Women & Transitional Justice
Date: October 28, 2022
WOMEN & TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE
“Why should a fight be played out on my body?” – Jacqueline Mutere, Founder of Grace Agenda, Kenya
In periods of conflict or authoritarianism, women often become targets of human rights violations because of their gender and the marginalization they suffer in many societies. They may suffer physical and sexual violence — as well as other violations that affect them in unique ways, such as enforced disappearance of their loved ones, displacement, or socioeconomic discrimination.
For example, women whose husbands are forcibly disappeared in conflict can suffer prolonged psychological trauma, unjust legal barriers, and other forms of discrimination because of their ambiguous status as neither married nor officially widowed. They endure a higher risk of exploitation due to poverty worsened by the loss of a primary breadwinner, and marginalization by their families and other close social networks.
Compounding these harms, women’s ability to seek recourse is often severely limited, due to structural inequalities. Even transitional justice mechanisms themselves can be blind to the particular needs of women, and responses can mirror the gendered power imbalances in the society at large.
While women are often among the most marginalized in society, requiring specific attention and targeted transitional justice responses, gender justice is not only concerned with women. All victims’ experiences need to be assessed for gendered implications. A gender-sensitive approach to transitional justice examines and address the full range of experiences, including of male victims in special contexts as well as LGBTI victims.
Can Transitional Justice Help Promote Justice for Women?
Transitional justice responses to gender-based violations during conflict and authoritarian rule are essential for ensuring justice for victims, combating women’s marginalization, and preventing future violations against women and other communities targeted for their gender. Of equal importance is ensuring that transitional justice measures meaningfully address the causes and consequences of all abuses against women – even those that are not inherently gender-based.
The past few decades have seen considerable progress in promoting public acknowledgment of gender inequality, discrimination, and gender-based human rights violations.
Too often, these acknowledgements do not translate into effective implementation. Much of this failure comes from a lack of technical knowledge to implement measures in a way that encourages women’s participation and adequately addresses the gendered nature of human rights violations.
This shortcoming is compounded when women are also excluded from the decision-making process. Women must play a central role in the design and implementation of transitional justice measures if policy is to adequately respond to their needs. This is especially true when attempting to implement policy amid ongoing sexual and gender-based violence, where the will and capacity of authorities to investigate falls short.
ICTJ’s goal is to ensure that victims of gender-based violations meaningfully engage in transitional justice measures and that these measures effectively address the causes and consequences of gendered experiences of human rights violations.
ICTJ’s main approach is to provide technical assistance in particular contexts, including by partnering with activists and officials alike to develop gender-sensitive policies and processes. This involves ensuring that the design of transitional justice measures is influenced by the needs and priorities of all victims and that women are adequately represented throughout transitional justice institutions and state bodies, including in leadership.
Although participation is critical, it is not sufficient on its own. ICTJ also works to ensure that transitional justice policies and measures promote meaningful justice for sexual-and gender-based violations, address the gendered implications of human rights violations more broadly, and proactively create safe and accessible spaces for the most vulnerable and marginalized groups of victims.
In addition to context-specific assistance, ICTJ also provides new insights into how transitional justice can address the gender dynamics of violence more generally, and contribute to global policy debates on the issue. Through groundbreaking research on topics that have often received scanty prior attention, like the impact of enforced disappearance on women or sexual violence against men and boys, ICTJ seeks to push boundaries and ensure that existing norms and best practices appropriately match the day-to-day realities of victims.
“I’ve learned that reparations is key in the recovery of the victims of traumatic experiences, and that there are so many women who have suffered sexual violence. I am not alone, and we need to build our efforts together.” – Woman victim at consultation workshop on reparations in Kenya
ICTJ works with local partners to include women’s voices in every aspect of transitional justice. Together, we seek to ensure that women and other victims targeted for their gender or sexual identity have the skills and knowledge they need to meaningfully participate in transitional justice initiatives. We do so through technical support to local activists, civil society, state bodies and international agencies.
“The advantage of transitional justice is that in cases like Circular 108, we don’t have the evidence to pursue ordinary justice, we don’t have witnesses. Transitional justice has different mechanisms. I kept encouraging different women to file, because when you have similar testimonies from different people in the same period, they support each other. It tells you that violations were systemic.” – Tunisian woman, member of the Transitional Justice is also for Women Network
- Tunisia: Following the overthrow of the authoritarian regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, there was considerable public demand in Tunisia to establish transitional justice mechanisms to address decades of gross human rights violations. ICTJ successfully promoted the establishment of a Women’s Committee within the Tunisian Truth and Dignity Commission to support women victims and fully integrate their participation in the truth-seeking process. ICTJ has since provided continuous technical support and worked directly to support the work of the Committee.
