Gender, statebuilding and peacebuilding

Page contents

For women’s citizenship and state-society relations, please see GSDRC’s Topic Guide Supplement on State-Society Relations and Citizenship in Situations of Conflict and Fragility


Key priorities for post-conflict statebuilding and peacebuilding include establishing political governance, ensuring security, justice and the rule of law, and building the administrative institutions of the state. Many argue that early attention needs to be given to gender equality and to increasing women’s voice in political, social, and economic development in fragile and postconflict settings. State reconstruction can provide opportunities to shape new social, economic, and political dynamics that can break existing gender stereotypes. Not focusing on gender early on can entrench systems that discriminate against women, which are much harder to challenge later.

At the operational level, however, gender is often not seen as a high priority by donors in the early stages of post-conflict statebuilding. Issues related to gender relations, women’s rights, participation and relationship to the state are often overlooked or inadequately addressed in the design of interventions. This can be attributed to lack of political will and insufficient knowledge among policymakers on how to integrate gender issues into statebuilding strategies. Donor approaches to statebuilding have not incorporated any substantial gender analysis that looks at how statebuilding processes impact women and men differently, the quality of women’s relationship to the state, or how women can participate in shaping the statebuilding agenda.

Research has also found that the needs of women and girls have often been neglected in post-conflict assistance programmes. For example, female combatants are often discriminated against in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes, and there is often a lack of provision of health services and trauma programmes for women and girls suffering from sexual violence. Despite commitments under UN Security Council Resolution 1325 for greater attention to gender issues and participation of women in peacebuilding processes, actual implementation and changes on the ground have been limited.

It is important to understand the links between gender and fragility, and gender and violent conflict – and the implications of failing to take gender into account. It is essential that gender not be seen as a ‘soft’ topic of secondary importance to establishing security: gender is often at the core of creating sustainable peace and security. In many fragile states, for example, it is particular gender ideals of power that perpetuate a culture of violence in which client-patron relations, corruption and discrimination against and suppression of women and minorities can flourish. Alongside the promotion of greater involvement of women in statebuilding and peacebuilding processes, attention also needs to be paid to transforming the cultures and systems that reinforce gender power inequalities. This requires tackling both formal and informal patterns of power and resource allocation. Efforts to introduce gender concerns and to improve women’s participation require developing relationships within communities and garnering support from local leaders. Where gender has been taken into consideration in statebuilding and peacebuilding processes and efforts have been made to challenge gender inequality, there is a shortage of rigorous evaluations on the impact of such programmes and whether they have affected gender relations.

Cordaid. (2010). Gender-responsive Peace and State-building: Changing the Culture of Power in Fragile States, A Cordaid and WO=MEN Policy Brief
What is gender-responsive peacebuilding and statebuilding and how can it be achieved? Gender equality is considered a fundamental right and a necessary condition for the achievement of the objectives of elimination of poverty, growth, employment, social cohesion and the promotion of peace and security. This brief argues that this will only be effective if the culture of power is simultaneously changed to one that supports gender equality and sustainable peacebuilding. Gender-responsive peace and statebuilding aims to contribute to change that culture of power, by creating (1) gender responsive decision-making structures in politics and society, and by creating (2) a sustainable national infrastructure for peace that allows societies and their governments to resolve conflicts internally and with their own skills, institutions and resources.
See full text

Castillejo, C. (2011). ‘Building a State that Works for Women: Integrating Gender into Post-Conflict State Building’, FRIDE, Madrid
What role do women play in statebuilding? How do statebuilding processes affect women’s participation? Support for statebuilding has become the dominant model for international engagement in post-conflict contexts, yet donor approaches lack substantial gender analysis and are missing opportunities to promote gender equality. This paper presents findings from a research project on the impact of post-conflict statebuilding on women’s citizenship. It argues that gender inequalities are linked to the underlying political settlement, and that donors must therefore address gender as a fundamentally political issue.

O’Connell, H. (2011). ‘What are the Opportunities to Promote Gender Equity and Equality in Conflict-affected and Fragile States? Insights from a Review of Evidence’, Gender and Development, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 455-466
This article examines women’s political and economic empowerment and women and girls’ access to quality services in conflict-affected and fragile states. It finds that there has been some success in relation to women’s participation in elections and formal politics and engagement in small-scale economic enterprise. It argues, however, that inequitable gender power relations have not been considered or understood and so opportunities have been lost.

