False Dichotomies of Transitional Justice: Gender, Conflict and Combatants in Colombia
In Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict, between one-fourth to one-third of combatants are women. This paper addresses the problem of reintegrating female combatants in Colombia’s violent conflict into civil society after they have left armed groups. It argues that many transitional justice mechanisms rely on the notion that certain dichotomies exist between an era of conflict and a post-conflict era. Reflecting on the experiences of female combatants, this paper exposes those dichotomies as inaccurate reflections of the realities of many individuals affected by conflict. In doing so, it aims to synthesize contemporary feminist scholarly work on transitional justice with detailed research on gender in Colombia. This paper traces the evolution of feminist thinking on transitional justice mechanisms: a first generation focused on developing international criminal law to recognize the special character of sex crimes against women; a second generation was concerned that women in post-conflict societies may not consider that sexual violence is the most serious harm that they suffer, when compared to the murder of their children or the destruction of their communities; and finally, a third generation of scholars now caution that women during conflicts often, paradoxically, experience greater autonomy and less domestic violence than the post-conflict status quo. It then contributes to the existing feminist scholarship on transitional justice by examining the additional complication of women who may have suffered the horrors of conflict, but who have also been perpetrators of some of these horrors. Utilizing detailed research on the experiences of both Colombian women and men, it critiques transitional justice approaches from a gender-oriented perspective, and seeks to imagine what a gender-inclusive strategy might look like in Colombia.