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Engendering Transitional Justice: a Transformative Approach to Building Peace and Attaining Human Rights for Women


In this article, we examine the continuity of harms and traumas experienced by women before, during and after war and other mass violence. We focus on women because of the particular challenges they face in accessing justice due to patriarchal structures and ongoing discrimination in the political, economic and social, as well as legal spheres, and because of the gendered nature of the crimes and harms they experience. We use the four key pillars of transitional justice identified by the United Nations as a framework to analyse how these harms are addressed in the context of criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations and institutional reform. We conclude that a gender-transformative approach to transitional justice that focuses on transforming psychosocial, socioeconomic and political power relations in society is needed in order to attain human rights for women and build a sustainable peace.

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  1. The Rome Statute defines rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity as a crime against humanity. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 17 July 1998.

  2. Engendering transitional justice also requires attention to SGBV and other harms perpetrated against men, as discussed in other articles in this special journal issue.

  3. For example, in relation to Peru, see Rodriguez Carreon (2014), and Sierra Leone, see Stovel (2010).

  4. Data for this article has been drawn from field research conducted by the authors over the past 18 years in a number of countries including Rwanda, Timor Leste, Sierra Leone, Northern Uganda, Burundi and Peru.

  5. Note that the UN (2010) also identifies national consultations as a fifth key pillar of transitional justice which is not a mechanism as such, but rather a principle that applies to the design and implementation of the methods suggested by the other four pillars.

  6. The 1997 Joinet principles comprise the right to know, right to truth, right to reparation and guarantee of non-recurrence (swisspeace 2012).

  7. It should be noted that conditions and protection of witnesses at the ICTR, and especially concerns for women giving testimony, improved in subsequent years with the strengthening of the Victims and Witness Support Section and appointment of an Advisor on Gender Issues. The International Criminal Court subsequently incorporated many lessons learned from the ICTR in developing a gender-sensitive approach to investigations and prosecutions (Oosterveld 2005).

  8. Field research conducted by the author in Rwanda in 2005.

  9. Approximately 8000 cases of SGBV were tried through gacaca. Research about the experiences of women who testified at gacaca is being conducted by doctoral candidate, Judith Herrmann, at James Cook University, Queensland, Australia.

  10. Although if the husband was a Hutu, then the rape of his Tutsi wife could be prosecuted.

  11. Field research conducted by the author in Timor Leste in 2004.

  12. Field research conducted by the author in Timor Leste in 2004. Further research is needed to follow up the impact of giving public testimony on the woman in the documentary and others who also told their stories.

  13. Field research conducted by the author in Peru in 2011.

  14. ‘El poder en el mundo formal: Entre el voto y la cuota’.

  15. Understanding Amartya Sen’s concept of capabilities when people do what they value and have a reason to value with freedom, and agency means when they can be and do with freedom (Alkire and Deneulin 2009, p. 22; Rodriguez Carreon 2014, p. 45)

  16. Field research conducted by the author in Burundi in December 2014 and April 2015.

  17. Angelica Mendoza de Arcaza was the founder of the ANFASEP (National Association of Families of the Kidnapped, Arrested, and Disappeared in Peru).

  18. Field research conducted by the author in Peru in 2011.

  19. Field research conducted by the author in northern Uganda in 2010.

  20. Mani’s other two justice categories are legal justice and rectificatory justice, which together with distributive justice, comprise the holistic concept of reparative justice in Mani’s model.

  21. Field research conducted by the author in northern Uganda in 2010 and in Rwanda in 1998 and 2005.

  22. Kasiva Mulli, Gender, Peace-building and Transitional Justice workshop, Cape Town, September 2013.


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Correspondence to Wendy Lambourne.

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Lambourne, W., Rodriguez Carreon, V. Engendering Transitional Justice: a Transformative Approach to Building Peace and Attaining Human Rights for Women. Hum Rights Rev 17, 71–93 (2016).

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  • Gender
  • Women’s rights
  • Sexual violence
  • Transitional justice
  • Peace building
  • Transformative justice