Tag Archives violence

How do grassroots networks in Kenya tackle violence against children?

How do grassroots networks in Kenya tackle violence against children?

In the absence of state infrastructure, grassroots networks play a crucial role in addressing the prevalence of violence against children in Kenya. How do these networks work and how can ...

COVID-19 | There’s no stopping feminist struggles in Latin America during the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 | There’s no stopping feminist struggles in Latin America during the COVID-19 pandemic

As the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign draws to a close today, Agustina Solera and Brenda Rodríguez Cortés reflect on the challenges women in Latin America have ...

Moving beyond women as victims in post-conflict peacebuilding efforts in Liberia by Christo Gorpudolo

Liberia, a war-torn country for much of the 1990s, initiated several post-conflict peacebuilding programmes with the hope of building sustainable peace. But a study of the Palava Hut Program as a transitional justice mechanism showed that such efforts can be thwarted by the reduction of women to victims of war. The opportunity to rebuild gender relations damaged during wars can be missed in the process. Besides rethinking the link between women and victimhood, women’s inclusion in peacebuilding programmes based on lived experiences can help to equalize men and women in the peacebuilding process, argues Christo Gorpudolo.

Gender is one of the most damaged relationships during war. War and masculinity re-establishes gender hierarchies, and even after the end of wars such oppressive gender relationships persist. Several post-conflict peacebuilding efforts have been initiated in Liberia following two civil wars that occurred between 1989 and 2003. Most notable amongst these peacebuilding efforts have been the development of document called ‘A Strategic Roadmap for National Healing, Peacebuilding and Reconciliation and the National Palava Hut Program. These efforts are major achievements that have set the pace for peacebuilding in the country. Yet, as important as these peacebuilding efforts seem, how gender is viewed and incorporated within the country’s transitional peacebuilding programmes remains problematic for efforts to build sustainable peace.

Solhjell and Sayndee (2016) assert that Liberia has dominate-subservient gender power relations, which limits the participation of the female gender in public discourses and also affects their bodily integrity by limiting their movement from one social class to the other, especially in public decision-making processes (Solhjell and Sayndee 2016: 12). These general societal perspectives and/or biases of gender roles in Liberia have been key sources for policies informing the transitional justice process.

Gender can be viewed as a social institution that establishes patterns of expectations for individuals, orders the social processes of everyday life, and is built into the major social organizations of society such as the economy, ideology, the family and politics. It is an entity in and of itself (Lorber 1996). In the case of Liberia’s peacebuilding efforts, gender is constructed mostly in terms of women’s numerical inclusion in post-conflict peacebuilding activities. This is based on the generally accepted notion that women form a large portion of those victimized in the civil wars. Therefore, policy makers assume that they should be integrated into the Palava Hut talks numerically to share their stories of survival and receive apologies for the crimes committed against them. Although this assertion could be true, viewing women’s participation based on the lens of victimhood also poses a danger.

As part of my Master’s research at the ISS, in 2019 I conducted a case study of Liberia’s National Palava Hut Program as a transitional justice mechanism. Using Scriven’s argumentation analysis, I  examined national policies that included the Palava Hut Program documents, related program evaluations and implementation reports, and the Strategic Roadmap for National Healing, Peacebuilding and Reconciliation. I specifically looked at issues of gender, including women’s representation in such policies. I found that victims in the studied documents generally referred to women and children. Based on this perception of women and children as victims, the documents advised that women should form part of the Palava Hut Talks to protect their rights that had been violated during the civil war and to address the ‘dishonour’ brought against them by the civil wars.

As important as those statements might sound, this fails to recognize the key role women played in ending direct violence in Liberia. Thus, women should be incorporated into the Palava Hut Program as significant stakeholders in Liberia’s peacebuilding process, not as victims. Viewing women as victims and men as perpetrators within the peacebuilding process can prevent the full realization of sustainable peace through peacebuilding efforts and hinders the possibility for the transitional era to be used as an opportunity to redefine existing gender relations. According to scholars like Catherine O’Rourke (2013), the extreme social disruption caused by political violence that a transitional justice era seeks to address can within the transitional era allow for some loosening of gender norms and create space for women to take up atypical gender roles. This can help reshape gender relations.

A way of approaching peacebuilding in Liberia in order to achieve a gender-just peacebuilding process would be to incorporate both men and women in the peacebuilding process based on their lived experiences—as equals and not necessarily according to a victim-perpetrator dichotomy. Considering lived experiences may help shift the focus of the Palava Hut Program past victims and perpetrators, thereby creating a deeper understanding of the conflict. This would also provide an opportunity to change gender-damaged relationships that persist in post-conflict societies, particularly Liberia.

Lorber, J. (1996) ‘Beyond the Binaries: Depolarizing the Categories of Sex, Sexuality, and Gender’, Socological Inquiry 66(2): 143-160.
O’Rourke, C. (2013) Gender Politics in Transitional Justice. Routledge.
Solhjell, R. and T.D. Sayndee (2016) ‘Gender-Based Violence and Access to Justice: Grand Bassa County, Liberia’


About the authors:

Christo Z. Gorpudolo is a graduate of Development Studies, Social Justice Perspectives (SJP) from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS).


Image Credit: ©Pray the Devil Back to Hell on Wikimedia Commons

Complexity of Micro-level Violent Conflict:  An ‘Urban Bias’ lenses of a Native Researcher? by Delphin Ntanyoma

Complexity of Micro-level Violent Conflict: An ‘Urban Bias’ lenses of a Native Researcher? by Delphin Ntanyoma

Micro-level violent conflict is complex, and the triggers of violence are unpredictable. Building on long-seated unresolved grievances coupled with the presence of foreign armed groups in Eastern Congo, the South-Kivu ...

