ICTJ’s gender justice program seeks to promote truth, justice and accountability for gender-based human rights violations committed in the context of large-scale or systematic abuse.
Gender-based violence is often a common element of conflict and authoritarian regimes. In these contexts, impunity for violations against women is pervasive. At the same time, women are often absent or underrepresented in efforts to address such abuse.
Despite increased international attention to the gender dimensions of conflict, gender justice concerns have yet to be integrated in many transitional justice initiatives. Recent examples of truth commission mandates, judicial opinions, and reparations programs have shown little regard for the distinct and complex nature of gender-based violations.
Recent developments in international law on gender-based violations and resolutions (such as UN Security Council Resolution 1325, 1820, 1888 on women, peace and security) have strengthened the international community’s commitment to combating these crimes. However, despite these advances, there has been limited success in prosecuting crimes of gender violence at the domestic or international level.
Transitional justice mechanisms offer a means to pursue gender justice by revealing gendered patterns of abuse, enhancing access to justice, and building momentum for reform.
Transitional justice mechanisms can assist gender activists to challenge structural causes of gender inequality, by publicly acknowledging the factors that made such abuse possible. Recommendations made by truth commissions and reparations initiatives can challenge discriminatory practices that contribute to women’s vulnerability during repression and conflict.
Transitional justice mechanisms also offer women opportunities to participate in and influence peace-building processes. This can be achieved by ensuring participation of women’s rights groups and victims in shaping and monitoring transitional justice processes.
ICTJ’s goal is to ensure that victims of gender-based violations meaningfully engage in transitional justice measures and that these measures effectively address the causes and consequences of gendered experiences of human rights violations.
ICTJ’s main approach is to provide technical assistance in particular contexts, including by partnering with activists and officials alike to develop gender-sensitive policies and processes. This involves ensuring that the design of transitional justice measures is influenced by the needs and priorities of all victims and that women are adequately represented throughout transitional justice institutions and state bodies, including in leadership.
Although participation is critical, it is not sufficient on its own. ICTJ also works to ensure that transitional justice policies and measures promote meaningful justice for sexual-and gender-based violations, address the gendered implications of human rights violations more broadly, and proactively create safe and accessible spaces for the most vulnerable and marginalized groups of victims.
In addition to context-specific assistance, ICTJ also provides new insights into how transitional justice can address the gender dynamics of violence more generally, and contribute to global policy debates on the issue. Through groundbreaking research on topics that have often received scanty prior attention, like the impact of enforced disappearance on women or sexual violence against men and boys, ICTJ seeks to push boundaries and ensure that existing norms and best practices appropriately match the day-to-day realities of victims.
“I've learned that reparations is key in the recovery of the victims of traumatic experiences, and that there are so many women who have suffered sexual violence. I am not alone, and we need to build our efforts together.” – Woman victim at consultation workshop on reparations in Kenya
ICTJ works with local partners to include women’s voices in every aspect of transitional justice. Together, we seek to ensure that women and other victims targeted for their gender or sexual identity have the skills and knowledge they need to meaningfully participate in transitional justice initiatives. We do so through technical support to local activists, civil society, state bodies and international agencies.
“The advantage of transitional justice is that in cases like Circular 108, we don't have the evidence to pursue ordinary justice, we don’t have witnesses. Transitional justice has different mechanisms. I kept encouraging different women to file, because when you have similar testimonies from different people in the same period, they support each other. It tells you that violations were systemic.” – Tunisian woman, member of the Transitional Justice is also for Women Network
Recognizing that women and women’s groups from outside Tunis were being left out of discussions, ICTJ facilitated the creation of a network of women victims’ groups called the “Transitional Justice is also for Women Network.” The network has played a central role in increasing collaboration among women’s groups, enabling them to more effectively contribute to the design and implementation of transitional justice processes. Some successes include:
Increasing the submission of victim statements by women to the TDC. At the start of the statement-taking process, women victims represented only 5% of submissions. In response to this low number, ICTJ worked with the network to host a series of workshops to build the capacity of women victims to submit statements. By the end, the percentage of statements submitted by women increased nearly fivefold, to 23%.