Benard, C. et al. (2008). ‘Women and Nation-building’, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA
What role do women play in post-conflict nation-building? How do processes of nation-building affect the status and situation of women? A literature review and findings from Afghanistan indicate that greater stability and improved outcomes would be likely if there were: 1) a more genuine emphasis on the concept of human security; 2) a focus on establishing governance based on principles of equity and consistent rule of law from the start; and 3) economic inclusion of women in the earliest stages of reconstruction activities.

OECD. (2013). Gender and Statebuilding in Fragile and Conflict-affected States. Conflict and Fragility, OECD Publishing.
This publication makes the case for gender-sensitive statebuilding based on the inherent value of gender equality as well as its contribution to better development outcomes and the achievement of peacebuilding and statebuilding goals. The paper provides an overview for the donor community of the challenges, opportunities and prospects for more systematic consideration of gender relations. Based on a series of empirical examples of donor practices, the brief distills key success factors and concrete entry points for tackling these challenges and achieving a more effective, more politically informed approach to integrating gender into statebuilding.
See full text

Domingo, P., Holmes, R., Rocha Menocal, A. & Jones, N., with Bhuvanendra, D., and Wood, J. (2013). Assessment of the Evidence of Links Between Gender Equality, Peacebuilding and Statebuilding: Literature Review. London: ODI.
What is the evidence on gender-sensitive approaches to peacebuilding and statebuilding? This assessment finds that the literature on peacebuilding and statebuilding does not address the question of gender directly or explicitly. The evidence on causal connections between gender-sensitive approaches and advancing the goals of peacebuilding and statebuilding is not robust. It is useful to look more closely at thematic and sector-specific components of peacebuilding and statebuilding, but the knowledge base is weak on how the relevant thematic areas intersect to enhance opportunities and capabilities for advancing gender equality goals in FCAS. There is limited research on identifying differences among women’s experiences and interests in peacebuilding and statebuilding that result from class, ethnicity, religion or other relevant cleavages, and how these feature in country-specific socio-political histories of fragility and conflict.
See full text

El-Bushra, J. (2012) Gender in Peacebuilding: Taking Stock. London: International Alert.
This report reflects the findings of the preparatory stage of a three-year research project exploring the role of gender in peacebuilding. It synthesises a review of current literature and a series of workshops in Burundi and Nepal which explored how practitioners, government representatives and donors viewed the issues. The report summarises these findings and presents tentative conclusions that will be further explored in later phases of the research.
See full text

Development and reconstruction interventions

Statebuilding and peacebuilding needs in fragile environments and in the aftermath of conflict are extensive. Development interventions and domestic reforms often target various sectors simultaneously. These include:

Legal frameworks

Constitutional and legal reforms in post-conflict contexts are often ideal for enshrining genderequality and other basic human rights in the constitution and for formalising the representation and participation of women and men in governmental and societal decision-making structures. Nevertheless, although post-conflict contexts present opportunities for reform of legal frameworks, the institutional reforms required to effectively enforce these frameworks are far more contentious and gradual. Consequently, women continue to face risks of discrimination and worse when seeking access to justice through post-conflict legal institutions. It is also important that gender equality provisions extend to non-statutory and customary law in order to ensure effective implementation, but achieving such reforms can be challenging.

During periods of transition, efforts to re-establish rule of law and issues of justice and accountability are also significant. It is important that transitional justice and judicial mechanisms and processes pay attention to gender-specific issues, such as prosecution of sexual crimes and reparations for victims of such violence.

Political governance

Quota systems have often been implemented in the aftermath of conflict in order to improve the gender balance in political decision-making institutions. Such provisions may be adopted in the constitution and are usually aimed at increasing the representation of women. Types of quota systems include candidate lists and a minimum percentage of female representation in Parliament (e.g. 30 per cent in all countries in the Great Lakes Region). The representation of women needs to go beyond nominal presence, however. Women need to hold key positions to effectively influence decision-making and require technical and political support so that they can perform their tasks effectively.

