This special edition of the African Journal on Conflict Resolution provides a unique medium to outline some of the gender concerns and priorities that have emerged in recent transitional justice initiatives in Africa. The articles largely stem from a meeting on the theme of ‘Gender and Transitional Justice in Africa: Progress and Prospects’ hosted by the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) in Cape Town in September 2008. The meeting brought together African practitioners who have worked in the field of gender and transitional justice to allow the exchange of experiences from the field. During recent years, women’s organisations and practitioners have made critical advances in drawing attention to gender considerations in transitional justice processes, but there is a paucity of documentation and analysis of their initiatives. Recording the experiences of gender activists on the continent is critical for future interventions and this journal hopes to contribute to this process in some way. To facilitate a wide spectrum of voices, the journal has created a section for views from the field to give practitioners an opportunity to reflect on their own experiences.
The opening article by Helen Scanlon and Kelli Muddell provides a brief overview of significant developments in the field of gender and transitional justice. They argue that the current discourse on transitional justice in Africa needs to be expanded if we are to promote more inclusive gender-oriented notions of justice. Scanlon and Muddell note how recent transitional justice initiatives have tended to reduce gender concerns to those of women’s ‘victimhood’ during conflicts which not only perpetuates perceptions of women’s passive role but also silences other aspects of their experiences. By identifying some of the gaps in transitional justice mechanisms they argue that practitioners need to adopt a more holistic approach to gender justice that will ultimately promote healing and a more gender sensitive transition.
Pamela Scully’s article provides a feminist analysis of transitional justice processes and questions perceptions that it is possible to secure women’s rights through the law. She goes on to critique notions that the state is capable of providing solutions to injustices experienced by women during conflicts. She also argues that the concept of women’s rights need to be re-examined in the context of African history during which the state has long been illegitimate due to its colonial history of looting and extraction. As such, transitional justice practitioners need to interrogate a framework of law and the state that may intrinsically lack the legitimacy to promote gender justice.
Ayumi Kusafuka adopts a slightly different approach to previous critiques of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) by taking a gender lens to each stage of its process, from its mandate to its hearings. She argues that the South African example is one of a missed opportunity to outline the links between apartheid’s structural and gendered violence that continue to plague the country. She notes that a variety of factors such as the failure to adopt a clear gender strategy, limited time and resources, and the lack of sustained involvement by women’s organisations resulted in an ad hoc approach to gender by the Commission which ultimately impeded a full disclosure of South Africa’s past.
Lotta Teale analyses the impact of transitional justice mechanisms set up to address gender-based violence in the Sierra Leone conflict. The country’s transition resulted in the establishment of both a truth commission and a Special Court to offer accountability for the atrocities committed during the 11-year conflict. However, while both processes did go some way to promote gender justice, she argues that they failed to address the country’s endemic gender-based human rights violations. Teale queries the real impact of prosecutions through the Special Court as well as the ability of the truth commission to promote gender justice in the long term.
The Views from the Field section is led by South African gender activist Sheila Meintjes who reflects on her own experiences as part of civil society during the South African TRC process. She details a series of consultations between women’s organisations and the TRC Commissioners which set out to highlight the gendered nature of truth and the need to use a gender lens in all stages of the Commission’s process. Despite these interventions, the TRC’s limited interpretation and understanding of gender meant it failed to adopt gender as a tool to identify how women and men experienced apartheid differently.
Anu Pillay, former advisor to the Liberian TRC in 2009, argues that despite a broad commitment to address gender by Liberia’s recent truth commission, commissioners did little to reach beyond a women and children’s affairs’ portfolio and failed to recognise gender equality as its overarching goal. She expresses concern that gender was interpreted to mean work with women or for women and that this meant the Commission focused primarily on women as victims, particularly of sexual violence. While it was critical that the Commission recognised the violence against women in the 14-year conflict, she argues that neglecting gender as an analytical tool meant the Commission has left much of Liberia’s gendered history hidden.
Mary Ndlovu, from Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a grassroots women’s organisation which received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award from United State’s President Barack Obama in November 2009, provides insight into some of the transitional justice concerns currently being discussed in Zimbabwe. She notes the need for accountability in the country and argues that there are calls for the truth about the country’s past as well as for punishment of the perpetrators of massive human rights violations. She questions whether Zimbabwe would have evolved differently if some form of transitional justice had been adopted at independence and argues that the next transition must be accompanied by some form of gender justice.
In the final article, Harriet Nabukeera-Musoke from the Ugandan women’s non-governmental organisation Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE), details the mobilisation of women in Uganda during the 2006 peace process. She observes the absence of women during the negotiations despite the endemic rate of gender-based human rights violations committed during the 18-year old rebellion by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the north of Uganda. Nabukeera-Musoke documents how women groups and activists joined forces to create the Uganda Women’s Coalition for Peace (UWCP) to ensure that women’s needs were articulated at the negotiation table. Critical to this mobilisation was their need to voice their priorities for the transitional justice initiatives being outlined during the peace process.
Read individually, each of the articles in this special edition provides a snapshot of the challenges practitioners have faced when trying to infuse gender concerns in recent transitional justice processes. When read together, these articles highlight how activism by African civil society organisations has advanced gender justice, but also how those devising future transitional justice processes need to listen to civil society in order to promote a more inclusive approach to addressing human rights violations. What is apparent is that African gender activists need to be given more opportunities to both detail their experiences and outline their concerns regarding transitional justice if we are going to genuinely advance gender justice on the continent.