Thursday, January 17, 2008

Gender and the Truth And Reconciliation Commission

Word for the Day
When the love of power is replaced by the power of love, the world will know peace

While many individuals are familiar with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), fewer are familiar with what it means to apply a gender analysis to peacebuilding efforts. Thus, Beth Goldblatt and Shiela Meintjes have made an important contribution to peacebuilding efforts in general and more specifically to the TRC process as a result of their Report titled, Gender and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While both women are affiliated with the University of Witwatersrand in the Republic of South Africa, Goldblatt is with the Department of Political Studies and Meintjes is associated with the Gender Research Project/Center for Applied Legal Studies. Oftentimes peacebuilding and development efforts either fail to include women in its infrastructure and capacity building or simply exclude women's perspective and assume that war and conflict impact women and men in identical ways. While in theory we know this is not the case, we continue to witness evidence of such exclusions that essentially render women invisible. This is not a new phenomenon. During the post colonial period beginning with Ghana's independence in 1957, as former colonies of empires gained their independence development planners and efforts oftentimes overlooked women.

In this instance, I am using development to mean the process that a nation undergoes that promotes a quality of life for its citizens politically, socially, and economically. During the postcolonial period when nations were in a period of development and reconstruction, it was much clearer what the needs of nations were. Typically such countries economies had been manipulated and monopolized to provide the needs of the empires and to compromise the internal needs of its citizens. The extraction of natural resources and the failure to invest in either the country or the people resulted in resource rich nations like Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya that were nevertheless impoverished. Once the development processes began developers often ignored women's roles in agriculture and dealt with the males thus further marginalizing women in countries such as Africa, Asia and Latin Americ where women have had to fight for their place at the table of opportunity. Thus gender is an integral component of social analysis because these differences as a result of patriarchy have accorded women subordinate identities. The marginalization of women has often been reinforced by violence.

Goldblatt and Meintjes did not leave matters to chance that the TRC would in fact possess a gender sensitivity. Instead they prepared an extensive report that began with the history of women in South Africa. They chronicled the historical development of apartheid and its attempts to assume control of the country's development while maintaining totally separate systems between the races. The report provides an extraordinary window into the experiences of women that were impacted by apartheids efforts to sustain its evil system while they along with men and children fought back by every means necessary, including armed struggle and peaceful activities.

As Goldblatt and Meintjes emphasize, it is important to understand that men and women were both subjected to terror and torture during apartheid. Both men and women were in the words of the authors, "brutally beaten; slammed against floors and walls; flung around on beams; deprived of sleep; forced to stand or sit on imaginary chairs for hours; tear gassed; held in solitary confinement for months on end and forced to endure days of endless inerrogation and even killed." But the nature of these experiences, even the sexual aspects, were experienced differently. In some ways it can be compared to the reality that women are discriminated against but not all women are discriminated against in the same way. Thus, women during apartheid were often singled out as women and certain aspects of being female became points of focus. For instance, assaults on pregnant women, which led to miscarriage, body searches, vaginal examinations, were all assaults on the sexuality and sexual identity of women. The intention of Goldblatt and Meintjes is to show that gender was a key aspect in the use of power and control and the subsequent relations reflected those power dynamics.

Were the authors successful in accomplishing their goals? That is difficult to determine at this stage of my research efforts. If nothing more, the report was an attempt to convey important information and education to the TRC. Perhaps others have benefitted from its content. I am certainly indebted to them and plan to follow up to determine whether in their opinion the report made a difference.

You can find the official website of the TRC at:
and the report, Gender and the TRC is located at:

Blessings! Rev.Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman

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