Economic governance and opportunities

Wars often result in changes to gender relations in the economic realm. There are more female heads of household and women have to take over traditionally male duties. They have to become more active in formal and informal markets in order to provide for their families. Economic interventions in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, similar to peaceful situations, often seek to advance women’s economic empowerment through micro-enterprise support. It is important, however, that interventions are not restricted to this micro-level but also challenge men’s greater control over economic resources, such as agricultural land. An important area of reform is to remove the legal and informal restrictions on women’s ownership of and control over land.

Attention also needs to be paid to the impact of changes in gender relations on men. These changes, combined with continued displacement and post-conflict unemployment can undermine men’s sense of identity as providers. This in turn can contribute to anti-social behaviour and violence against women. It is also important, however, to ensure that efforts to reintegrate men into the employment sector do not translate into the loss of jobs for women. This can reverse gains made by women during conflict and reinforce gender stereotypes and disparities. Gender-sensitive policies that address families as economic units may be able to contribute to sharing of responsibilities, preserving women’s war-time economic experiences, while providing men with skills they lack.

Social services

Re-establishing basic public services, such as health and education, in fragile and conflict-affected environments is an important priority. This is not only because such services are essential. In addition, their public provision can relieve some of the additional burdens that women often face in having to provide these services privately to family and community members. It is also necessary to ensure that services are gender-sensitive. This requires the collection of sex-disaggregated data, consultation with women and men separately in order to assess and cater to their specific needs, and ensuring that health and educational systems incorporate male and female professionals.

Addressing trauma

War-affected populations often suffer from the trauma of having experienced and/or observed extensive violence – killings, torture, rape, beatings. In some cases, such as in the Balkans and Bosnia, family members were frequently witness to the killing of male relatives and the rape of female relatives. It is important that reconstruction programmes incorporate measures to address trauma, in order to break the cycle of violence. Those who fought in the wars must learn to function in a non-violent culture and to handle their detachment and fears. Those who experienced sexual violence also often require counselling. Measures to address trauma must cater to the various experiences of men, women, boys and girls.

Rebuilding trust and social relations

In fragile contexts, lack of trust in state institutions is prevalent. In conflict-affected contexts, mass violence destroys not only physical structures, but also trust throughout society. Distrust and fear often persist in the aftermath, making it difficult to re-establish communities, societies and a sense of shared citizenship. Restoring trust is needed at all levels. It requires, in particular, a shift in focus to the people, to the grassroots and the development of a transformative agenda.

Some initiatives aimed at restoring trust and building social relations are focused on women, such as knitting groups and small business ventures that aim to bring women together across divides through income generation opportunities. In order to transform gender relations and promote gender equality, however, projects need to go beyond women-to-women activities, for example through the involvement of women and men of differing identity groups in local development institutions and structures for non-violent conflict-resolution. These can range from planning boards and community committees to local government.

Justino, P., Cardona, I., Mitchell, R. and Müller, C. (2012) ‘Quantifying the Impact of Women’s Participation in Post-conflict Economic Recovery’. HiCN Working Paper 131. Brighton: IDS.
This report presents the results of a study commissioned by UN Women on the integration of women in post-conflict economic recovery processes. The main aim of this report is to analyse how changes in the roles and activities of women during episodes of violent conflict may shape their contribution to post-conflict economic recovery and sustainable peace. The report poses two important questions for which limited evidence is available: How does violent conflict change the roles that women take on within their households and communities? How do changes in female roles during conflict affect women‘s own status after the conflict, and the capacity of households and communities to recover from the conflict? The research was based on a literature review and original comparative empirical analysis in six country case studies: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Kosovo, Nepal, Tajikistan and Timor Leste. Three key findings are: Women participate more actively in labour markets during conflict; Vulnerability among women increases during conflict; Increases in the labour participation of women in conflict-affected areas are in some cases associated with increases in overall household and community welfare.
See full text

Greenberg, M. E. and Zuckerman, E. (2009). ‘The Gender Dimensions of Post-Conflict Reconstruction: The Challenges in Development Aid’, in Making Peace Work: The Challenges of Social and Economic Recontruction, eds. T. Addison and T. Brück, Palgrave MacMillan and UNUWIDER, Helsinki
What role do gender dimensions play in post-conflict reconstruction (PCR)? Policymakers have largely been slow to employ gender analysis and focus. This paper proposes a framework of three interrelated gender dimensions to help develop more effective approaches to PCR: (i) womenfocused activities, (ii) gender-aware programming, and (iii) strategic attention to transforming gender relations in order to heal trauma, build social capital and avoid further violence. Policies aimed at achieving gender equality may be instrumental for achieving sustainable peace.

