar trend.  State use of explosive weapons is more likely to result in more women being recorded among the casualties. Women are also more likely to be recorded in violence by state actors (18% of incidents) and are more likely to account for the civilian casualties (17% compared to 14.4% in incidents by non-state actors.

Perpetrator typeTotal incidentsIncidents with number for women among casualties% of incidents where number of women is recordedWomen casualties recordedTotal civilian casualties from these incidents% of women among incidents where they are recordedTotal civilian casualties recorded
Non-state72856789%17561216914.4%89611
State8346149518%37242200717%75839
State and Non-state1481913%314007.8%2069
Unknown826289711%1674943217.7%77285

 The presence of women among the casualties is also likely to fluctuate depending on the status of women in the society in which the violence occurs. In some countries, women may be more likely to be involved in street life than in other areas where women may be more confined to the homes or face more restrictions in being in public.

For example, in the Ukraine, one of the least restrictive societies for women among AOAV’s data, in incidents where women were reported among the casualties, they accounted for 39% of all civilian deaths and injuries. While in Pakistan, for example, women accounted for 17% of the casualties in incidents where they were reported. In Somalia, it is a similar picture, with women accounting for 14% in incidents where they are reported.

However, there are limitations to AOAV’s findings. While it records for women, children, and civilian status, it does not include a separate category for men. This is reflective of the fact that news reports are more likely to explicitly note if women or children have been harmed, but makes it difficult to confirm that reports of ‘civilian casualties’ are entirely men. Women are also more likely to be noted among the dead, often no figure is given for the numbers among the wounded.

For example, AOAV recorded 85 killed and 140 wounded from a suicide bombing targeting Christian worshippers in Peshawar, Pakistan, in September 2013. News reports noted at least 38 women among the dead – 45% of those killed. However, despite the high likelihood of women among the 140 wounded, no figure was given for female injuries. This is often the case for the reporting of female casualties.

We also cannot assume that the rest of the casualties not recorded as female are male, as children are often listed separately among the casualties but their gender often goes unreported (e.g. “an air strike that killed 3 women and 6 children”).

AOAV’s figures point to the minimum level of female civilians among the casualties.

Violations Documentation Center in Syria Martyrs Database

The Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) has been recording casualties in the Syrian conflict since December 2011. VDC includes, where possible, the location of the incident, the perpetrator, gender of the victim, cause of death, civilian/military status of the victim, victim’s name, and the victim’s age.

From 16th December 2011 to 11th April 2019, VDC recorded 72,806 civilian deaths from shelling, warplane shelling, and explosives. 76.5% (55,711) of these deaths were adult civilians. Out of the total number of civilian deaths, 62.3% (45,312) were adult males and 14.3% (10,399) were adult females. Of adult civilian deaths, women therefore represent 18.7% and men represent 81.3%. The rest were identified as children (17,095).

Of all children killed, boys represented 65% of the dead (11,242), girls 35% (5,987). This ratio does not seem to be dramatically impacted by weapon type.  For instance, when ‘war-plane shelling’ was listed, a total of 8,966 children were killed – of these 62% were boys (5,615) and 38% were girls (3,351).

The proportion of male civilian and female civilian deaths from explosive violence changes as the conflict goes on, according to VDC’s data. In 2012, the first whole year of the conflict, women accounted for 14.4% (1,769) and men accounted for 85.6% (10,480). However, the proportion of women killed by explosive weapons increased and by 2018 they constituted 21.6% (744) of adult civilian deaths. This could be down to Russian air-strikes increasing in their ferocity.

For both adult male and adult female civilian deaths by explosive violence, when the perpetrator could be identified, the greatest number of deaths by explosive violence was caused by the Syrian Government and its affiliated militias, according to VDC (1,807 for women and 6,915 for men). As such, civilian women made up 20.7% of those killed by the Syrian government, and civilian men 79.3%.

Explosive violence by Russian troops resulted in the highest proportion of adult female civilian deaths at 31.9% (603) and the lowest proportion of adult male civilian deaths at 69.1% (1,287).

Inversely, explosive violence by ISIS resulted in the highest proportion of adult male civilian deaths at 85.7% (1,023) and the lowest proportion of adult female civilian deaths at 14.3% (171).

There are limitations to VDC’s dataset, however. Firstly, it only accounts for deaths and not injuries as well. This prevents us from getting a more complete understanding of the casualties in the Syrian conflict. Furthermore, their data on the perpetrators of explosive violence only started being collected in 2016 so it is harder to see how these results may have changed over time.

