Elizabeth Pearson is an Associate Fellow at RUSI and an ESRC-funded PhD student in War Studies at King’s College London. She specialises in gender and radicalisation, with an interest in both Islamist and far-right movements.
Elizabeth also researches gender and Boko Haram. She has written and commented on gender-based violence and Boko Haram for outlets including The International Business Times, African Arguments, War on the Rocks, The Huffington Post, AFP, The Washington Times, Newsweek, The Daily Mail, Daily Beast, Deutsche Welle, AFP, BBC World Service, BBC World, CKNW and BBC Radio Five Live.
She holds a Master's degree in War Studies from King’s College London, where she was a Simon O’Dwyer Russell prize-winner (2013). Elizabeth also has a BA degree in German and Philosophy from Wadham College, Oxford University.
Elizabeth has a background in radio journalism at the BBC, where she has more than fifteen years’ experience in production, reporting and feature-making. She was a regular producer at BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour programme, and has also worked in Current Affairs, at Radio Five Live and in BBC Radio News.
Gender and Politics
UK Far Right
My PhD research explores how gender factors in 'cumulative extremism' in the UK. Through ethnographic research I discuss the ways in which people join the counter-Jihad including movements such as the English Defence League or Britain First. I also focus on Islamist networks linked to Anjem Choudary. The research examines the ways in which place and community influence radicalisation.I also maintain a database of female suicide bombing in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon and have written on gender, gender-based violence and Boko Haram. Alongside my PhD research I have conducted six-month study with RUSI, the London-based security think thank, and with VOX-Pol, the European Union Network of Excellence for Research on Online Political Extremism. At RUSI I worked on a five-country study of the gender dynamics of violent extremism and countering violent extremism, focusing on the UK, Canada, Germany, France and the Netherlands. For VOX-Pol I undertook a two-month analysis of gender and ISIS Twitter supporters in 2015, when migration to Islamic State was at its height. This work focused on the effects of suspension on ISIS supporting Twitter communities.
In this article, Elizabeth Pearson and Emily Winterbotham explore the role of gender in radicalisation to Daesh (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS). They discuss possible factors in female radicalisation, and how radicalisation differs between men and women. They find that the gender of the recruit affects the enabling factors, mechanisms and locations relating to radicalisation. The article challenges assertions that the recruitment of young men and women to Daesh follows identical patterns, as well as the narrative of women as innately peaceful, or as actors coerced into joining Daesh, revealing the importance of female empowerment in the group’s appeal.
Using a dataset of more than 80 accounts during 2015, this article explores the gendered ways in which self-proclaiming Twitter Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters construct community around “suspension.” The article argues that suspension is an integral event in the online lives of ISIS supporters, which is reproduced in online identities. The highly gendered roles of ISIS males and females frame responses to suspension, enforcing norms that benefit the group: the shaming of men into battle and policing of women into modesty. Both male and female members of “Wilayat Twitter” regard online as a frontline, with suspension an act of war against the “baqiya family.” The findings have implications for broader repressive measures against ISIS online.
In 2015, UN Security Council Resolution 2242 advocated deliberate outreach to women when devising counterterrorism projects. This is based on assumptions of the need to empower women, as well as their particular ability to exert benign influence over young people and stop radicalisation to violence. The approach has been particularly prevalent in Western Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) projects aimed at preventing homegrown Islamist radicalisation. On the basis of fieldwork with Muslim communities in five countries – Canada, the UK, Germany, France and The Netherlands – Emily Winterbotham and Elizabeth Pearson challenge the underlying assumptions of such an approach, and suggest aspects of women’s CVE projects may exacerbate existing community tensions, and do not reflect the changing norms of Muslim communities in the West. Alternative modes of engagement could improve the efficacy of CVE and enable it to better appeal to those it is intended to help.
As dozens of British women and girls travel to join Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, there are increasing concerns over female radicalization online. These fears are heightened by the case of Roshonara Choudhry, the first and only British woman convicted of a violent Islamist attack. The university student in 2010 stabbed her Member of Parliament, after watching YouTube videos of the radical cleric Anwar Al Awlaki. Current radicalization theories portray Choudhry as a “pure lone wolf,” a victim of Internet indoctrination, without agency. This article explores how gender factors in her radicalization, to present an alternative to existing theoretical explanations. An engagement with gender reveals its role in Choudhry's radicalization, first, in precluding her from a real-world engagement with Islamism on her terms, pushing her to the Internet; then in increasing her susceptibility to online extremist messages; finally, in fomenting an eventually intolerable dissonance between her online and multiple “real” gendered identities, resulting in violence. The article emphasizes the transgressive nature of this act of female violence in Salafi-Jihadi ideology; also, the importance of this gendered ideology as the foundation of ISIS recruitment online. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the operation of gender in the Jihad's production of violence, and roles for men and women alike.
This article addresses an under-researched aspect of Boko Haram’s activities: gender-based violence (GBV) and its targeting of women. It argues that 2013 marked a signiﬁcant evolution in Boko Haram’s tactics, with a series of kidnappings, in which one of the main features was the instrumental use of women. is was in response to corresponding tactics by the Nigerian security forces. Additionally the analysis provides evidence of a shift by Boko Haram to include women in its operations, in response to increased pressure on male operatives. It also considers the gendered rationale for instrumentalizing women within the framework of Boko Haram’s ideology and culture, arguing for a greater appreciation of how gender factors in the group’s violence