More than forty post-graduates, researchers, scholars, practitioners, and members of the Belfast community came together for a post-graduate Symposium on Occupation, Transitional Justice and Gender on Friday, 8 May 2015 at the Belfast campus of Ulster University. PhD students from the Transitional Justice Institute (TJI), Ulster University coordinated the event after receiving funding from the Feminist & Women’s Studies Association (FWSA) Small Grants Scheme, in addition to TJI, the Research Graduate School (RGS) and the Institute for Research in Social Sciences (IRiSS), all at Ulster University.
This symposium sought to address the interface between occupation, transitional justice and gender, an intersection that is poorly explored as was discussed and debated by those in attendance. Post-graduates based at institutions in Northern Ireland, England, Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands presented topics related to the following panels:
• Protecting Women during and after Conflict
• Intersectional Identities: Ad Hoc and International Courts
• Sexual Violence against Men: Conflict, Transition, and International Law
• The Impact of Conflict on Masculinities
• Women in Northern Ireland and the Legacy of the Troubles
The symposium featured keynote speaker, Professor Christine Chinkin, Emerita Professor of International Law and Director of the Centre on Women, Peace and Security, London School for Economics, and closing remarks by Dr. Helen Kinsella, Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Discussants from TJI (Dr. Catherine O’Rourke and Prof. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.), Ulster University (Ms. Carmel Roulston and Dr. Fidelma Ashe) and Queen’s University, Belfast (Dr. Luke Moffet) engaged with presenters and provided feedback.
Professor Chinkin’s keynote address touched on the gendered experiences of women during prolonged occupation, utilizing examples from the Sahel/Western Sahara and Gaza. Ultimately, we know very little of the realities of occupation for women and generalizations are impossible. Internationally, human rights bodies have been alarmingly silent with regard to demanding accountability for women under occupation. Professor Chinkin noted from her research and firsthand experience, for women under occupation, the home is often a site for active resistance, something that challenges the liberal feminist theory of the public/private divide. Furthermore, Professor Chinkin confirmed the dearth of academic engagement on the symposium’s themes of occupation, transitional justice and gender.
A praxis session was held with representatives from Bridge of Hope (BoH), a Belfast-based organisation that engages with victims and survivors of the Northern Ireland conflict to assist in communicating ‘across the divide.’ This portion was chaired by Ms. Eilish Rooney (TJI) who facilitated a transitional justice programme with BoH, which resulted in a Transitional Justice Grassroots Toolkit, among other documents.
An award for best paper was presented to Ms. Elizabeth Stubbins Bates (SOAS, University of London) for her paper entitled Hegemonic Masculinities and International Humanitarian Law Compliance: British Military Detention in Iraq, which “tests hegemonic masculinities as one exploratory variable in UK state practice in military detention in Iraq”. Runner up best paper was awarded to Ms. Andrea Garcia (formerly of Queen’s University, Belfast) for her paper entitled Friendship and Reconciliation: Blurring the Boundaries of Private and Public Domains, which examines, based on nine months of fieldwork, “shared weekly encounters and other activities with a cross-community group of women from Northern Ireland”.
In the day’s concluding remarks by Dr. Kinsella, the recurrent themes of the day’s presentations were articulated: sexual violence, failure and vulnerability. Calling for greater engagement with the framework of intersectionality when addressing gendered concerns of transitional justice mechanisms and the persistence of occupation, as well as greater utilization of feminism, sexuality and (structural) power in future research, Dr. Kinsella highlighted how “Gender, sex, and sexuality are collectively, if uneasily, implicated in relations of power, “ineffaceably” marking the structure and dynamics of politics, and our interpretations of it”.
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