Recognizing that women and women’s groups from outside Tunis were being left out of discussions, ICTJ facilitated the creation of a network of women victims’ groups called the “Transitional Justice is also for Women Network.” The network has played a central role in increasing collaboration among women’s groups, enabling them to more effectively contribute to the design and implementation of transitional justice processes. Some successes include:
Increasing the submission of victim statements by women to the TDC. At the start of the statement-taking process, women victims represented only 5% of submissions. In response to this low number, ICTJ worked with the network to host a series of workshops to build the capacity of women victims to submit statements. By the end, the percentage of statements submitted by women increased nearly fivefold, to 23%.
Submitting a collective file to the TDC on how “Circular 108” violated economic and social rights. This Circular effectively prohibited veiled women from accessing employment, education, and other important opportunities. ICTJ and the Network worked together to facilitate this submission, which makes explicit links between the Circular and the violation of women’s social and economic rights.
- Côte d’Ivoire: After former president Laurent Gbagbo lost re-election in 2010, the incoming government established a number of mechanisms to address the gross human rights violations that had occurred during the violent elections. ICTJ engagedwomen victims from the most marginalized areas in a series of consultations, and then facilitated their direct engagement with CONARIV, the government agency tasked with managing the victims’ reparations process. As a result, women were more empowered to contribute to transitional justice discussions with other victims and activists. They also successfully demanded equal participation in a high-level conference where they presented their proposals to CONARIV and were closely involved in a new informal platform of victims’ groups that facilitates dialogue with CONARIV.
- Colombia: ICTJ’s joint report with Colombian organization Casa de la Mujer, We Want to be Heard, examined obstacles that prevented women’s participation in mechanisms designed to address the country’s armed conflict. It found, among other things, that women victims faced heightened barriers to participating in public discussions about transitional justice measures. The report recommended that the Colombian Unit for Attention and Comprehensive Reparations to Victims hold specific trainings with women victims prior to the talks known as the “participatory roundtable discussions” to build their capacity and increase their confidence to represent their reparative justice needs. This recommendation was later carried out, at ICTJ’s urging.
“Without the voice of women, the truth is not complete.” – Women from ASMUM association in Putumayo, Colombia, during a street performance
- Liberia: ICTJ helped the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established to investigate gross human rights violationsthat occurred between 1979 and 2003 to draft its gender policy by providing technical assistance based on comparative expertise and best practice.
- Solomon Islands: Because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission largely ignored violations committed against women during the 1999 to 2004 conflict, ICTJ worked with women’s groups to document violations that had been committed and publish them in a report, which was then submitted to the commission.
- Indonesia: ICTJ worked with Komnas Perempuan, or the National Women’s Human Rights Commission, to document violations committed against women during widespread human rights violations that had occurred in 1965 and 1966. This was the first attempt to gather women’s testimonies and make associated findings about the violations. The resulting report, which was presented to the government, chronicled these violations in a systematic way and provided recommendations on reparations, state responsibility, and other issues.
- Since its inception, ICTJ has been at the forefront of developing technical guidance on how transitional justice processes and mechanisms can appropriately address gender, starting with the first-ever operational handbook on the issue: Truth Commissions and Gender: Principles, Policies and Procedures.
- ICTJ has led global efforts to increase the understanding of the differing ways women and men are impacted by human rights violations, including producing in-depth research on gender and reparations, displacement, and the impact of enforced disappearances on women, as they relate to transitional justice processes.
- ICTJ undertook a multi-year project to analyze the gendered impacts of enforced disappearance on women victims. Three published reports assessed the long-term consequences on women in Nepal, Lebanon, and globally. Our research provided important insights into ongoing victimization as a result of increased poverty, family conflict, and psychological trauma, and gave recommendations for how transitional justice can better support these victims.
“Today was a therapeutic day because I had an opportunity to help myself. I know rape is not something that is very easy to talk about, so I found this a safe space to talk about my experiences. Actually, I loved it. I appreciated that today was specifically for the victims and I really felt that someone is concerned.” – Kenyan woman during a reparations consultation in Kenya
- ICTJ helped develop a normative framework on reparations and conflict-related sexual violence by providing direct input on the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.
- ICTJ and UN Women hosted a conference to assist the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to draft its influential general comment on “Applying a Gender Perspective to Enforced Disappearances.” The meeting brought together relevant experts from a variety of contexts whose presentations, discussions, and findings were directly incorporated into the final general comment document.
“The solution for reparation should be sought inclusively. We cannot do this without victim participation, that is why the participative method used by ICTJ is ideal.” – Kaudjhis Offoumou Françoise, Commissioner, CONARIV in Cote d’Ivoire
ICTJ – International Center for Transitional Justice
The International Center for Transitional Justice works for justice in countries that have endured massive human rights abuses under repression and in conflict. ICTJ works with victims, civil society groups, national, and international organizations to ensure redress for victims and to help prevent atrocities from happening again.