Bouta, T., Frerks, G. and Bannon, I. (2005). ‘Gender, Conflict and Development’, The World Bank, Washington DC
What are the gender dimensions of intrastate conflict? This extensive review examines: the gender roles of women and men before, during, and after conflict; gender role changes throughout conflict; and challenges in sustaining positive gender role changes and mitigating negative effects. Policy suggestions relate to issues such as: considering women’s more difficult social reintegration; targeting both men and women when addressing gender-based violence; building on skills acquired during conflict; gender-sensitising health and education systems; and adopting community-based approaches in reconstruction.

Norville, V. (2011). ‘The Role of Women in Global Security’, USIP Special Report, no. 264, United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Washington DC
What are women’s roles in peacebuilding, postconflict reconstruction, and economic development? This report draws on a conference on The Role of Women in Global Security, held in October 2010. It highlights that the number of women participating in peace settlements remains marginal, and women are still underrepresented in public office, at the negotiating table, and in peacekeeping missions. The needs and perspectives of women are often overlooked in postconflict DDR, as well as in security sector reform, rehabilitation of justice, and the rule of law. Sexual and gender-based violence often continues in the aftermath of war and is typically accompanied by impunity for the perpetrators. A continuing lack of physical security and the existence of significant legal constraints hamper women’s integration into economic life and leadership. Best practices for increasing women’s participation include deployment of gender-balanced peacekeeping units, a whole-of-government approach to security sector and judicial reform, solicitation of the input of women at the community level on priorities for national budgets and international programs.
See full text

Whittington, S. (2011). ‘Women, Peace and Security: A gendered approach to aid effectiveness in post-conflict development,’ A think piece commissioned by AusAID’s Office of Development Effectiveness
See full text

Moser, A. (2007). ‘Women Building Peace and Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict-Affected Contexts: A Review of Community-Based Approaches’, UNIFEM
What are the community-level and traditional conflict resolution practices of women? This is a background paper informing UNIFEM’s work on preventing sexual violence in conflict. The thematic sections examine the barriers women face, and highlight examples of women’s successful engagement in peace-building. Women face barriers such as exclusion from decision-making forums and formal peace processes; lack of funding; resistance to cultural change; and security risks. Successful approaches include coalition-building; digital technologies; combining traditional and modern approaches; and facilitating women’s participation in existing processes.
See full text

True, J. (2013). Women, peace and security in post-conflict and peacebuilding contexts. Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, Policy Brief, March.
This policy brief outlines an integrated framework for addressing institutional and structural barriers to gender equality in post-conflict situations. The brief recommends: targeting measures to increase women’s representation in post-conflict governance; improving government responsiveness to sexual and gender-based violence against women; securing women’s economic and social rights; designing reparations for women’s economic empowerment; incorporating gender budgeting in all post-conflict financing arrangements; and prioritising gender equality in the security sector.
See full text

Case studies

Nada Mustafa Ali. (2011). Gender and Statebuilding in South Sudan, U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington DC
See full text

Larson, A. (2008). ‘A Mandate to Mainstream: Promoting Gender Equality in Afghanistan’, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, Kabul

Abdullah, H. J., Ibrahim, A. F. and King, J. (2010). ‘Women’s Voices, Work and Bodily Integrity in Pre-Conflict, Conflict and Post-Conflict Reconstruction Processes in Sierra Leone’, vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 37-45
See full text

DDR and security sector reform

There are strong links between disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR). The OECD DAC recommends that the two issues should be considered together as part of a comprehensive security and justice programme. It is essential that the needs of women, girls, men, and boys are taken into account in all areas.

There has been growing awareness that an emphasis on stereotypical gender roles has often resulted in failure to acknowledge the presence of female fighters and failure to provide them with access to DDR programmes. Even where DDR schemes are open to women and girls, women may fail to enrol due to various gender-related reasons, such as fear of safety in an environment with large numbers of male ex-combatants, and fear of social stigma from being identified as a fighter. Awareness campaigns have been adopted in some contexts, such as in Liberia, and have helped to encourage women and girls to participate in the DDR process.

