Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Using The Transformative Justice Lens to Address The Gendered Aspects of The Kurdish Conflict

This blog entry is part of the series "Gendered Aspects of Peace and War in Turkey".

Published onSep 19, 2022
Using The Transformative Justice Lens to Address The Gendered Aspects of The Kurdish Conflict

Using the transformative justice lens to address the gendered aspects of the Kurdish conflict 


In the first blog of this series,[1] Çiçek addressed the civil society actors’ mobilisation around peace and gender in Turkey. Drawing on the peacebuilding literature, he elaborated on the potential that this type of mobilisation carries. In the second blog of this series, I move the discussion from peacebuilding to transitional justice and focus specifically on transformative justice. I explore how the transformative justice lens could help address the gendered aspects of the Kurdish conflict. 

What is transitional justice?

Before elaborating more on transformative justice, it is worthwhile to look briefly into transitional justice. Transitional justice began primarily as legal mechanisms that dealt with past regimes’ abuses in the aftermath of dictatorships in Latin American countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Over time, it moved towards a more far-reaching comprehensive framework consisting of a range of judicial and non-judicial instruments. For instance, criminal prosecutions, truth-telling, reparations, institutional reform, and memorialisation are now considered key components of the transitional justice toolkit.[2] The concept of transition also expanded toward post-conflict settings, and it has been widely applied during transitions from conflicts to peace as part of a peacebuilding framework.[3]International organisations and policymakers now recognise it as an essential part of peacebuilding.[4]

What is transformative justice?

Transformative justice is a growing area of inquiry that expands the field of transitional justice. It requires the root causes of the conflict to be addressed.  Those who propose transformative justice as a new agenda criticise transitional justice’s failure to address structural inequalities and they suggest prioritising socio-economic rights.[5] They argue that transformative justice could provide a more competent approach to tackle structural, social, and economic problems parallel to the other conflict-related harms that transitional justice has conventionally been addressing.[6] Transformative justice scholars also point  at the risk that top-down, elite-led, externally driven approaches may bring.[7] According to them, power relations will likely remain unchallenged if the political elite dominates peace and transitional justice processes without recognising grassroots actors’ agency. This is crucial because in conflict settings, power relations usually enable the conflict in the first place, and the continuation of the conflict perpetuates the power relations. 

Gready and Robins define transformative justice as “transformative change that emphasises local agency and resources, the prioritisation of process rather than preconceived outcomes and the challenging of unequal and intersecting power relationships and structures of exclusion at both the local and the global level.”[8]Those power relations are also very much gendered. Unless they are challenged and transformed, the gendered impacts of conflict will remain unaddressed in the post-conflict period even if negative peace is reached. 

What do we mean by the gendered aspects of the Kurdish conflict? 

The Kurdish conflict's most systematic human rights violations, such as enforced disappearances and displacements, are gendered violations. Enforced disappearances are gendered crimes,[9] and 97 per cent of the cases are male victims.[10] Göksel argues that within “the intersecting processes of war and forced migration”, multi-layered outcomes of forced displacement are experienced most severely by women, who, in most cases, lost their husbands, sons, or brothers either through extrajudicial killings or enforced disappearances, or because they joined the guerrilla movement.[11] In addition to hardships experienced due to the act of disappearance, women often face longer-term challenges while searching for truth and justice.[12] Moreover, when a man is forcibly disappeared, his wife has “the burden of decision making regarding new familial and residential arrangements, as well as the burden of dealing with social and economic hardship”.[13]Because of the embedded patriarchal relations in society, the social and economic affairs of the family are usually arranged by men, which leaves women in an even more difficult position after the loss of their husbands. In the context of the Kurdish conflict, Kaya and Bozkurt emphasise the increased burden on wives of the disappeared as follows: 

Because they are Kurdish, they are women, they can’t use Kurdish in the public sphere, can’t get an education also due to the conditions of war in the geography they live in, because they lack any leverage for negotiation due to the same reasons, and have to settle for any job they find, these women end up in the most disadvantaged position of the labour market as well.[14]

In addition to enforced disappearances, forced displacement, even without the death of a husband, creates a heavy burden on women by disrupting the social and economic lives of the family. For example, many families grow their products in their villages, losing their livelihood when they move to bigger cities. This contrasts with life in the village which many women recall positively.[15] Çağlayan and colleagues explain that even though the economic conditions in the village were limited, their lives were based on self-sufficiency and supported through the local solidarity networks of neighbours and relatives.[16] They also note that forced displacement not only creates the loss of income opportunities but also affects the linguistic, cultural, temporal and spatial dimensions of social life.[17]

In the Kurdish conflict, the gendered experiences of conflict-related human rights violations are also seen in distribution of social support in the aftermath of the violation. For example, although men are also deeply affected, social dynamics are in their favour. Men support each other and heal faster, whereas women stay with what they went through. For instance, if a man survives torture, his community will most likely say that he was subjected to torture for the country and the revolution. In contrast, the same community could easily blame a woman for getting involved in political acts.[18] Men are perceived as heroic and might acquire a more respected social status after going through state violence. For women, the heroic notions of surviving and resisting state violence do not play out similarly. Traditional gender roles associate women with familial duties in private space rather than the more visible roles men are assigned in public space. LGBTI+ people benefit from community support even less. 

