Dealing with the Past in a Post-conflict Society: Does the Participation of Women Matter? Insights from Northern Ireland

Catherine O'Rourke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article is concerned with the participation of women in dealing with the past, both as a priority for women’s movements and as a practical matter for transitional justice processes. The article aims both to describe and critique a particular set of texts—primarily the 2009 Report of the Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland, but also the documentary interventions made by local women’s organizations into that Report—as well as to open up critical space for similar projects in other areas. Fundamentally, the article asks: does the participation of women matter in dealing with the past? And if so, what difference does it make? The article draws principally on feminist political theory on the participation of women in politics, as well as gender scholarship on conflict and transitional justice, as a theoretical framework for this analysis. The article argues that the conflation of participation as a question of process—that women should, as a matter of justice, be involved in related decision-making—with participation as a guarantee of substance—that women’s participation will lead to a certain set of predetermined outcomes—is both problematic in theory and unhelpful in terms of feminist politics. The article concludes by proposing a novel third way that acknowledges a tentative, though dynamic and evolving, relationship between women’s participation as process and substantive outcomes in dealing with the past, while continuing to ground calls for women’s participation within justice claims.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-68
JournalWilliam and Mary Journal of Women and the Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Dec 2012


  • Transitional Justice
  • Feminist political theory
  • Participation
  • Dealing with the Past
  • Northern Ireland


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