Maternal Loss in Situations of Conflict: A Case Study

56 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2022 Last revised: 14 Dec 2022

See all articles by Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

University of Minnesota Law School; The Queens University of Belfast

Amanda McAlister

Queens University Belfast

Date Written: November 15, 2022


This paper addresses maternal harm through multiple prisms theoretical, empirical and doctrinal with a focus on loss in situations of conflict. The research in part draws on an empirical study carried out on conflict-affected mothers in Northern Ireland that lost a child during the conflict in violent circumstances, as well as a parallel archival study of women’s representation during the conflict in Northern Ireland as represented in the mainstream media from 1969-1998. We use the insights of the empirical and archival data to develop the theoretical and doctrinal analysis. This analysis seeks to close a conceptual and empirical gap moving beyond the notion that direct and physical acts of violence alone constitute a harm. The work will develop an independent concept of maternal harm and trace its absence and the significance of this gap in legal literatures in general and law and conflict literature in particular. The paper addresses the discourses of victimhood that usually pervade the representation of mothers and motherhood in areas of conflict. It remains important to surface how women as mothers display agency to challenge and negotiate the circumstances of oppression they find themselves in including vulnerability, discrimination, and exclusion. Victimization is often intertwined with aspects of individual and collective agency, resourcefulness, and remarkable adaptability in the face of tragedy and disaster. Drawing on the work of Takseva and Sgoutas the paper frames how, 'the dialectic of maternal identities [is] often actively negotiated between the poles of victimhood and agency'. Building on earlier conceptual work by Ní Aoláin, this work seeks to close that gap on a legal framing of maternal harms, paying particular attention to harms in situations of extremity, specifically conflict and post-conflict settings.

Keywords: gender, maternity, harm, feminist, violence, loss, human rights

JEL Classification: K30, K33

Suggested Citation

Ni Aolain, Fionnuala D. and McAlister, Amanda, Maternal Loss in Situations of Conflict: A Case Study (November 15, 2022). Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17, 2022, Available at SSRN: or

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

229 19th Ave. So.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-624-2318 (Phone)
612-625-2011 (Fax)

The Queens University of Belfast ( email )

University Square
Belfast, County Down
Northern Ireland

Amanda McAlister

Queens University Belfast

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