Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Gender and Law

Political Violence and Gender during Times of Transition

Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Gender and Law

Political Violence and Gender during Times of Transition

Article excerpt

At the heart of transitional justice discourse is an ongoing conversation about accountability for human rights violations that occur in a context of regime repression or violent conflict. That accountability dialogue has generally been preoccupied with attempts to define the forms of political violence that should be addressed by various formal and informal mechanisms, such as trials and other truth-seeking processes. This Article will examine the multiple ways in which transitional justice processes have conceptualized political violence, and how that maps onto a gendered understanding of violence experiences and accountability mechanisms in a transitional context.

In general, greater scrutiny of the neutrality of the transitional project has led to a more critical appraisal of the gendered aspects of transition. (1) The premise of this inquiry is that accepted discourses in transitional societies surrounding the nature and form of political violence, as well as the legal accounting for such violence, has been deeply gendered. Specific to this inquiry is the characterization of certain kinds of violent action as linked to the conflict and/or the repressive regime, and the exclusion of other forms of violence from within the definitional boundary. Defining political violence often becomes a contest between opposing political factions as to whose acts of violence are to be defined as "political" (and thus justifiable) and whose are not (and remain subject to ordinary criminal sanction).

Further, underpinning this approach is the understanding that peace processes and processes of political change which prompt or underlie transitional moment(s) are profoundly gendered. For example, "while women have often been at the forefront of peace initiatives throughout a conflict," men "predominantly, if not exclusively," negotiate peace agreements. (2) The conduct of violence and war is predominantly male, leading to a male bias in negotiations. (3) This continues today, despite the Platform for Action that emerged from the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, which asserted that, "in addressing armed or other conflicts, an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes should be promoted so that before decisions are taken an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, respectively." (4) The Beijing Platform approach has been confirmed by the highly visible U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which "urges [U.N.] Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels ... for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict." (5) Its requirements are framed by the acknowledgement that women play an important role in "the prevention and resolution of conflict and in peace-building," and that women and children "constitute the vast majority of those affected by armed conflict." (6)

This Article reviews the relationship between the legal and political aspects of political violence from the starting point that the gendered nature of transition is positively correlated to the violent masculinities that dominate in times of conflict. Hence, the forms of accountability sought in the post-conflict/post-regime environment reflect the gender biases that manifest in the prior context. This Article broadly argues that these biases are problematic as a matter of equality and accountability. They result in an accountability approach that stops short of naming certain forms of violence as violations. (7) The effect of this approach is pronounced for women; the violence experienced by women is generally deemed irrelevant to or outside the frame of accountability for many post-conflict and post-regime societies. (8)

Moreover, the Article asserts that, when violence is understood in specific and narrow ways, it affects broader understandings of which concerns become issues for negotiation and mediation purposes. …

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