Feminism and the Kenyan TJRC (Part 2)

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Women singing at the launch of the TJRC public hearings in Garissa (April 2011)               (Kenyan TJRC)

Addressing the first feminist critique – the failure to address systemic and structural violence that tends to affect women disproportionately – was easier for us to address compared to other truth commissions given our broad mandate and, in particular, the requirement that we investigate violations of socioeconomic rights. To better analyze systemic and structural issues, including those related to socio-economic rights, we needed to address effectively the second critique – the failure to encourage active participation of women, a failure that had already been experienced by the Mutua Task Force.

 

In addition to dedicating specific parts of our statement-taking form to capturing the experience of women; training our statement takers on gender sensitivity, and ensuring a high percentage of female statement takers (43 percent), we also conducted thirty-nine of what we called women’s hearings in each of the places where we held public hearings. Our challenge was not just to encourage women to participate and speak to the Commission, but also to elicit testimony about violations and related issues experienced by them. The experience of previous truth commissions suggests that women who are willing to speak about past violations tend to speak as witnesses and observers concerning incidents that happened to others, usually the male members of their family. The characterization of such testimony as indirect is itself problematic, as it tends to de-emphasize the secondary effects of violations on family members and community members and more fundamentally emphasize the individualistic, rather than community-oriented, aspect of violations. While women may testify about what happened to others in their family or community because they are reluctant to testify about themselves, they may also focus on violations directly experienced by their family and community members because they see themselves as part of those larger social entities and, thus, are more likely than men to see such violations of “others” as affecting them, their families, and their communities directly. Nevertheless, we were concerned that some women might feel reluctant to share their own direct experiences of violations out of fear rather than because they adopted a more holistic approach to violations and their effects.

In addition to holding women’s hearings in each place where we held public hearings, we often had a prominent woman activist from each community testify about the experience of women generally in that community. We were able to do this in part because of the strong working relationship we had developed with Maendeleo ya Wanawake, the largest women’s membership organization in Kenya. We were thus able to explore at the local level some of the broader systemic, institutional, and cultural issues faced by women. To further broaden this analysis, we devoted one of our national thematic hearings to women. The purpose of the thematic hearing was to supplement the individual stories we had heard in the field – both from witnesses as well as local activists – with a more national and even international perspective on the broader systemic issues facing women in Kenya. Continue reading

Feminism and the Kenyan TJRC (Part 1)

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Commissioners Tecla Namachanja and Margaret Shava at the launch of public hearings in Garissa (April 2011)       (Kenyan TJRC)

In 2004 a task force chaired by Professor Makau Mutua travelled throughout Kenya to determine whether a truth commission should be established to address historical injustices.  In their report, the task force observed that while their provincial hearings were “on the whole” well attended, the number of women participating in the hearings was “low.” The experience of the Mutua task force mirrored that of truth commissions generally. Female participation in truth commission processes worldwide has been low, leading more recent truth commissions to create special units to encourage the participation of more women. Kimberly Theidon discusses attempts to incorporate a greater gender sensitivity to transitional justice processes, focusing in particular on Peru.

 

Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke pose three sets of questions as part of a feminist critique of transitional justice generally.  First, where are women (both representation and participation in transitional justice design and process)? Second, Where is gender (where are the voices and experiences of women with respect to conflict, human rights violations and justice)? Third, where is feminism (referring to the feminist critique of justice and its applicability to transitional justice)?

Feminist critiques of truth commissions tend to focus on two issues. First, truth commissions ignore or do not devote sufficient attention to systemic, structural, and institutional violence that tends to affect women disproportionately. Second, truth commissions are not designed to encourage the participation of women, and thus perpetuate the silencing of women in those societies.

The drafters of the Kenyan legislation establishing the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission were sensitive to these critiques, requiring that there be gender balance among the commissioners (we began with five male and four female commissioners); requiring that the chair and vice chair be of opposite gender; including sexual- and gender-based violence in the violations we were to investigate, and suggesting that we put into place special mechanisms and procedures to address the experiences of women. During most of our operational period, our CEO was a woman; and during the fourteen months when we conducted most of our external activities (statement taking, public hearings, investigations, and other outreach activities), our acting chair was a woman – in fact Tecla Namachanja Wanjala was the first woman to serve as the chair of a truth commission. Continue reading

A Posthuman Feminist Approach to Mars

Grand_star-forming_region_R136_in_NGC_2070_(captured_by_the_Hubble_Space_Telescope)

Captured the Hubble Space Telescope (NASA)

Feminists must found a constitution for Mars, notes Keina Yoshida in her fascinating recent post. If we leave Mars to the founding fathers it will become the domain of the super wealthy elite white men of techno-mediated capitalism––the Musks, the Zuckerbergs and the Trumps. Human space exploration will follow the same, masculine, humanist blueprint of domination on Earth and Mars will be exploited for its natural resources, just like Earth. Yoshida thus asks:

 

… what then would a founding feminist constitution look like? How would it guarantee foundation against what bell hooks has termed the ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’? Is it a democracy to come? Whose work should we draw upon to inform this constitution? … Who will protect their rights in Mars?