Programmes that cater to male combatants have also paid insufficient attention to the ‘reintegration’ component and how women who remain in the communities to which male combatants are being reintegrated should be involved. For example, reintegration processes could focus on preparing men and women for positive household and community relations and for nonviolent mechanisms of resolving differences. They could also involve women as allies in starting businesses and reviving agricultural activities. Receiving households and communities often require greater capacity to welcome back and reintegrate returnees.

In order for security services to be trusted, responsive and effective, they must be representative of diverse population groups. Security sector reform provides the opportunity to create more inclusive and less discriminatory security sector institutions, not only in terms of ethnicity but also in terms of gender. In most cases, however, post-conflict SSR processes are designed and implemented by men. This is due in large part to the comparative lack of participation of women in government security agencies and in leadership positions of defence and security committees.

The lack of meaningful civil society input in SSR processes further undermines the participation and representation of women. There is some growing awareness of the need to open up planning and implementation of SSR to broader participation through public hearings, media discussions, and civil society representatives in SSR bodies.

Bastick, M. (2007). ‘Integrating Gender in Post-Conflict Security Sector Reform’, Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), Geneva
This paper argues that integrating gender into Security Sector Reform increases responsiveness to the security needs of all parts of the community, strengthens local ownership of reform and enhances security sector oversight. It finds that challenges to successfully integrating gender are similar to those that have hampered SSR in post-conflict contexts: an impatience to complete programmes, leading to insufficient local ownership; and assumptions that models that have been used elsewhere can be replicated without due regard to context.

Bastick, M. (2011). ‘Gender Self-Assessment Guide for the Police, Armed Forces and Justice Sector’ Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), Geneva
See full text

Conducting a gender assessment can be a first step in transforming security sector institutions into gender-responsive institutions. This document provides guidance on how to conduct such an assessment. A gender-responsive security sector institution is one that both meets the distinct and different security and justice needs of men, women, boys and girls and promotes the full and equal participation of men and women.

Basini, H. S. (2013). Gender Mainstreaming Unraveled: The Case of DDRR in Liberia. International Interactions, 39(4), 535-557.
Using interviews with women associated with fighting forces (WAFFs)/ex-combatants the article argues that their unique needs, especially those of a social and psychological nature, were poorly addressed. The programme did have a specific targeted focus showing some gender responsive design and coordination. The commentary shows that there was no attention to structural inequality issues such as sexual and gender based violence. Gender mainstreaming was more successful in the ‘DD’ component of the programme, where WAFFs’ participation was increased. The RR components had elements of gender mainstreaming but did not conduct sufficient job market analysis, provide tools to help women utilize their skills, or assist women socially or psychologically with any issues of trauma or with community reconciliation. This paper recommends these RR components are de-linked from DD, and run over a longer timeframe for gender equality goals to be met.
See full text

Specht, I. (2013). Gender, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration and Violent Masculinities. cadernos, 61.
This paper examines masculine and feminine identities in conflict. With regard to DDR, it posits that this process can proliferate GBV as it causes identity loss for men. During conflict, men are judged on their ability to protect, attack, and be violent. This creates violence as a measure of masculinity. DDR may cause men to lose their identities as fighters and protectors, which can result in feelings of emasculation. For female ex-combatants, DDR may remove the freedom gained by breaking out of traditional female roles, and they may find it hard to reintegrate as they have ‘crossed the line of femininity’. Tensions may arise between empowered women and frustrated men. This may contribute to GBV.
See full text

Hendricks, C. (2012). Research on gender and SSR in Africa. In Eriksson Baaz, M. and Utas, M. (eds.) Beyond ‘Gender and Stir’. Nordic Africa Institute (NAI)
This is an overview chapter which explores the paucity of literature on gender in SSR. Most literature is toolkits, guidelines, policy papers and reports rather than rigorous analysis and evidence. It provides an overview of what SSR is, why it is important to integrate gender into SSR programming, and to present the major arguments visible in the literature.
See full text

Police reform

UNIFEM (2007). ‘Gender Sensitive Police Reform in Post Conflict Societies’, Policy briefing paper, UNIFEM and UNDP
What role can gender-sensitive police reform play in post-conflict situations? This paper argues that post-conflict contexts present important opportunities for law-enforcement reform. At the same time, the need for GSPR in practice is particularly acute during peacekeeping missions and the process of rebuilding state institutions. Key aspects of gender-sensitive police reform are discussed, drawing on findings from an inter-agency study and from programming in various countries undertaken by UNIFEM and UNDP.

