The Shifting Signifier of 'Community' in Transitional Justice: A Feminist Analysis

24 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2009 Last revised: 31 Mar 2009

See all articles by Catherine O'Rourke

Catherine O'Rourke

Ulster University - Transitional Justice Institute

Date Written: Fall 2008


The article engages with the emerging trend towards bottom-up, or community-based, approaches to transitional justice. Increasingly salient challenges to transitional justice posit state-based mechanisms as legalistic, externally-imposed, and overly-focused on the reestablishment of state institutions to the neglect of tangible processes of grassroots transition from violence. This article contends, however, that advocacy for bottom-up transitional justice has proceeded to date with little sustained consideration of the gender implications of further privileging community in transitional societies. The article draws on the Northern Irish experience to explore the exclusionary gendered dynamics of efforts to operate transitional justice within the community-setting in that jurisdiction. Further, the article locates the neglect of gender analysis in community-based transitional justice within a larger gendered shortcoming of policy and scholarship in the field: the narrow understandings of both violence and harm that structure transitional justice. The article argues that feminist engagement with transitional justice might usefully draw on feminist political science analysis of transition, with its focus on the impact of transition on women as stakeholders in transitional societies, in order to broaden the scope and impact of feminist interventions into transitional justice. Feminist analysis of transitional justice would therefore consider the extent to which these mechanisms facilitate open and inclusive contestation around the types of harm and violence to be ended by transition, creating space for dissenting voices and otherwise marginalized actors. The article concludes by signaling the prospective benefits of a feminist focus on transitional justice mechanisms as sites of contestation, exclusion, and, potentially, political participation.

Keywords: ommunity, gender, transitional justice, violence against women, political participation

Suggested Citation

O'Rourke, Catherine, The Shifting Signifier of 'Community' in Transitional Justice: A Feminist Analysis (Fall 2008). Wisconsin Women's Law Journal, Vol. 23, No. 2, 2008; Transitional Justice Institute Research Paper No. 09-03. Available at SSRN:

Catherine O'Rourke (Contact Author)

Ulster University - Transitional Justice Institute ( email )

Shore Road
Newtownabbey, County Antrim BT37 OQB
Northern Ireland

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