Yoshida answers her own question: “The feminists.”

Feminists are indeed ideally positioned to be able to tackle this issue. Environmental protection is core here but the problem does not lie with these founding fathers alone but with the entire foundations of dominant thought. Feminist gender theorists are central to challenging these dominant accounts of knowledge. Feminist posthumanism is one frame through which these challenges can be made.[1]

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Reflecting on the Australian Feminist Law Journal special issue, ‘Gender, War, and Technology: Peace and Armed Conflict in the Twenty-First Century’

The nexus between war and technology has developed alongside the rapid expansion of military might and spending, evident in recent decades. Militaries have advanced their weapon systems and in theory saved civilian and military lives in the process. Weapons are now more accurate, theoretically cause less destruction to surrounding infrastructure, and require less time to deploy. Drones, for instance, can target ‘hostiles’ from miles away allowing the operator to never physically come in contact with the violence of war. Specialty ‘armour’ can better protect soldiers and make their job more efficient, by providing weight distribution. Therefore, soldiers (both men and women) will likely become less exhausted from carrying out common tasks and would therefore be allegedly clearer of mind when making key decisions on the battlefield. But, are these all welcome achievements? And, are individuals to accept these achievements at face value?

Alongside the development of these military technologies there has been a push from scholars to recognise that technology, war, and law are not the only sites of intersection. Gender, as a starting point for scholarship on war and technology, and as a tool to investigate the ways in which technology is used, understood, and imagined within military and legal structures and in war, offers an analysis that questions the pre-existing biases in international law and in feminist spaces. Using gender as a method for examination as well as feminist legal scholarship, expands the way military technologies are understood as influencing human lives both on and off the battlefield. This type of analysis disrupts the use of gender to justify and make palatable new military technologies. The Australian Feminist Law Journal’s special issue entitled ‘Gender, War, and Technology: Peace and Armed Conflict in the Twenty-First Century’ (Volume 44, Issue 1, 2018) has tacked key issues and questions that emanate precisely from the link between the concepts of ‘gender, war, and technology’ which editors Jones, Kendall, and Otomo draw out through their own writing and various contributing author’s perspectives.

The following thoughts/questions, which developed while reading this issue, speak to the critiques waged within these articles, and from the developments this issue’s engagement with these topics have generated. As this contribution suggests, intersectional issues remain ever present within new technological advances, which begs the question who are the programmers? If the desire and use of technology to gain military advantage is coming from a place of primarily white, Western, heteronormative, masculine, and secure socio-economic status, then does the method of technological advancement and deployment become defined along similar identities? Does the use of such technology change command structures whereby the weapon becomes ‘in charge’? Continue reading

Write On! U.S. Feminist Judgments Project

backlit_keyboardThis installment of Write On!, our periodic compilation of calls for papers, includes a call to present within Feminist Judgements: Rewritten Family Law Opinions, as follows:

The U.S. Feminist Judgement Project, seeks contributions for rewritten judicial opinions and commentaries for an edited collection tentatively titled Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Family Law Opinions. The list of selected cases, a description of the process of selecting decisions, and the opinions considered but not included, are on the application website (https://goo.gl/forms/9JYv7GtR2gJMDVbY2).

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Looking for women experts? Don’t make it a beauty pageant

Final Phase Digital

1946 – Birth of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, photo credit: UN Photo

This post was co-authored by Almut Rochowanski

Earlier this month, the BBC held its BBC Expert Women’s Day, bringing together “female experts who’d like to appear on air as contributors to BBC programmes”. The event gathered a group of 24 professionals, which included lawyers, scientists, political analysts, entrepreneurs, coders, cultural leaders and sex educators, selected from a pool of 450 applicants for a ‘media familiarisation day”. They were given tips on how to sound natural on air and given the opportunity to experience appearing on camera in a BBC news studio.

Seemingly, this is a well-intentioned effort to diversify sources. However, the way the BBC is going about it makes it seem more like a beauty contest.

This is the latest edition of a programme the BBC launched in 2013. At first glance, it might look like an earnest attempt to overcome the notorious “all-male panel” problem, something the BBC should be applauded for having acknowledged and taking steps to address (even if, in 2012, it was the only major UK broadcaster to refuse signing a pledge to get more women on screen). But, on closer inspection, there are a number of deeply problematic aspects to the initiative. In fact, it is a spot-on illustration of why media organizations suffer from the all-male panel problem to begin with.

The BBC Academy’s call for applications asked women experts to send in their CV, a letter explaining their interest in being on air and a two-minute video of themselves talking about their area of expertise. By having women experts compete to be acknowledged for what they are – experts – this “TV expert” competition puts the onus on women to correct and overcome the discrimination that holds them back. Once again, women are expected to jump through extra hoops to prove that they are good enough to do what men routinely get to do with no questions asked. Women need to not only have the talent and put in the work to become experts on topics like Brexit, terrorism or classical music, but must also submit to a screen test and mentoring in order to be recognized as authoritative voices in their field of expertise.