Yemen Data Project Airwar Dataset

The Yemen Data Project has recorded civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict since 2015. This dataset looks specifically at airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition and records fatalities, injuries, location, the gender of the victim, and age of the victim.

From March 2015 to March 2019, the Yemen Data Project recorded 8338 fatalities. Of these, 84.6% were adults and 15.4% were children. Within the adult fatalities, 11.4% (801) were identified as female and 88.6% (6254) were identified as male; this represents 9.6% and 75% of the total fatalities respectively.

In this period, the Yemen Data Project also recorded 9391 injuries. Of these, 91.5% were adults and 8.5% were children. Within the adult injuries, 6.1% were identified as female and 93.9% were identified as male; this represents 5.6% and 85.9% of the total injuries respectively.

In 2015, women represented 12% (401) and men represented 88% (2944) of the total adult fatalities. However, the proportion of adult female fatalities has remained stable as the conflict has continued. In 2018, women represented 15.1% (139) and men represented 84.9% (779) of the total adult fatalities.

In terms of injuries, the proportion of women has also remained relatively stable here. In 2015, women represented 6.1% (255) and men represented 93.4% (3963) of the total adult injuries. Whereas in 2018, women represented 9.1% (93) and men represented 90.9% (928) of the total adult injuries. Thus, the demographic proportions of injuries and fatalities have been largely consistent.

There are some limitations to this dataset. Yemen Data Project also does not account for the perpetrator of the airstrike beyond identifying them as a member of the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which also includes participation by Egypt, Morocco (until 2019), Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, Qatar (until 2017) and Bahrain. This means it is impossible to assess the differences in various states’ gendered effects of airstrikes.

Syrian Shuhada Syian Martyr Revolution Database

Syrian Shuhuda runs the Syrian Martyr Revolution Database which records deaths in the Syrian conflict. It records, where possible, the location, gender of victim, perpetrator, civilian status of victim, weapons type, age of victim, and name.

Syrian Shuhada has recorded at least 64,199 deaths caused by explosive violence in the Syrian conflict from 2011 to 2016. Of these deaths, 79.5% (51,019) of them were men and 20.5% (13,180) were women. Civilians accounted for 60,864 of the recorded deaths (94.8%). Of civilian deaths, women accounted for 21.6% (13,170) and men for 78.4% (47,694).

Syrian Shuhada records that most of civilian deaths resulted from shelling (40,456), 78.7% of which were men (31,854) and 21.3% were women (8,602). Of these weapon types that caused over 1,000 civilian deaths, air bombing caused the highest proportion of female deaths at 24.2%. Explosions, however, caused the lowest proportion of female deaths at 10.1% (19) and thus the highest proportion of male deaths 89.8% (168).

There are limitations with this dataset, however. It has only recorded data from 2011-2016 and so we cannot analyse the gendered impact of explosive weapons later in the Syrian conflict. Some weapons types have also not been consistently recorded throughout this time period. For example, missiles were only recorded between February 2012 and July 2013. Girls are also included among the female casualties, though the ages of each casualty is recorded. Further, AOAV were unable to find a methodology available so cannot be certain of the weapons used under each category.

Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor

The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor is run by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Cluster Munition Coalition. They publish annual reports, part of which monitors the landmine and cluster munition casualties that year. In these reports, the monitor does not usually include figures but rather provides summaries in terms of percentages. However, they kindly provided AOAV with the data behind these percentages for the purpose of this report.

In these percentage summaries, there is usually a section on demographic data which includes gender. The Landmine Monitor report is much more consistent in including such data. Between 2011 and 2017, it was only in 2017 that they did not include these percentages. Whereas the Cluster Munition Monitor included gender data only in 2011 and 2015.

From 2011 to 2017, the Landmine Monitor records that, on average, 79% of casualties were civilians, with the percentage ranging from 72% to 87%; 18.9% were security forces on average, with the percentage ranging from 12% to 26%; and 1.6% on average were deminers, with the percentage ranging from 1% to 4%. However, neither the Landmine Monitor nor the Cluster Munitions Monitor use a default ‘civilian’ category in their casualty recording systems. Thus, the data they provided us with includes both civilians and non-civilians disaggregated by gender.

In this period, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor recorded the victim’s gender in 75.3% (30,237) of cases. Of the incidents where gender was recorded, men were the victims 87.5% (26,449) of the time, and women made up 12.5% (3,788). From 2011 to 2017, there was not a significant variation in this breakdown. The highest percentage of female casualties occurred in 2016, when women made up 14.5% (794). Conversely, the lowest percentage of female casualties was in 2011, when women made up 9.9% (390).

