Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Jillienne Haglund


Conventional wisdom dictates that women are mostly victims of violence in armed conflict, but recent studies reveal women are often active participants and perpetrators of violence as well. Meanwhile, research shows armed group composition is a frequent determinant of violence against civilians, but many unconventional, yet influential, actors have received little attention regarding this outcome. Furthermore, few studies provide quantitative and cross-national evidence of how women’s shifting roles from victim to perpetrator affects violence against civilians. In this dissertation I examine the relationship between armed group composition, women, and violence against civilians in civil war by evaluating women’s roles as both victims and active participants.

The first study mirrors the conventional wisdom that women are victims of conflict. I examine this victimization stance in relation to an unconventional actor- private military contractors (PMCs). Using the Private Military Contractors and the Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict datasets I examine how states’ employment of PMCs influences state-perpetrated sexual violence - a form of violence largely targeting girls and women. I argue that the increasing professionalism, reliance, and monitoring of PMCs contributes to their ability to help lessen sexual violence. The findings show that states employing PMCs commit less sexual violence than those not employing PMCs. This is especially true during the Global War on Terror period and for countries reliant on American PMCs.

The second and third studies use the Women’s Activities in Armed Rebellion dataset and the Georeferenced Events Dataset to depart from the view of women as victims of violence to explore women’s active participation in rebel groups. The second study examines how women’s participation as frontline combatants and noncombat outreach personnel in rebel groups influences one-sided violence (OSV). I contend that women’s impact on rebel group behavior is contingent upon their role in the group. Women are stereotyped as pacifistic and nonviolent. This stereotype requires women on the frontline to be socialized to behave violently towards civilians to be taken seriously as combatants. At the same time, this stereotype allows women to go unsuspected as perpetrators of violence, increasing the lethality of their OSV attacks. Meanwhile, women in outreach positions legitimize the group, help them gain domestic and international support, and decrease their reliance on OSV to coerce support. I find support for both hypotheses.

The last chapter examines the relationship between women as military leaders in rebel groups and OSV. I argue that women who rise to the rank of military leader have demonstrated excessive violence against civilians in order to prove their capabilities as combatants. At the same time, groups with higher levels of female combatants are associated with greater OSV, and this is often the result of subjection to violent socialization. Because women in military

leadership roles likely underwent the same process to later rise in rank, they should see this process as justified in producing effective fighters and will, thus, tolerate these acts of violence. Therefore, groups with both women in military leadership positions and higher number of women combatants should be associated with even larger levels of OSV. I find support for both hypotheses. However, the results indicate that relationship between women military leaders and OSV is largely contingent upon the presence of female combatants.

This dissertation provides evidence that even unconventional actors are highly influential in shaping violence against civilians. Additionally, it illustrates that women experience conflict in multiple ways, and their shifting roles can contribute to rebel groups’ behavior towards civilians in war.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This dissertation was supported by the Georgia Davis Powers Fellowship through the Office for Policy Studies on Violence Against Women at the University of Kentucky in 2020-2021.