Moser, A. et al. (2009). ‘Case Studies of Gender-Sensitive Police Reform in Rwanda and Timor-Leste’, UNIFEM and UNDP
This paper outlines UNIFEM’s approach to gender-sensitive SSR. It examines UNIFEM’s initiatives to support gender-sensitive police reform in Rwanda and Timor-Leste. This reform aims to create a police service that effectively responds to security needs and builds police institutions that are non-discriminatory, encouraging of women’s participation at all levels, and accountable to all of their citizens. The programmes have experienced both successes and challenges. Successes have been around training police and providing women-specific or gender-sensitive services.
See full text

Becker, J., & Kuranchie, A. (2012). Freedom through Association: Assessing the Contributions of to Gender-Sensitive Police Reform in West Africa. The North-South Institute. DCAF.
What are women in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana doing in police services to change the nature of their work? Female police staff associations are contributing to changing the culture of policing and assisting female officers assert themselves within the service. Support networks, regular meetings and burden sharing through welfare activities builds confidence among female police in the face of negative stereotypes and traditional gender roles. Female police associations have the capacity to do more concrete work – for example, launching mentorship programmes for junior female officers and engaging in sectoral reform monitoring efforts. Moreover, female associations have solid perspectives on what needs to be changed within the policing system that directly disadvantages women.
See full text

Bacon, L. (2013). Liberia’s Gender-sensitive Police Reform: Starting from scratch? Improving representation and responsiveness (No. UNU-WIDER Research Paper WP2013/114).
This paper explores the Liberia National Police’s innovative efforts to create a more gender-sensitive police service. In particular, the paper analyses Liberia National Police’s efforts to (1) recruit female police officers and (2) train a specialized unit to address gender-related crimes. Ambitious recruitment efforts brought more women on board, but some critics regarded the related fast-track programme as misguided or ineffective. The specialized unit increased awareness about and response to gender-based violence, but was impeded by a broken judicial system. Success factors of both projects included the timing (post-conflict window of opportunity), the context (momentum for gender-sensitive reforms), local ownership (a supportive president), and the nature of the aid (problem-driven interventions and iterative learning, vast financial and technical support, including dedicated and continuous support from the United Nations).
See full text

Monitoring and Evaluation

Popovic, N. (2008). ‘Security Sector Reform Assessment, Monitoring and Evaluation and Gender’, Gender and SSR Toolkit, DCAF, OSCE/ODIHR, UN-INSTRAW
See full text

Transitional justice

The United Nations defines transitional justice as the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation. These involve judicial and non-judicial mechanisms (with differing levels of international involvement, or none at all) that include individual prosecutions, reparations, truth-seeking, institutional reform, vetting and dismissals, or a combination thereof.

The nature and consequences of large-scale past abuses differ significantly for men, women and children, and for different groups among them. Gendered dimensions in transitional justice are rarely addressed, however, in the literature or in practice. At a basic level, integrating a gender perspective into transitional justice processes calls for greater inclusion and participation of diverse perspectives. This requires addressing the prioritisation of male perspectives and the underrepresentation and lack of involvement of women in transitional justice.

In order to be gender inclusive, transitional justice processes and mechanisms also need to consider the multiple roles that men and women play in conflict and in the aftermath of conflict. The few studies on questions of gender in transitional justice that exist have focused primarily on women as victims of sexual violence. Not only does this neglect sexual violence against men, but it also contributes to persistent views and treatment of women solely as victims. The Liberian truth commission, for example, emphasised women’s suffering as victims of violent attacks, but failed to acknowledge that a large section of the combatant forces consisted of women (Buckley-Zistel and Zolkos, 2011).

Further, the focus on sexual crimes in transitional justice has tended to result in neglect of broader structural issues. In order to truly integrate gender issues into transitional justice, it is also important to recognise and address structural violence, such as exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination, and the consequences of unequal power relations. Redress cannot be limited to violations but also needs to cover measures that seek to address the underlying inequalities that have contributed to the context in which violations took place.

