ArticlesVolume 15, Number 3 (2006)

Political Violence and Gender During Times of Transition


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.’ 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).