How do transitional justice mechanisms perceive the role of women and men in conflict and post-conflict situations? How might a gendered approach to transitional justice apply to the situation of female combatants in Colombia? Transitional justice mechanisms fail to be gender inclusive when they neglect the multiple gendered roles that men and women play in conflict and post-conflict situations. Examining transitional justice from a gendered lens reveals crucial detail about the situation of women in conflict and provides opportunities to transform the gendered origins of conflict.
Women in Colombia, where up to 50 per cent of guerrilla combatants are female, often view becoming a combatant as the best of a dismal array of options. This intersection of identities, of an individual as a women and a soldier, provides fertile ground for understanding conflict. Therefore, for transitional justice mechanisms to address the needs of female combatants they must interrogate what it means to be both a women and a soldier.
In Colombia, transitional justice programmes have fallen short for female combatants because of a failure to take a sufficiently gender-orientated approach. Problems stem from the perpetuation of false dichotomies between conflict and post-conflict, the public and private realms, and between victims and perpetrators. This results in:
- An assumption that a transition to a post-conflict phase will bring about an improvement in the lives those affected by conflict. For many women, the period after violence presents new challenges and any structural violence that existed prior to or during conflict may continue.
- A focus on how rights have been abused publicly rather than privately, which undermines the potential to dismantle pre-existing gender-norms.
- A near singular focus on sexual violence as the sole form of suffering for women during conflict. This has the effect of ignoring non-conflict related or private sexual violence.
- Women are often assumed to be victims and men the perpetrators of violent conflict. This denies the more nuanced role that women play in society, for example, as female combatants.
Transitional justice must resist reinforcing societal relationships that contributed to conflict in the first place. If gender norms and hierarchies are part of what leads to conflict, it is crucial that transitional justice mechanisms challenge them. Furthermore:
- It is essential that transitional justice mechanisms encompass the diversity of women’s experiences during and after conflict.
- Violence within societies exists on a continuum, either increasing or decreasing during conflict. Therefore, both private and public sexual violence, as well as the links between them, must be addressed.
- Transitional justice must address the dynamic of women as combatants. Women may have sought to break down gender roles by becoming fighters, but they may no longer be perceived as women when they no longer occupy the role of fighter.
- Transitional justice mechanisms should be community based, promote awareness of issues that face former combatants, and initiate public examination of male and female gender roles.
- Approaches need to be more holistic and capable of recognising the experiences of men and women before, during and after conflict.
- Modifications need to be made to disarmament, demobilisation and reconciliation processes to accommodate female combatants’ specific needs.