Gender and Transitional Justice: What do the Data Say?

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The literature on gender and transitional justice is awash with diverse critiques about the practices of human rights accountability. Authors point out that women’s experiences of harm have been “ignored and/or sidelined,” and gender has been given “only limited attention” in transitional justice policies. Others say that when gender has been included in transitional justice, it has focused on an “overly narrow understanding of harms,” in particular, sexual violence, especially rape. Scholars claim that transitional justice practices define gender as sex and pay little attention to how men and boys may also suffer from harms related to gender. Finally, a new literature argues that gender and sexual minorities, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, are almost entirely absent from transitional justice mechanisms. There is only a small strand in the feminist literature on transitional justice that suggests that some important changes are starting to occur. For example, Catherine O’Rourke argues, “In many ways, transitional justice has been a success story for feminist engagement and gender analysis,” because transitional justice practices today are more attentive to women and gender related concerns. This article will explore both the critiques and the arguments that important change has taken place in the field as regards gender and transitional justice. Many of these critiques are based on single country case studies, illustrative use of multiple country cases, structured comparative country studies, or a qualitative overview of the field at a particular moment in time. Other critiques have focused narrowly only on attention to gender violence in conflict in international criminal tribunals, especially the ICC. We find that many of these critiques are supported by the comprehensive data from our database, but that attention to gender accelerated in the 1990s and early 2000s and continues in the present. The trends we see in the data and our explanations for those trends provide more support for the thesis that transitional justice has been a success story for feminist engagement.