Seeking Gender Justice in Post-Conflict Transitions: Towards a Transformative Women's Human Right's Approach


Reilly, Niamh. 2007. "Seeking Gender Justice in Post-Conflict Transitions: Towards a Transformative Women's Human Right's Approach." International Journal of Law in Context 3 (2): 155-72.

Author: Niamh Reilly


This article critically examines the prospects for achieving a comprehensive vision of gender justice in post-conflict transitional contexts.  It is divided into three main sections. The first reviews the gendered limits of mainstream approaches to transitional justice and highlights gender biases in related dominant discourses, which shape how conflict, and transitions from conflict, are understood and enacted to the detriment of women.  The second focuses on the benefits and limitations of engendering wartime criminal justice with particular reference to the International Criminal Court.  The third considers the prospects for a more comprehensive approach to gender justice that shifts the emphasis from ‘women as victims’ of conflict to women as agents of transformation, through an examination of the significance of Security Council Resolution 1325.  Ultimately, the author argues that achieving gender justice in transitions is inextricably tied to wider bottom-up efforts by women’s movements to realize a comprehensive vision of women’s human rights within a framework of critically-interpreted, universal, indivisible human rights.

Keywords: post-conflict transition, transitional justice, gender biases


  • In her article, Reilly examines the extent to which feminists engage with international law in order to achieve their ends. She focuses on two instances of feminist engagement with international law in post-conflict situations; the first is the initiative to incorporate gender-sensitive provisions into the procedures of the International Criminal Court, and the second is the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325. She concludes that the incorporation of gender-based policies into post-conflict reconstruction is intrinsic to the successful realization of women’s rights worldwide.

  • As she assesses “the gendered limits of traditional approaches to transitional justice,” (7), Reilly explains that because of the changing nature of conflict (with more contemporary wars being internal and involving non-state actors than previously), gender has only recently come to the forefront of discussion surrounding conflict and reconstruction. She writes that political transitions provide unique potential for countries to incorporate gender into their legal and political systems, particularly through feminist engagement with international law.  In her sub-section “Contesting gender bias in dominant discourses,” Reilly writes that the innate gender inequalities in the public and private spheres are particularly apparent in times of transition. While women play critical roles in peace initiatives, they are oftentimes excluded from positions of political power thereafter.

  • The second section of Reilly’s paper focuses on violence against women in times of conflict and post-conflict. Crimes committed against women during wartime have only recently begun to receive international attention, as more women are routinely making efforts to mainstream gender into the ICC and dismantle entrenched gender biases. Sexual violence in wartime has largely been dismissed as an inevitable reality; however, women’s movements that emerged in the 1990s have mobilized around the issue and called attention to its importance. She highlights the need to “shift the focus from women as victims of war to women as agents of change in transitions” (23), using international law as a tool to facilitate this shift in roles.

  • In section three, entitled “Women’s participation and gender equality in transitions” (24), Reilly notes that transitions oftentimes open up a window of opportunity for improvements in gender justice. She writes that feminist peace-building entails efforts for gender equality in the domestic sphere, such as the treatment of economic inequalities, which disproportionately affect women. Reilly cites SCR 1325 as an example of the way in which international law can be used to aid women in their struggle for gender equality in times of post-conflict transition. Resolution 1325, which calls for “the increased representation of women at all decision-making levels” (28), marks an important step for the transnational women’s movement; however, its successful implementation remains minimal. Because women’s economic and social equally may be a necessary precursor to their equal political participation, the traditional culture of many states prevent the concrete realization of SCR 1325.

  • In her conclusion, Reilly recaps her assessment of feminist engagement with the ICC and the adoption of SCR 1325. She argues that the efforts to expose war crimes against women are part of a larger effort for gender equality on the global scale. The “gender biases”—a term that she uses to characterize the male-centric models of democracy that govern many states—prevent women from making their voices heard in the post-conflict reconstruction process. Moreover, these gender biases result in the disregard for social and economic inequalities, which disproportionately disadvantage women in conflict and post-conflict periods.

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, International Law, International Criminal Law, Justice, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Human Rights, Women's Rights, UN Security Council Resolutions on WPS, UNSCR 1325

Year: 2007

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