From 1999, when the monitor was established, to 2011, female casualties represented, on average, of 10.5% of all casualties, with the percentage ranging from 8% to 13%.

While this is not included in their public reports, the Landmine and Cluster Munitions monitors kindly provided us with the gendered breakdown of their data by country. Across the five countries with the highest numbers of casualties there was a much more significant variation in the gender breakdown. Afghanistan records the highest number of casualties with 10,452. When gender was recorded, men made up 85.5% (8,477) of casualties and women 14.5% (1432), similar to the overall average. However, Yemen was the third highest number of casualties with 3,617. Here, when gender was recorded, men made up 67.2% (411) of casualties and women 32.8% (205). This is a significant variation from the average percentages recorded by the monitor.

The Aid Worker Security Database

The Aid Worker Security Database is a global compilation of reports on major security incidents targeting aid workers. It compiles the incidents by year, gender, and weapons type.

The Database recorded 2216 incidents of violence against aid workers from 2009 to 2018. Of these incidents, the gender of the victim was recorded 96% (2118) of the time. 49% (1091) of the recorded incidents were fatalities and 51% (1125) were injuries.

These figures are disaggregated by means of attack, including explosive weapons. Indeed, 32% (704) of all incidents were caused by explosive weapons; 49% (350) were fatalities and 51% (354) were injuries. The main countries in which aid workers were affected by explosive weapons were Afghanistan at 10% (70), Syria at 17% (118), Yemen at 3% (18), Pakistan at 2% (15) and Somalia at 2% (15).

The gender of victims harmed or killed by explosive weapons was recorded 52% (367) of the time. Of the explosive weapons incidents where gender was recorded, 90% (329) of casualties were male and 10% (38) were female. This breakdown has varied slightly throughout the period. The highest proportion of female casualties occurred in 2014 when 21% (8) were female and 79% male (31). The lowest proportion of female casualties occurred in 2011 when 0% were female and 100% were male (20).

The narrower scope of this dataset means that it is necessary to be careful about drawing too broad a conclusion about these results. However, it does provide valuable granularity to the data produced by other organisations.

Datasets which do not record both gender and cause of death

Iraq Body Count

Iraq Body Count (IBC) records all the violent deaths which have occurred in Iraq as a result of the 2003 military intervention.

IBC has disaggregated deaths by gender. From 2003 to 2017, IBC has recorded the deaths of 13,529 from all weapons types where gender was recorded. Within this, 11,801 victims were male and 1728 were female. IBC also records the weapons type that caused the death. From 2003 to 2017, IBC recorded 69,926 deaths from explosive weapons.

At the moment, the database is unable to cross compare gender with weapons type.

Pakistan Body Count

Pakistan Body Count (PBC) records all fatalities and injuries from suicide bombings in Pakistan from 1995 onwards. However, the database does not currently disaggregate victims by gender as well.

Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) records the dates, actors, types of violence, locations, and fatalities of all reported political violence and protest events across Africa, South Asia, South East Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America.

ACLED records the weapons type in incidents. It has recorded the use of explosive weapons in the countries that AOAV identifies as the most affected by them. In Syria, since 2017, ACLED estimates there have been 39,018 explosive weapons fatalities. In Yemen, since 2016, ACLED estimates there have been 27,871 estimates there have been 27,871 explosive weapons fatalities. In Pakistan, since 2011, ACLED estimates there have been 12,794 explosive weapons fatalities. In Afghanistan, from 2017, ACLED estimates there have been 27,054 explosive weapons fatalities. In Iraq, since 2016, ACLED estimates there have been 43,674 explosive weapons fatalities.

However, ACLED published a report titled ‘Terribly and Terrifyingly Normal’: Political Violence Targeting Women in June 2019 in which does begin to disaggregate their datasets by gender. ACLED found that globally political violence targeting women was on the rise. Specifically, this does not refer to all political violence events where women are casualties; rather, the report looks at events where women were explicitly targeted because of their gender. Crucially, explosive violence, including grenades, suicide bombings, landmines and IEDS, accounted for only 0.8% of political violence targeting women.

Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies

Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS) produces casualty counts for the Syrian conflict.

