Where are the Unmarried Women? The Impact of Truth Commissions on Post-Conflict Gender Relations



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A recent trend in the field of transitional justice has been the inclusion of a gendered perspective to ensure that women’s experiences during war are addressed effectively. For truth commissions in particular, this has meant implementing various gender-sensitive protocols such as women- only hearings for victims to testify about experiences of sexual violence, as well as chapters in final reports dedicated to the experiences of women during conflict. The Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is considered to be a successful example of how to address the needs and experiences of women. Yet despite a number of comprehensive recommendations and extensive research into the pre-existing social inequalities that contributed to the wartime experiences of Sierra Leonean women, progress towards gender equality since the commission has been slow. My research explores how the almost singular portrayal of Sierra Leonean women as passive victims of sexual violence has reproduced previous notions of gender roles, and in turn hindered progress. By tracing legal trends and narratives of womanhood in popular Sierra Leonean culture, I assess the impact that the TRC has had on the lives of women, and identify missed opportunities. I draw larger connections through an analysis of five other truth commissions from around the world: Liberia, Ghana, Peru, East Timor, and Guatemala. I argue that in order for truth commissions to have a lasting impact on women’s lives post-conflict, their reports must include more diverse narratives of women’s experiences of war—narratives that go beyond a singular portrayal of women as victims of sexual violence. This thesis contributes to the existing literature on transitional justice by demonstrating the damaging impact of these essentialized narratives.



Transitional Justice, Truth Commissions, Gender, Post-Conflict Studies, Sierra Leone, Comparative Politics