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While gender perspectives have become a burgeoning focus of analysis in transitional justice, the dominant conceptualization of ‘gender’ in the context of processes of dealing with the past is often an exclusive one, predominantly equated with ‘women and girls’. Phillipp Schulz argues that as a result of these foci, careful consideration for the roles of masculinities and for the experiences of sexual and gender minorities in post-conflict and transitional spaces remains strikingly absent.
With regards to gaps and blind-spots in the transitional justice literature’s dominant engagement with gender, in the article I outline that:
“extant gender perspectives in TJ often fall into a tendency of neglecting the many possible locally-contingent meanings of ‘gender’ and ‘justice’ in different geo-political regions across the world, thereby (re)producing and exporting neo-colonial assumptions [...]. At the same time, the thriving discussion about gender and TJ is largely one about whether or not, and how, transitional processes (can) do ‘gender justice’ for female victims of violence. The model of gender underpinning such analyses, however, is effectively an exclusive one” – focused primarily on women and girls as victims, men as naturally violent perpetrators, while silencing the experiences of those identities that fall outside this hetero-normative binary.
These gendered tensions and blind-spots, I argue, ultimately signify the importance of developing a more inclusive conception of gender in TJ, requiring us to critically (un)learn and (re)consider the multiple ways in which gender norms and understandings affect women, men and those positioned outside the gender binary differently. To get there, scholars and practitioners of dealing with the legacies of violent pasts must let go of simplistic and static hierarchies of gendered victimhood.
To this end, a more inclusive conception of gender in transitional justice requires the careful incorporation of masculinities and queer perspectives, alongside and relational to feminist curiosities. A masculinities lens thereby pays critical attention to how men’s gendered conflict-related experiences can be addressed in transitional space, including an inclusive engagement with (and transformation of) militarized masculinities – as embodied by, for instance, (ex-)combatants – as well as with masculine vulnerabilities – including crimes of sexual and gender-based violence against men and boys. At the same time, however, it is important to ensure that increased attention to men’s gender-specific experiences and justice conceptions does not translate into ‘masculinitiy nostalgia’ – i.e. the yearning for a patriarchal golden age privileging certain men and their masculinities – that reinstates unequal and hetero-patriarchal stats quos, which would in turn imply negative consequences for gender justice more broadly.
In addition, caution is required that a masculinities perspective does not reinforce binary understandings of gender, confined to masculinities and femininities and women and men respectively. Instead, careful consideration for the continuously silenced experiences of people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identities (SOGI) during wars and post-conflict transitions is needed. In combination, the incorporation of masculinities and queer perspectives implies the potential to facilitate a more inclusive understanding of gender that pays attention to the experiences, harms and vulnerabilities of women, men, and those outside binary hetero-normative frameworks.
To eventually put such a more inclusive understanding of gender in transitional justice into the practice, I ultimately propose that a shift from the macro- to the micro-level of transitional justice implies opportunities to circumvent some of the previously detected hetero-patriarchal blind-spots of top-down measures, and to open up space for more creative and inclusive engagements with gender in post-conflict processes. Nevertheless, despite the potential of transitional justice on the micro-level, amongst the war-affected populaces themselves, challenges persist when situating transitional justice processes on the local level and within at times highly unequal and hetero-sexual gendered contexts. This, in turn, reveals frictions between global gender norms and local realities.
Overall, the inclusive conception of gender in transitional justice is of relevance to transitional justice scholarship and practice alike, including the new German strategy to support dealing with the past and reconciliation, which amongst others seeks to promote gender equality and address sexual and gender-based violence in an inclusive manner. The article is the output of discussions at the 8th Institute for African Transitional Justice (IATJ) held in Uganda in September 2018, organized by the Refugee Law Project (RLP).