The Limits of Equality and Gender Discourses in Counter Terrorism: The Case of Women and Children in Syria and Iraq

13 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2020

See all articles by Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

University of Minnesota Law School; The Queens University of Belfast

Date Written: April 9, 2020


This article is focused on the position for women and children in the Northern Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq being held (for now) in detention camps controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces or being held in Iraqi prisons pending trial for a variety of offences premised on or related to Islamic State proximity. The article sets out the conditions in which women and children are being held and reviews the international human rights and humanitarian obligations owed by States to citizens held in these abhorrent conditions. The article further addresses a number of broader concerns through a feminist theory lens. This includes the nomenclature used to describe these women and children de facto relegating them to lesser international political and legal protection; understanding the nuanced and complex ways in which such women came to be associated with ISIS; and addressing the unique challenges experienced by women who have given birth to children as a result of rape by non-State (ISIS and other) actors. The analysis underscores that while addressing the needs of children born of rape in conflict is, in general, a scarce commodity correlated with structural gender discrimination in patriarchal and patrilineal societies, the potential for transformative approaches are even more limited in Iraq and Syria.

Keywords: international human rights, gender discrimination, feminist theory, Iraq, Syria,

Suggested Citation

Ni Aolain, Fionnuala D., The Limits of Equality and Gender Discourses in Counter Terrorism: The Case of Women and Children in Syria and Iraq (April 9, 2020). Minnesota Journal of International Law, 2020 Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

229 19th Ave. So.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-624-2318 (Phone)
612-625-2011 (Fax)

The Queens University of Belfast ( email )

University Square
Belfast, County Down
Northern Ireland

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