Submitting a collective file to the TDC on how “Circular 108” violated economic and social rights. This Circular effectively prohibited veiled women from accessing employment, education, and other important opportunities. ICTJ and the Network worked together to facilitate this submission, which makes explicit links between the Circular and the violation of women’s social and economic rights.
Côte d’Ivoire: After former president Laurent Gbagbo lost re-election in 2010, the incoming government established a number of mechanisms to address the gross human rights violations that had occurred during the violent elections. ICTJ engaged women victims from the most marginalized areas in a series of consultations, and then facilitated their direct engagement with CONARIV, the government agency tasked with managing the victims’ reparations process. As a result, women were more empowered to contribute to transitional justice discussions with other victims and activists. They also successfully demanded equal participation in a high-level conference where they presented their proposals to CONARIV and were closely involved in a new informal platform of victims’ groups that facilitates dialogue with CONARIV.
Colombia: ICTJ’s joint report with Colombian organization Casa de la Mujer, We Want to be Heard, examined obstacles that prevented women’s participation in mechanisms designed to address the country’s armed conflict. It found, among other things, that women victims faced heightened barriers to participating in public discussions about transitional justice measures. The report recommended that the Colombian Unit for Attention and Comprehensive Reparations to Victims hold specific trainings with women victims prior to the talks known as the “participatory roundtable discussions” to build their capacity and increase their confidence to represent their reparative justice needs. This recommendation was later carried out, at ICTJ’s urging.
“Without the voice of women, the truth is not complete.” - Women from ASMUM association in Putumayo, Colombia, during a street performance
Liberia: ICTJ helped the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established to investigate gross human rights violations that occurred between 1979 and 2003 to draft its gender policy by providing technical assistance based on comparative expertise and best practice.
Solomon Islands: Because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission largely ignored violations committed against women during the 1999 to 2004 conflict, ICTJ worked with women’s groups to document violations that had been committed and publish them in a report, which was then submitted to the commission.
Indonesia: ICTJ worked with Komnas Perempuan, or the National Women’s Human Rights Commission, to document violations committed against women during widespread human rights violations that had occurred in 1965 and 1966. This was the first attempt to gather women’s testimonies and make associated findings about the violations. The resulting report, which was presented to the government, chronicled these violations in a systematic way and provided recommendations on reparations, state responsibility, and other issues.
Since its inception, ICTJ has been at the forefront of developing technical guidance on how transitional justice processes and mechanisms can appropriately address gender, starting with the first-ever operational handbook on the issue: Truth Commissions and Gender: Principles, Policies and Procedures.
• ICTJ has led global efforts to increase the understanding of the differing ways women and men are impacted by human rights violations, including producing in-depth research on gender and reparations, displacement, and the impact of enforced disappearances on women, as they relate to transitional justice processes.
ICTJ undertook a multi-year project to analyze the gendered impacts of enforced disappearance on women victims. Three published reports assessed the long-term consequences on women in Nepal, Lebanon, and globally. Our research provided important insights into ongoing victimization as a result of increased poverty, family conflict, and psychological trauma, and gave recommendations for how transitional justice can better support these victims.
“Today was a therapeutic day because I had an opportunity to help myself. I know rape is not something that is very easy to talk about, so I found this a safe space to talk about my experiences. Actually, I loved it. I appreciated that today was specifically for the victims and I really felt that someone is concerned.” – Kenyan woman during a reparations consultation in Kenya
“The solution for reparation should be sought inclusively. We cannot do this without victim participation, that is why the participative method used by ICTJ is ideal.” - Kaudjhis Offoumou Françoise, Commissioner, CONARIV in Cote d’Ivoire