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Shelli Israelsen, Ph.D.

I have a doctoral degree in political science from Indiana University - Bloomington, where I specialized in international relations and research methodology. My research areas are conflict processes and international security. Specifically, my research interests include; gender and security/development, ethnic conflict, insurgent recruitment and interstate rivalry. My teaching interests include; international conflict, civil war, U.S. foreign policy, contentious politics, African politics and development, Southeast Asian politics, international law, research design and research methods.



Gender in Conflict: A Dynamic Theory of Ethnonationalist Armed Groups’ Recruitment and Non-Recruitment of Female Combatants

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 conducted during field research in Thailand and Burma/Myanmar.

Book Project

Drawing on interview data from my dissertation fieldwork in Thailand and Myanmar/Burma, my book project examines changes in women’s political participation in their communities during and after the cessation of conflict. My interest in pursuing this project stems from a desire to understand how conflict upends (or sustains) traditional gender roles and creates opportunities for women to become engaged in local politics. In my published research on Karen women’s political participation during and after the Karen-Burma conflict, I found that despite not being mobilized as combatants in the decades-long civil war, Karen women were involved in the politics of conflict, for example, managing the competing demands for food and labor made on their communities from the ethnic armed group, the Karen National Union (KNU), and the Burmese military. In fact, Karen women living in areas that were not under the complete control of either the KNU or the Burmese military found windows of opportunity to hold political positions that were exclusively held by men in peacetime, for example, village headperson. And in areas that were under the control of the KNU, I found that Karen women’s political participation was greatly affected by whether the KNU had installed a participatory governance system and/or supported an autonomous women’s group in the community. In the book, I will compare and contrast Karen women’s political participation in their communities with that of Tamil women’s political participation in post-conflict communities in Sri Lanka. This project would be a pioneering work in the understudied research area of how war-affected women become politically active during conflict, a necessary first step in understanding women’s political activism in post-conflict communities, which has implications for the likelihood of conflict recurrence.


  • Israelsen, Shelli. 2019. “Women in War and Peace: Karen Women’s Political Participation During and After the Karen-Burma Ceasefire Accords” The Roundtable: Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 108(2): 175-188.
    DOI: 10.1080/00358533.2019.1592317
  • Israelsen, Shelli. 2018. “Why Now? Timing Rebel Recruitment of Female Combatants.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism.
    DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2018.1445500
  • Israelsen, Shelli. 2018. “Women in Charge: The Effect of Rebel Governance and Women’s Organisations on Karen Women’s Political Participation.” Civil Wars.
    DOI: 10.1080/13698249.2018.1497315

Forthcoming Work

  • “Re-examining Conflict, Rivalry and State Capacity” with Prashant Hosur Suhas (under review)
  • “Girl Power: Understanding the Effect of Female Combatants on Conflict Outcomes” with Prashant Hosur Suhas (manuscript available)
  • “Understanding the Variation in Women’s Roles Across Ethnic Armed Groups in East Africa”
  • “Resource Endowments and Gendered Recruitment in Ethno-nationalist Conflicts”
  • “The Impact of Gender on Civil War Recurrence”