Buckley-Zistel, S. and Zolkos, M. (2011). ‘Introduction: Gender and Transitional Justice’, in eds. S. Buckley-Zistel, and R. Stanley, Gender in Transitional Justice, Palgrave Macmillan
Literature on gender in transitional justice (TJ) has tended to focus on women as victims of sexualised violence. But this study aims to contribute to more nuanced and inclusive analysis. Gender cannot be seen simply as a descriptive category of victims. The roles of men and women in the context of TJ are multifaceted and interrelated. Incorporating gender into analysis of TJ can act as a powerful critical tool.

Valji, N., with Sigsworth, R. and Goetz, A. M. (2010). ‘A Window of Opportunity: Making Transitional Justice Work for Women’, United Nations Development Fund for Women
How can transitional justice processes serve women more effectively? Among the guiding principles of UN engagement in transitional justice activities is the need to ‘strive to ensure women’s rights’. This report examines gender equality issues in relation to prosecutions, truth seeking, reparations, national consultations and institutional reforms. It argues that post-conflict transitions provide opportunities both to secure justice and to address the context of inequality that gives rise to conflict. Normative, procedural and cultural aspects of transitional justice institutions require reform.

Valji, N. (2007). ‘Gender Justice and Reconciliation’, Occasional paper, no. 35, Friedrich-Ebert- Stiftung, Berlin
How do women’s experiences of conflict and transition differ from those of men? What effect does this have on transitional justice mechanisms? This paper examines assumptions held within the field of transitional justice from a gendered perspective. There is a need to move beyond a focus on individual incidents of sexual violence in conflict to address the context of inequality that facilitates such violations and a continuum of violence.

Bell, C., and O’Rourke, C. (2007). ‘Does Feminism Need a Theory of Transitional Justice? An Introductory Essay’, International Journal of Transitional Justice, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 23-44
This article surveys feminist scholarship and praxis on transitional justice, examining its ongoing contribution to the conceptualisation and design of transitional justice mechanisms. It proposes that feminist theory should focus on how transitional justice debates help or hinder broader projects of securing material gains for women through transition, rather than trying to fit a feminist notion of justice within transitional justice frameworks.
See full text

Hovil, L. (2012). Gender, Transitional Justice, and Displacement. ICTJ/Brookings.
How can transitional justice make gender-sensitive reparations for displacement? This paper on Africa’s Great Lakes region considers briefly three gender-specific dynamics of conflict and displacement that need to be incorporated within post-conflict reconstruction and transitional justice. First, the implications of sexual and gender-based violence against women and men at all stages of displacement and the implications for transitional justice mechanisms. Second, the gender-specific economic consequences of displacement and the subsequent search for durable solutions, focusing specifically on the challenges faced by women at the point of return and the relevance of gender specificities for any reparations or restitution programmes. Finally, the vulnerability of young men and their association with conflict, which affects their ability to safely repatriate within certain contexts.
See full text

O’Rourke, C. (2013). Gender Politics in Transitional Justice. Routledge.
This book explores in depth the many facets of gender inequality in transitional justice processes. It looks at the extent to which transitional justice processes redress violations of women’s human rights, secure the non-recurrence of violations, and empower women’s movements in post-conflict societies. It examines feminist engagement with transitional justice processes and their outcomes for women, with case studies on Chile, Northern Ireland and Colombia.
See full text

Truth commissions and reparations

Truth commissions, a key transitional justice mechanism, are established to research and report on massive human rights violations from armed conflict or under authoritarian regimes. The reports produced by these commissions often provide policy recommendations, including the provision of reparations. Reparations refer to various measures that aim to redress past wrongs and provide compensation, rehabilitation and satisfaction for victims. It is important to include a gender perspective in the work of truth commissions and in discussions of reparations. This would allow the documentation of the differing experiences of women in conflict, violence and repression, and could also promote an exploration of root causes of the conflict – including unequal power relations and gender inequality. It would allow reparations to be tailored to the needs of women and to address social and economic inequality linked to gender.

It is worth noting that a holistic understanding of transitional justice requires more than simply addressing the human rights abuses of previous regimes. There is a large body of literature on truth commissions, special criminal tribunals and other formal, ad hoc processes for addressing crimes committed during conflict as part of the broader post-conflict reckoning. However, these accounts often draw an unjustifiably clear distinction between redress for crimes committed during conflict and those committed in the lengthy period of lawlessness and impunity which invariably follows it, a period in which women remain exposed to significant risks of violence. Consequently, there has been significantly less written about ‘regular’ peacetime processes and institutions – for example, conventional courts and the police – and the extent to which their handling of post-conflict violence can contribute to a more gendered conception of statebuilding and peacebuilding.