The screen test that forms part of the application is particularly troubling. Somehow, it doesn’t seem likely that the BBC requires screen tests of the male climate scientists, business experts or lawyers they invite on their programs.  And while the instructions for the video do not mention looks, women are judged on their appearance much more than men, and nowhere more so than in the media. Imagine a female expert on development aid or the music industry considering even for a split second whether she should put on lipstick before recording her video, and it immediately becomes clear how this initiative perpetuates gender discrimination and is self-defeating in its stated purpose.

The competition is based on the lazy and ignorant assumption that women are underrepresented as experts in broadcast media because they have not tried hard enough or because they just do not shine as brightly as their male colleagues whom the media somehow manage to find without them having to answer to a casting call. The same argument is routinely employed to rationalize the low numbers of women on corporate boards, among tenured professors or in government. And yet we know that women are underrepresented in roles of power and prestige because they are overlookeddismissedignoredexcluded and discriminated against.

Our critique isn’t directed at the women who took part in this year’s BBC Expert Women’s Day, or the many more who applied and were not invited. Quite the contrary. These women are obviously very good at what they do, and the fact that they’re ready to put in the extra work and face new challenges illustrates why they have become leaders in their fields. Our point is that they shouldn’t have had to go through a competition like this to be recognised for their expertise and to get a chance to contribute to public discourse.

If the BBC concludes that they have too few female experts on the air, they ought to first take a good, hard look at themselves and figure out where they went wrong. Have they sufficiently questioned their own habits and assumptions? Have they probed their organization’s practices for hidden biases and discrimination? Do terrorism experts always look male in the imagination of the editorial staff? Have they given proper research a try?

Because, really, it is not difficult to find women experts out there. We are literally everywhere. We are at universitieshospitals, research centers and think tanks. We publish booksblog post and articles, we are on LinkedIn and social media, we win prizes and fellowships, we are part of professional networks. In addition, numerous databases have been set up to assist researchers who might be at a loss in identifying women experts for their news coverage. There is The Women’s RoomSheSource, Women Also Know Stuff and The OpEd Project, to name but a few. Having women compete to have their voices heard in a space where their opinions should be sought out as often as those of their male counterparts is not a solution. Rather, by failing to acknowledge and reject the systematic inequalities that women face, this casting call for women experts perpetuates the problem it ostensibly tries to solve.

Almut Rochowanski is a co-founder and coordinator of the Chechnya Advocacy Network. Nani Jansen Reventlow is a human rights lawyer with Doughty Street Chambers and a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

This post has been cross-posted on Medium.

Award-winning Akayesu documentary to be screened at ASIL Annual Meeting

“The Uncondemned”, an award winning documentary about the first prosecution of rape as a war crime, will be screened at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law on Friday, April 14 at 7:30pm in the Regency Ballroom A of the Capitol Hill Hyatt in Washington, D.C. The world premiere of the film occurred at the United Nations in October.

Several of the lawyers whose work on the case is featured in the documentary will be in attendance for the screening, including Patricia Sellers, then Gender Officer for ICTR and ICTFY, Pierre-Richard Prosper, lead trial attorney in the Akayesu case, and Lisa R. Pruitt, then gender consultant to ICTR. Executive Director Michele Mitchell will also be present for Q&A after the film.

“The Uncondemned” tells the story of the case against Jean-Paul Akayesu, the mayor of Taba commune. Akayesu was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 1997. While rape has been “on the books” as a war crime for nearly a century, it had never been prosecuted until this case. The film follows the lawyers and activists working to investigate, indict and convict Akayesu, not only on the basis of killings but also sexual assaults. The even more compelling story of the Rwandan witnesses is a focus of the film as well. Despite being initially skeptical of the United Nations and ICTR, these witnesses ended up coming forward to testify about the atrocities they saw and experienced during the genocide.

Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan observation that “The Uncondemned” is “the story of how history is made in small, at times uncertain, steps” is exemplified by the sexual assault charges eventually brought against Akayesu. Originally, the indictment included only charges based on killing, despite the documentation of sexual assaults by human rights NGOs. During the case, however, evidence of sexual assaults surfaced, leading to suspension of the trial until the matter could be investigated further. In the end, the indictment was amended and Akayesue was convicted not only of killings but also in connection to sexual assaults.

As a UC Davis law student interested in international human rights, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of this inspiring film at my law school a few months ago. As an aspiring lawyer, I found the documentary inspiring and uplifting. Documentaries about the Rwandan genocide tend to be uninspiring and focused on the lack of intervention of the international community. However, “The Uncondemned” tells a different story. It illustrates the extraordinary resilience of and solidarity among the Taba women who witnessed and experienced genocidal atrocities. A New York Times reviewer felt the same about the film, writing that the “most extraordinary are the interviews with the women…their integrity and tenacity, and their loyalty to one another are enough to bring you to tears.”

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