How can the transformative justice lens help address the gendered aspects of the Kurdish conflict?

Feminist scholars established that there are no sharp boundaries between conflict and post-conflict periods regarding gendered experiences.[19] Direct and indirect forms of violence against women and LGBTI+ are indeed pervasive during times of conflict. Such violence, however, originate in pre-existing gender ideologies and structural inequalities.[20] That is why gendered violence, discrimination, and other violations continue to exist in peacetime, and negative peace is not sufficient as it only means the end of the direct violence. [21][22] The understanding that gendered violence is not only specific to the conflict lies at the heart of the calls for transformative justice to address gendered harms and consider gender-specific needs.[23] This is relevant to the Kurdish conflict as well. For example, Fidan and Göçer’s research shows that LGBTI+ people who live in the Kurdish region experience a higher level of discrimination during conflict compared to peacetime and access to justice is hampered.[24] But they also highlight the criminalisation, marginalisation, and rights violations against LGBTI+ identities during conflict often originate from an already existing cis-heteronormative gender regime. Discrimination against LGBTI+ continues when there is negative peace, which refers to its structural nature. Moreover, in most conflict countries, conflict victims have been systematically marginalised for a long time based on the intersection of ethnicity, gender, and social class.[25] In the Kurdish conflict as well, the intersection of ethnicity and gender thickens the conflict-related victimisations. 

As elaborated earlier, LGBTI+ people and women experience long-term economic, social, and cultural rights violations as a result of the Kurdish conflict. Altekin emphasises that the Kurdish women and LGBTI+ people are exposed to gender-based violence, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, poverty and heteronormativity while at the same time facing ethnic-based discrimination, racism, and criminalisation.[26] Structural violence, social injustice, and rights violations affect women’s and LGBTI+’s everyday life, and they are also strongly interconnected to the root causes of the conflict.[27] Therefore, by adopting a transformative approach to transitional justice, the root causes of the Kurdish conflict can be addressed in a way that the gendered power relations are challenged. Especially if it is combined with a wider strategy to combat gender inequality, the conflict’s long-term consequences for women and LGBTI+ may also be repaired. To that end, a future transitional and/or transformative justice process in Turkey should tackle the gendered power relations in society as a key task and take into consideration how it has overlapped with conflict-related social, political, economic, and cultural rights violations. 

Another way transformative justice would be helpful to address the gendered aspects of the Kurdish conflict is through centring victims’ agency. In transitional contexts, the agency is particularly important because the victims of conflicts usually have been marginalised long before direct violence starts and have been excluded from political power. Putting emphasis on the agency of victims has the potential to challenge the power relations which enabled the conflict in the first place and tend to continue existing in the aftermath of the conflict. That is because a fundamental conflict transformation is only possible when these power relations are recognised and challenged.[28] Without recognising this, elite groups are likely to determine and implement transitional justice mechanisms on behalf of the victims and reproduce the same power hierarchies in transitional periods.

Adopting a transformative justice agenda can also ensure that the unique and varied justice demands of those most affected by the conflict will inform the justice processes. As Evans puts it:    

Necessary conditions for transformative justice can be seen as the inclusion of the affected communities (not just elites) in shaping agenda for policy and practice, a focus on addressing economic conditions, emphasis on long-term societal changes and attention to the historical and structural roots of contemporary injustices.[29]    

To drive long-term structural and social transformation, women and LGBTI+ should be central actors in every step of peacebuilding and transitional justice processes, including the design and implementation. Meaningful participation of activist groups, organised victims and survivors, and human rights defenders in these processes will mean the justice needs and demands of women and LGBTI+ will inform the policy and practice. In Turkey, women’s and LGBTI+ organisations have a wealth of experience in working towards peace.[30] They can also be driving force of transformation by bringing their agenda to the forefront of transitional justice and peace discussions and practice in Turkey especially regarding the Kurdish conflict. 

[1] Çiçek, C. (2022) Toplumsal Cinsiyet: Sivil Toplumun Barış Çalışmalarında Sınır-Aşan Ortaklıklar, Off University Blog Series. 

[2] De Greiff, P. (2012) Theorizing transitional justice. Nomos, 51, 31-77. 

[3] Nagy, R. (2008) Transitional justice as global project: Critical reflections. Third World Quarterly. 29(2), 275-289. 

[4] Lawther, C. and Moffett, L. (2017) Introduction. In: Lawther, C., Moffett, L. and Jacobs, D. eds. Research handbook on transitional justice. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 1-17. 