Since 2015, DCHRS has provided a breakdown of the gender of casualties. In 2015, 54% of casualties were civilian men, 9% were civilian women, 24% were men in the security forces, and 13% were children. In 2016, 56% of casualties were civilian men, 9% were civilian women, 22% were men in the security forces, and 13% were children. In 2017, 63% were civilian men, 11% were civilian women, 12% were men in the security forces, and 13% were children. DCHRS also provides a breakdown of the weapons type for events. In 2015, 31.8% (3457) of total casualties (10,855) were caused by explosive weapons. In 2016, 62% (12,171) of total casualties (19,627) were caused by explosive weapons. In 2017, 77.4% (6937) of total casualties (8958) were caused by explosive weapons.

However, at the moment, DCHRS does not cross compare weapons type, the gender of victims, or the civilian status of victims.

B’Tselem Fatalities Statistics

B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) record fatalities in Israel and the Occupied Territories as part of its human rights advocacy. The statistics it produces are disaggregated by gender, location, and civilian status, but not by cause of death. B’Tselem frames these statistics around Operation Cast Lead (or the Gaza War) from 27 Dec 2008 – 18 Jan 2009.

B’Tselem reports that between 29th September 2000 and 31 May 2019, 9931 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict. Of these, 6% (595) were women and 21% (2085) were children. In the same time period, they report that 1265 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. Of these, 19.8% (250) were women and 272 (21.5%) were children.

However, B’Tselem do not currently disaggregate these statistics by weapons type, making it difficult to effectively compare with other datasets dealing with explosive weapons.

Suicide Attack Database, Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism

The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism (CPOST) created a database of all suicide attacks from 1974 to 2016. The database includes information on the location, weapon type, target, and demographic features of the attacker. While it does not provide information on the gender of the victims, it does provide data on the perpetrator’s gender.

CPOST’s data reveals that 8% of suicide bombers between 1974 and 2016 have been male. The first recorded female suicide bomber occurred in Lebanon in 1985.

However, out of those that are female, there is a significant geographical disparity. All suicide bombings that have taken place in Europe have been carried out by a man. However, terrorist groups in Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Chechnya in Russia have regularly deployed women as suicide bombers.

CPOST’s dataset records that both male and female bombers have comparable levels of lethality, with both killing 10 victims and wounding 6 victims per attack.

However, CPOST has now taken the Suicide Attack Database offline and it is no longer being updated. This means that it does not take into account the Boko Haram’s large scale use of female suicide bombers. The dataset also does not include a demographic breakdown of the casualties of suicide attacks, only the perpetrator. Nevertheless, it is useful to understand the demographic background of perpetrators to complicate the relationship between gender and explosive violence.

The Global Terrorism Database, University of Maryland

The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) compiled by the University of Maryland records terrorist incidents across the world. It includes information on the number of fatalities, injuries, location, perpetrator, and target. While it does not provide consistent information on the gender of victims, it does provide data on the perpetrator’s gender for suicide bombings.

The GTD recorded 6531 incidents involving suicide bombings between 1998 and 2017. Of these, 3.7% (240) involved at least one female suicide bomber. In this time period, the GTD recorded 57,218 fatalities and 126,535 injuries as a result of suicide bombings. 3.2% (1806) of these fatalities and 2.6% (1806) of these injuries were caused by female suicide bombers.

There has been a significant increase in female suicide bombers over time. In 1998, there were only 3 incidents involving female suicide bombers recorded in the GTD. However, in 2017 there were 71 incidents involving female suicide bombers recorded in the GTD.

While the limitation of this dataset clearly lies in the fact that it does not disaggregate casualties by gender, it does provide an additional dimension to our understanding of the relationship between gender and explosive weapons by elucidating who the perpetrators of suicide bombings are.

Concluding Remarks  

While datasets are increasingly including the victim’s gender as a variable, significant work remains to mainstream gender in casualty recording. Many important casualty recorders, such as ACLED, do not routinely account for gender. This hinders the accuracy of conflict reporting and analysis. Many others, such as the Iraq Body Count, provide a totalised gendered breakdown but they do not cross-reference by weapons-type or cause of death.

From the datasets that do disaggregate by gender, it is possible to include that explosive weapons appear to disproportionately harm men in terms of immediate casualties. This observation is supported by the data produced by AOAV, VDC, Syrian Shuhada, Yemen Data Project, and the Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor.

More research needs to be conducted as to why this is the case, how the gendered impact of explosive violence (direct and indirect) varies across conflicts, how different perpetrators impact such outcomes, how the gendered consequences of explosive violence changes across the time of a conflict, and what the reverberating impacts of explosive weapons on gender is.