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Shelli Israelsen, Ph.D.

Department of Political Science
Indiana University — Bloomington

I specialize in International Relations and Research Methodology. My primary research areas are conflict processes, international security and foreign policy analysis. I also have expertise in African politics and development, Southeast Asian politics and international law. My research interests include gender and conflict, insurgent recruitment and governance, interstate rivalry formation, ethnic conflict and contentious politics. My teaching interests include international relations, U.S. foreign policy, interstate and intrastate war, African political economy, gender and international security and international law.


Dissertation: A Dynamic Theory of Ethno-Nationalist Organizations’ Recruitment of Women

My dissertation investigates three questions pertaining to the recruitment practices of armed ethno-nationalist organizations. First, why do ethno-nationalist organizations recruit women? Second, what roles do these women typically perform in these organizations? And third, is it possible to predict the timing of women’s recruitment into armed ethno-nationalist organizations? Scholars have primarily focused on the religious, ethnic, political and economic variables that may trigger insurgent recruitment but seldom is recruitment studied as a gendered phenomenon. The dissertation addresses this understudied research area by providing a systematic explanation of the conditions under which ethno-nationalist leaders defy their communities’ gender norms and recruit women into traditionally male roles, such as combatant. I explore how changing conflict conditions such as fluctuations in the groups’ military capabilities, their relationship with the civilians under their control and the groups’ degree of territorial control affect the likelihood that the insurgent leadership will recruit women as combatants. To test my arguments, I examine the recruitment strategies of four ethno-nationalist organizations: the Eritrean Liberation Front and the Karen National Union/Liberation Army, which did not recruit female combatants and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which recruited women into combat roles. Primary data for this project was collected using elite interviews in Thailand and Burma/Myanmar.


  • “Why Now? Timing Rebel Recruitment of Female Combatants.” 2018. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2018.1445500
  • “Women in Charge: The Effect of Rebel Governance and Women’s Organisations on Karen Women’s Political Participation.” 2018. Civil Wars. DOI: 10.1080/13698249.2018.1497315

Forthcoming Work

  • “Women in War and Peace: Karen Women’s Political Participation During and After the Karen-Burma Ceasefire Accords” (under review)
  • “Understanding the Variation in Women’s Roles Across Ethnic Armed Groups in East Africa”