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  • The Inner and Outer Limits of Gendered Transitional Justice*
  • Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (bio)

There is a door that you have closed for goodA mirror that waits in vain to hold your face;A four-faced Janus guards your next crossroad,Though it seems you might go any of its ways.1

For decades gender-justice advocates have placed much hope in transitional justice as a vehicle to address the sustained, systematic, and deeply wounding human-rights and humanitarian-law violations experienced by women. Transitional justice itself is a vehicle of new aspirations and bespoke mechanisms that holds significant promise to close impunity gaps, focuses on the needs and demands of victim-survivors, and offers the hope of accountability, reparations, and guarantees of nonrepetition.2 Since transitional justice has consolidated as a field, outgrowing its early beginnings as a tool primarily for use in postauthoritarian and postconflict societies, its pull toward other sites of grievance and need has gathered pace.3 Despite marked success—for example, in producing a vocabulary to name certain harms, new institutions such as truth commissions that have demonstrated the specificity of harms in particular sites, institutional reforms that can be measured by lustration accomplishments, and a global institution of international criminal justice created by treaty— [End Page 279] the field and practice of transitional justice continue to experience challenges. These include the tensions of rapid growth in application to new arenas balanced against the need to consolidate success in core areas, the highly sophisticated resistance strategies that have emerged to confront institutional gains, the rewriting of histories of harm by populist and nationalist successor regimes, and most of all, the lack of specific remedies and reparations to individuals despite the lofty articulations of transitional justice at a metapolitical level.

This article addresses the contemporary boundaries of the transitional-justice field with a particular focus on the limits of gender justice. These limits are important to confront squarely as Ireland considers the adoption of transitional-justice mechanisms to face its painful past of systematic institutional abuse. I address the issues in transitional justice outlined above as they impinge on the experiences of gender harm.4 The starting premise offered below holds that despite scholarly, policy, and political attention, gender justice has been given only limited attention in what might be regarded as traditional transitional-justice contexts, with little consistency in application or outcomes. This makes the extended application of transitional-justice theory and practice beyond its core domain a haphazard enterprise—one that lacks solid and sustained jurisprudence, normative content, and precedent to guide it. In this context, advocating for a transitional-justice mechanism to address historic institutional abuse in Ireland demands attention to the foundations and scaffolding of transitional justice, and wariness of overconfidence regarding what justice can actually be achieved in practice.

The article is structured in three parts. First, I offer a short institutional history of transitional justice. I pay attention to the ways in which gender justice has been subverted in institutional contexts with a highly selective approach to what gender justice means in implementation. I illustrate how the field of transitional justice continues to [End Page 280] exclude gender justice and the challenges faced in the meaningful integration of gendered concerns in practice. Part two examines the external challenges to transitional justice and how they affect the goal of gender-transformative justice. I concentrate on the amplified focus on sexual violence in national and global debates that has failed to bring with it sufficient attention to the socioeconomic and cultural conditions that produce violence and inequality in the first place.5 I examine how global revisionism of the experience and scope of historical harms has placed significant strains on maintaining narrative truths and sought to undo parallel accountability work arduously carried out over decades.6 In these contexts, gender ideologies have been deeply interwoven into national revisionism as the ideology of the patriarchal, heterosexual family based in marriage triumphs. The denial of the word "gender" itself manifests in national and international law, and restrictions on reproductive rights (one of the few remedies available to women in conflict and postauthoritarian regimes) reemerge and consolidate.7These narrative strains have national...


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pp. 279-298
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