Women’s Month 2019 | Sex selection: an ordinary or violent act? by Christo Gorpudolo

Women’s Month 2019 | Sex selection: an ordinary or violent act? by Christo Gorpudolo

According to the United Nations Population Fund, there is a variation in the ratio of male to female birth—since the 1990s, 25% more male births than female have been recorded ...

Enacting transitional justice in Colombia and South Africa by Fabio Andres Diaz Pabon

Debates on the provision of justice in countries transitioning from armed violence to peace often fail to reflect on how the objective of justice must be linked with its practice. A recently published volume explores this through reflecting on the challenges facing the implementation of the transitional justice framework established in the recently signed peace agreements in Colombia.

Considering the practice of development and justice is as important as reflecting on what development is and what its relation is to justice. However, when we write about justice and development, we often assert what should be done, leaving aside questions on how to do it. This is commonly the case with initiatives related to the implementation of peace agreements, and in particular transitional justice frameworks. Justice and development are intertwined concepts, as discussed by Sen and De Greiff.

“Transitional justice” initiatives form a central part of the transition processes designed to move countries away from war and violence (recall that around 60% of armed conflicts relapse in under five years following a peace agreement). However, debates remain regarding what kind of justice should be sought through these processes: restorative (a system of justice that aims to heal and restore social relations within communities) or retributive (a system of justice based on the punishment of offenders), and whether local or national justice initiatives work better. Initiatives for justice and transitional justice face the challenge of bringing about development in different contexts and of integrating different, even competing, stories. This must be achieved in the face of the risk of overgeneralisation regarding what works and what does not work.

The truth is that we still lack an understanding of what really works in bringing about justice; we have opinions and beliefs on what form of justice is better, but no assessment of this has been done on a long-term basis across territories in transitional contexts—at most we have evidence specific to particular contexts in bounded time frames. However justice and development are endeavours that extend over long time periods. In addition, we must recognise that the study and practice of transitional justice is a fairly recent field; the evidence on what works or does not work is not as clear as we would like.

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission—all talk and no action?

The South African case, and especially its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, lauded in the 1990s and early 2000s as a mechanism of transition able to bring justice to victims of atrocities and human rights abuses and to advance reconciliation, is illuminating. The case clearly illustrates the interlinkages between justice and development: marginalised black South Africans were promised empowerment, emancipation and development as an outcome of the transition away from the Apartheid regime, and this was understood as necessary to reconcile the country. However, over time the “ideal” nature of the South African Transitional Justice framework has been critiqued, and gaps in the implementation of the promises of the transition embraced by South Africa have emerged, raising questions regarding failures to realise the vision of justice the country pursued.

From this, it is clear that it is not only important to reflect on what justice is and how it is envisioned, but also on how visions of justice should be implemented. An ideal framework for justice that cannot be materialised is a mirage that erodes the legitimacy of institutions and may create or exacerbate grievances that fuel further conflicts and affect the legitimacy of the state. South Africa did not only face challenges in arriving at its vision of justice; it faced challenges in translating this particular view of justice into practice.

Colombia’s transition: facing similar problems

The transitional justice framework and the promise of justice espoused in general the peace agreements between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP illustrates the complexities of and contestations involved in determining a shared vision of justice, as well as the critical importance of the need to reflect on the challenges of how to affect this justice. Peace agreements are mere pieces of paper—they need to be enacted and realised in order to for countries to achieve peace.

Practitioners, bureaucrats and academics wanting to understand and effectively respond to the implementation challenges of development and justice work must engage the link between theory and practice and focus explicitly on practice. In the case the transitional justice components of the peace agreements in Colombia, this requires consideration of multiple elements. Academics and practitioners in Colombia and elsewhere in the global South have attempted such an exercise over the last two years—captured in the recent publication “Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in Colombia– Transitioning from Violence.

The volume considers how the context of Colombia conditions the possibility of the justice agreements being implemented and the practical implications and requirements of the concepts of justice mobilised in the agreements. The text engages with the challenges ahead for the implementation of the transitional justice agreements, particularly in relation to rural reform, reincorporation and reconciliation, historical memory and symbolic reparation, as well as feminist and intergenerational approaches to justice and reconciliation. The volume also brings together lessons applicable to Colombia from other countries’ experiences with transitional justice—notably from South Africa, Sri Lanka, Peru and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This kind of analysis will always face the constant tension between theory—the legislative frameworks guaranteeing human rights—and practice—the realisation of these ideas—in complex settings in which generalisations are difficult, evidence is limited, and information is limited. This is the challenging space in which Transitional Justice frameworks will succeed or fail in bringing about development in Colombia, South Africa, and elsewhere.

Picture credit: Camilo Rueda López

UntitledAbout the author: 

Fabio Andres Diaz Pabon is a Colombian political scientist. He is a research associate at the Department of Political and International Studies at Rhodes University in South Africa and a researcher at the ISS. Fabio works at the intersection between theory and practice, and his research interests are related to state strength, civil war, conflict and protests in the midst of globalisation.

Women’s Week | Challenging humanitarianism beyond gender as women and women as victims by Dorothea Hilhorst, Holly Porter and Rachel Gordon

Women’s Week | Challenging humanitarianism beyond gender as women and women as victims by Dorothea Hilhorst, Holly Porter and Rachel Gordon

Problematic assumptions related to women's position and role in humanitarian crises are unpacked in a special issue of the journal Disasters on gender, sexuality and violence. The main lesson drawn ...