The two main countries the project focuses on are Peru and South Africa, both emerging economies with persistent high levels of socio-economic and gendered inequality, high levels of violence against women, an unsatisfactory transitional justice process in terms of sexual and gender based violence, and active civil society engagement with memory, art, and gender. In addition, the Peruvian transitional justice process followed the lessons learned from the South African process; hence, this is also an attempt to compare and reflect on elements of gender and postconflict transitional justice processes more generally. The project involves representatives and scholars of other postconflict countries struggling with similar issues such as Kenya and Colombia.
The field of transitional justice is currently much debated for its focus on the past and present, and its lack of ambition towards social change, or transformation. A new focus on “transformative” justice, i.e., an emphasis on process and change, rather than outcome and repair, allows for a perspective and practice that explicitly aims for social change, not for the generation that suffered violence, but also, and especially, for the generations that come after. In the case of the gendered harms of conflict this is particularly salient; much of the violence women suffer in conflict precede conflict and persists afterwards. The postconflict moment could then be a moment in which gendered violence, injustice and inequality could be addressed, debated and unsettled, aiming for a more equal future through forms of transformative gender justice.
This is also the objective of “symbolic reparations”. Reparations for victims of conflict-related violence are now perceived as essential to providing victims with adequate recognition and redress as a form of justice. Reparations aim to repair past wrongs, as well as help build sustainable peace. According to the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparations for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law (OHCHR 2005), states and persons found liable of gross violations of human rights, have a legal obligation to provide reparations. Of its five identified forms of reparation, ‘satisfaction’ –or symbolic reparations- (acknowledgement of guilt, apology, burials, construction of memorials, etc.) is an essential part, and indeed, international rulings over cases of sexual violence have started to include ‘satisfaction’ as an obligation, especially in rulings of the Interamerican Court of Human Rights. In the case of gender-based violence, public recognition of suffering experienced is not only of importance to the victim-survivors of such violence and their next of kin, but it is equally essential to addressing such violence in peacetime.
Apart from the importance of public recognition and state-sponsored memorials recognising the role of women and the harms done to them as a way to break with a male-centred narrative of conflict and victory, we also believe in the importance of bottom-up cultural products more broadly such as literature, theatre, visual arts, or interventions in the public space. A feminist perspective upon post-conflict commemoration, top-down and bottom-up, official as well as counter-narratives, is urgently needed, as this field of memory and transitional justice is booming, both academically as well as in practice, but within this booming field, little attention is paid to how such symbolic reparations might help unsettle harmful gender norms, promote gender sensitive human rights, and contribute to transformative gender justice.
Hence, the project aims to explore what we know about gender and culture-based symbolic reparations and sow the seeds for a critical community of scholars, artists and curators across disciplinary and geographical boundaries that reflects on the gendered nature and affects of memory work in post-conflict societies and how such works may contribute to a new language and practice towards gendered social change, or transformative gender justice.