Dealing with the Past in a Post-Conflict Society: Does the Participation of Women Matter? Insights from Northern Ireland

35 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2013

See all articles by Catherine O'Rourke

Catherine O'Rourke

Ulster University - Transitional Justice Institute

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 3, 2013


This article is concerned with the participation of women in dealing with the past, both as a priority for women’s movements, and as a practical matter for transitional justice processes. The article aims both to describe and critique a particular set of texts-primarily the 2009 Report of the Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland, but also the documentary interventions made by local women’s organizations into that Report-as well as to open up critical space for similar projects in other areas. Fundamentally, the article asks: does the participation of women matter in dealing with the past? The first part of the article offers a context for why women’s participation has emerged so centrally to both women’s movement demands in transitional justice and in policy responses in the area. The article synthesizes the key theoretical claims made in favor of women’s increased participation in politics, namely the justice claim, the different agenda claim, the politics of care claim, and the “larger dream” claim. The article extends these claims by analogy to claims for women’s participation in official processes to deal with the past. The second and third parts of the article outline the context of official efforts in Northern Ireland to deal with the past, focusing in particular on women’s movement interventions into dealing with the past, and the prominence of claims for women’s participation therein. The article describes the very limited traction these claims have achieved within official efforts to deal with the past. The article contends that demands for women’s participation in dealing with the past–rather than being grounded in equality claims about the justice requirements of women’s equal participation–are predominantly linked to consequentialist claims about the difference that women’s participation will make in dealing with the past. Further, it is argued that the conflation of participation as a question of process (that women should as a matter of justice be involved in related decision-making) with participation as a guarantee of substance (that women’s participation will lead to a certain set of pre-determined outcomes) is both problematic in theory and unhelpful in terms of feminist politics. The conclusion proposes a novel third-way that acknowledges a tentative, though dynamic and evolving, relationship between women’s participation as process and substantive outcomes in dealing with the past, while continuing to ground calls for women’s participation within justice claims.

Keywords: Dealing with the past, post-conflict, Transitional Justice

Suggested Citation

O'Rourke, Catherine, Dealing with the Past in a Post-Conflict Society: Does the Participation of Women Matter? Insights from Northern Ireland (December 3, 2013). William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, Vol. 19, Transitional Justice Institute Research Paper No. 13-04, 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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