Ethics & International Affairs Volume 24.2 (Summer 2010): Book Reviews: "The Gender of Reparations: Unsettling Sexual Hierarchies While Redressing Human Rights Violations" Edited by Ruth Rubio-Marin [Full Text]

Jun 14, 2010

The Gender of Reparations: Unsettling Sexual Hierarchies While Redressing Human Rights Violations, Ruth Rubio-Marin, ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press/International Center for Transitional Justice, 2009), 416 pp., $99 cloth.

Debra L. DeLaet (Reviewer)

Ruth Rubio-Marín has put together an excellent collection of essays that make a significant contribution to the study of transitional justice. The book's primary objective is to provide a gender-sensitive analysis of reparations programs in transitional and post conflict societies intended to facilitate efforts to bring justice to female victims of violence as well as their families. The volume succeeds in achieving this objective and, in doing so, provides a valuable overview of the gendered nature of violence resulting from armed conflict and political repression, and of reparations as an approach to promoting justice in societies emerging from violent conflict. Readers new to the topic of transitional justice will learn a great deal about gendered violence and reparations programs in general, while readers already familiar with this subject will still find new insights and useful prescriptions.

In editing this volume, Rubio-Marín has done a fine job of balancing attention to theory and to practice. Preliminary chapters establish the theoretical foundations and normative framework of the volume. The first chapter, by Margaret Urban Walker, presents an overview of gender and violence, and the subsequent chapter by Rubio-Marín gives us a thorough overview of reparations as an approach to transitional justice that weaves considerations of gender into the discussion. Although neither of these preliminary chapters makes a significantly new contribution to our understanding of transitional justice, they provide very helpful grounding in the subject for non-specialists and a solid foundation for understanding the other essays of the volume.

Subsequent chapters focus on specific gendered aspects of historical and current reparations projects in a variety of thematic areas, including reparations for sexual and reproductive violence, for children, for family members of victims/survivors, as well as specific types of reparations programs, such as symbolic reparations (for example, public memorials), collective reparations, and microfinance as a form of pecuniary reparations for individual victims.

One of the key contributions of this volume lies in its attention to empirics. A number of chapters present essential empirical evidence from historic as well as ongoing reparations projects; those by Colleen Duggan and Ruth Jacobson, Dyan Mazurana and Khristopher Carlson, and Rubio-Marín, Clara Sandoval, and Catalina Díaz are especially noteworthy in this regard.

Scholars of transitional justice have done a great deal of theoretical and normative work that articulates the importance of a gender-sensitive analysis of transitional justice and have conducted numerous single case studies. However, to date few have completed a systematic, comparative analysis of transitional justice programs. To its great credit, this volume includes a number of chapters that provide empirical information about reparations programs within a comparative framework, essential in any effort to assess the effectiveness of reparations programs and to identify best practices.

Another strength of this volume is its relatively nuanced application of the concept of gender. Too often the term "gender" is used by scholars of international relations as shorthand for biological sex. Thus, when scholars use the term, they are often simply signifying that they are studying women, or perhaps women and girls. Although The Gender of Reparations focuses primarily on women, it acknowledges that gender norms can lead to specific forms of violence and harm against men as well as women, perhaps most visibly and notably when men and boys are targeted with violence due to the presumption that they are combatants or potential combatants in armed conflict. Similarly, men are often the primary targets of gross violations of human rights in the context of political repression due to the presumption that they are more likely than women to be politically active. Throughout the volume, contributors acknowledge the potential gendered harms that men often experience in situations involving armed conflict and political repression. The book would have been even stronger with a specific chapter on this topic or if more space had been devoted to this subject in the existing chapters. Nonetheless, the fact that the contributors acknowledge that gendered violence has dimensions that harm men and boys (as well as women and girls) distinguishes it from much of the scholarship in the field.

A final strength of the volume is its broad conceptualization of reparations. Several chapters make clear that reparations programs go far beyond financial payments to individual victims. Although such individualized compensation can be an important form of reparation for victims of wartime or political violence, as the chapter on microfinance and gender equality by Anita Bernstein makes clear, a gender-sensitive analysis helps readers to understand the need for and benefits of collective reparations. The chapter on reparations for family members of victims of gross violations of human rights, by Rubio-Marín, Sandoval, and Díaz, underscores the ways in which human rights violations harm the families of victims and diminish the communities in which they live. In this way, the chapter makes a compelling case for the need for collective reparations in transitional justice endeavors. Finally, the theme that successful reparations programs need to attend to the psychosocial needs of victims and their communities runs throughout the book.

The Gender of Reparations makes a strong case for the importance of applying a gender-sensitive lens in efforts to assess and improve reparations programs. In doing so, it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of transitional justice and should be read widely by scholars, practitioners, and engaged citizens interested in justice for survivors of armed conflict and political repression.

—Debra L. DeLaet

Debra L. DeLaet is Professor of Politics and International Relations at Drake University, where she teaches courses on human rights, global public health, international law, the United Nations, and gender and world politics.

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