World Bank. (2006). ‘Gender, Justice, and Truth Commissions’, World Bank, Washington DC
How have truth commissions (TCs) in societies emerging from conflict or repressive regimes incorporated a gender approach into their investigations of human right violations? What assistance could development actors, particularly the World Bank, provide to such an approach? This paper analyses the degree to which a gender-sensitive perspective was used in three TCs, in South Africa, Peru and Sierra Leone. It argues that a gender approach can enhance the effectiveness of reparations offered by TCs and prevent future conflicts, and that increased support from international actors might strengthen TCs’ engagement with such issues.

Rubio-Marín, R. (2006). ‘What Happened to the Women? Gender and Reparations for Human Rights Violations’, Advancing Transitional Justice Series, no. 1, International Center for Transitional Justice, Social Science Research Council, New York
What happens to women whose lives are transformed by human rights violations? This volume explores gender and reparations policies in Guatemala, Peru, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Timor-Leste. It argues for the systematic introduction of a gender dimension into reparations programmes as a way of acknowledging the rights of female victims.

Maisel, P. (2013). Greensboro and Beyond: Remediating the Structural Sexism in Truth and Reconciliation Processes and Determining the Potential Impact and Benefits of Truth Processes in the United States. Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-11.
What effect do truth and reconciliation commissions have on the particular types of abuse and violations suffered by women and the impact on women’s lives? Feminist scholars have noted that TRCs have ignored or minimised particular abuses suffered by women and failed to adequately include women’s issues and perspectives among their findings. The first part of this chapter examines why the impact on women has been limited in so many TRC processes because of what is included in their mandates and who they define as victims. It demonstrates that failure to focus on women turned what was supposed to be gender neutral into a male-dominated process. The next section examines the Greensboro Commission, often called the first US Truth Commission. The final section looks at whether and how truth commissions may be useful in other communities or more broadly in the U.S. where there have been violations of human rights.
See full text

Case studies

Tabak, S. (2011). ‘False Dichotomies of Transitional Justice: Gender, Conflict and Combatants in Colombia’, International Law and Politics, v. 44, pp. 103-163
How do transitional justice mechanisms perceive the role of women and men in conflict and postconflict situations? How might a gendered approach to transitional justice apply to the situation of female combatants in Colombia? Transitional justice mechanisms fail to be gender inclusive when they neglect the multiple gendered roles that men and women play in conflict and post-conflict situations. Examining transitional justice from a gendered lens reveals crucial detail about the situation of women in conflict and provides opportunities to transform the gendered origins of conflict.

Valji, N. (2010). ‘Gender and Transitional Justice Programming: A Review of Peru, Sierra Leone and Rwanda’, UNIFEM
This paper reviews three case studies (Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Peru) to examine lessons and best practice for gender-sensitive transitional justice programming. This brief summarises in-depth research reports. The focus is primarily on sexual and gender-based violence and ways women have been able to seek justice for these crimes. It highlights that formal justice is only one part of a gender justice strategy, which should include peacebuilding; DDR; SSR; access to services, security and justice; prevention of continuing violence; legislative reforms; and understanding of the gendered nature of conflict.
See full text

Patterson-Markowitz, R., Oglesby, E., & Marston, S. (2012). “Subjects of Change”: Feminist Geopolitics and Gendered Truth-Telling in Guatemala. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 13(4).
This paper explores the role of gender in transitional justice mechanisms and the importance of women’s struggles and agency. It focuses on the women’s movement in Guatemala to address questions of justice and healing for survivors of gendered violence during Guatemala’s 36-year internal armed conflict. It discusses how the initial transitional justice measures of documenting gendered war crimes in the context of a genocide were subsequently taken up by the women’s movement and how their endeavors to further expose sexual violence have resulted in notable interventions. They argue that war-related violence can be seen as an extension of the abuse and aggression that is normalized in everyday life. Their goal is to de-normalize these practices so that alternative forms of gendered social relations might be developed.
See full text

See also the transitional justice section of the GSDRC’s Topic Guide on Justice.

More information on gender and transitional justice is available from the International Centre of Transitional Justice’s Gender Justice web pages.