The end result of a suicide bombing remains the same whether it's the work of a woman or a man. And yet, female suicide bombers remain relatively rare in Iraq, despite the lower status of women in society as a whole. There have been less than 30 female suicide bombers of more than 1,000 total in Iraq since the "end" of the war, but their numbers are increasing. Some, like the disabled women and young teenager killed this year, are not believed to be wholly in charge of their detonations, while others are believed to be at least nominally in charge of their own destinies, including the woman reportedly responsible for the pictured devastation. So why have the numbers been going up, and what is the military doing about it?
Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim al-Rubaie in Diyala, Iraq (the site of the most recent female suicide bomber attack this weekend) has seen a significant increase in the number of women suicide bombers, but says: "Most of our women wear black cloaks that can hide anything and we can't prevent that." Cultural mores prevent male security personnel from frisking women, and recent laws have prevent most Iraqi policewomen from carrying guns. While the U.S. military is attempting to increase he number of female security personnel in order to alleviate the increasing concern that the easiest way for bad people to hide a bomb is on a woman, they face some pretty significant cultural and bureaucratic difficulties in doing so.
In other countries, however, it's much more common to see female suicide bombers. In Sri Lanka, they're often the only ones who will volunteer, even after significant indoctrination. In Tamil Tiger territory, young women and girls are often given to the Tigers for indoctrination when they are orphaned or cannot be cared for by their families. In most cases in the Middle East, however, terrorist groups seem to turn to female suicide bombers when security forces successfully disrupt male attackers. Women are viewed as terrorists of last resort, either because it is feared that they will not complete their attacks or because the religion of the attackers all but forbids it. In some cases, as noted above, women will be fitted with bombs but not given the triggers to prevent them from failing to complete their attacks. Some studies, like the one done by the Army, show that the unwillingness to use female suicide bombers is in direct correlation to the religiousness of the attackers — in other words, the more secular the reason for the terrorism, the more likely the organizations are to employ suicide bombers.
The Mind of a Female Suicide Bomber [Time]
Another Female Suicide Bomber Strikes Iraqi Province, Killing 15 Near Courthouse [NY Times]
Bombing Kills 43 in Shiite Holy City in Iraq [NY Times]
Obey Your Self-Righteous Lies While Your Sisters And Daughters Die, All Decisions Are Final [Attackerman]
When the Suicide Bomber Is a Woman [Marie Claire]
Female Suicide Bombers [Army Strategic Studies Institute]