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Intersectionality: A Feminist Theory for Transitional Justice

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Abstract

This paper examines intersectionality as ‘a highly successful’ theory in the European context and argues that it provides a critical, analytical resource for investigating gender in transitional society. It enables critical analysis of the application of ‘universal’ principles of equality and human rights embedded in liberal democratic norms. It poses useful theoretical and empirical questions for explaining gendered dimensions of transitions in ‘deeply divided’ contexts. The paper explores women’s absences in peace negotiations and silence in negotiations on matters to do with women’s day-to-day lives. Northern Ireland’s 1998 Agreement is the case-study site for intersectional analysis. A conceptualization of gender that intersects with other structural dimensions of inequality and discrimination aids in understanding the legal and social challenges posed by transitions. This complex tool is used to examine the theoretical tensions and practical implications inherent in universal claims for equality in situations where recognition of ‘difference’ may be enshrined in legislation, as is the case in Northern Ireland for both the equality legislation and the mechanisms for democratic governance. This article affirms critical correlations between structural, economic and political inequality, violent conflict and the limitations of law as a discursive framework for conflict resolution. It recommends that tackling deep-rooted inequalities strengthens political stability in transitional societies and improves the lives of women. The ‘arrival’ of intersectionality in different interpretative and applied academic disciplines poses critical methodological challenges. Intersectionality’s most important contribution to women’s empowerment in transitional society is to assert the importance of continuing to pose questions that are not easily answered.