[5] Gready, P. and Robin, S. (2014) From transitional to transformative justice: A new agenda for practice. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 8(3), 339–361., Evans, M. (2016) Structural violence, socioeconomic rights, and transformative justice. Journal of Human Rights, 15(1), 1–20., McAuliffe, P. (2017) Transformative transitional justice and the malleability of post-conflict states. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing. 

[6] Supra n. 9, Lambourne, W. (2011) Transformative justice and peacebuilding: A psychological perspective. Paper presented at “Transformative Justice: Global Perspectives” Worldwide Universities Network International Conference, University of Leeds, Leeds. 

[7] Chandler, D.  (2011) The liberal peace: Statebuilding, democracy and local ownership, In: Tadjbakhsh, S. ed. Rethinking the liberal peace: External models and local alternatives. Abingdon: Routledge, 77-88., Sharp, D. N. (2013) Beyond the post-conflict checklist: Linking peacebuilding and transitional justice through the lens of critique. Chicago Journal of International Law, 14(1), 165-196., McEvoy, K., and McConnachie, K. (2013) Victims and transitional justice: Voice, agency and blame. Social & Legal Studies, 22(4), 489–513.   

[8] Gready, P. and Robin, S. (2014) From transitional to transformative justice: A new Agenda for practice. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 8(3), 339–361.

[9] Davidovic, M. (2018) Mother-activism before the European Court of Human Rights: Gender sensitivity towards Kurdish mothers and wives in enforced disappearance cases. Kurdish Studies, 6(1), 133-153.  

[10] Bozkurt, H. and Kaya, Ö. (2014) Holding up the photograph: Experiences of the women whose husbands were forcibly disappeared. Istanbul: Truth Justice Memory Centre. 

[11] Göksel, N. (2018) Losing the one, caring for the all: The activism of the peace mothers in TurkeySocial Sciences, 7(10), 1-20, p. 7

[12] Supra n. 12

[13] Gökalp, D. (2010) A gendered analysis of violence, justice and citizenship: Kurdish women facing war and displacement in Turkey. Women's Studies International Forum, 33(6), 561–569, p. 564

[14] Supra n. 13

[15] Çağlayan, H., Özar, Ş. and Doğan Tepe, A. (2011) Ne değişti? Kürt kadınların zorunlu göç deneyimi. Ankara: Ayizi.  

[16] Supra n. 18

[17] It is worth noting that women in some cases acquire new power in their households and communities in these processes. For instance, Gökalp (2010) explains that the female-headed households formed as an outcome of the conflict enabled some women to challenge the traditional gender roles in the family and community, and undertake new roles to generate income, which ultimately empowered them. See supra n. 16.

[18]  Alici, N. (2022) Imagining Transitional Justice in the Ongoing Kurdish Conflict: A Victim-Centred Analysis, Thesis (PhD), Ulster University.

[19] Cockburn, C. (2004) The Continuum of Violence: A Gender Perspective of War and Peace, Sites of Violence: Gender and Conflict Zones. In: Giles W. and Hyndman, J. eds., Sites of Violence.Berkeley: University of California Press, 24-44.

[20] Boesten, J. and Wilding, P. (2015) Transformative gender justice: setting an agenda. Women's Studies International Forum, 51, 75-80.

[21] Yadav, P. & Horn, D. M. (2021) Continuums of Violence: Feminist peace research and gender-based violence, In: ed. Väyrynen, T. Parashar, S., Féron, É. & Confortini, C. C. eds., Routledge Handbook of Feminist Peace Research, Routledge: Abingdo, 105-114.

[22] For a detailed analysis of continuum of violence and how it plays out in the Kurdish region, see: Bor., G, Dasli, G., and Alici, N. (2021) From Converging Roads to Narrowing Grounds: The Struggle for Peace by LGBTI+ and Women’s Organizations in Turkey. Available at: [Accessed 10 July 2022]

[23] Supra n. 28

[24] Fidan and Göçer, 2022, Yakın Geçmişten Olası Geleceğe Barışı Yeşertmek: 2013-2018 Yılları Arasında Diyarbakır’da Yaşayan LGBTİ+’lar. Available at: [Accessed 16 July 2022]

[25] Robins, S. (2017) Failing Victims? The limits of transitional justice in addressing the needs of victims of violations. Human Rights and International Legal Discourse, 11 (1), 41-58. 

[26] Altekin, O. (2022) Kürt LGBTİ+’lar,yoksulluk ve barışın olanakları. Available at: [Accessed 15 July 2022]

[27] Supra n. 32

[28] Parlevliet, M. (2010) Rethinking conflict transformation from a human rights perspective. Berghof Handbook Dialogue Series No. 11  

[29] Evans, M. (2018) Transformative justice: Remedying human rights violations beyond transition. Abingdon: Routledge., p. 41

[30] Supra n. 27



*Finanziert von der Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung mit Mitteln des Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Diese Veröffentlichung kann von anderen kostenlos genutzt werden, solange auf die originale Publikation verwiesen wird. Der Inhalt dieser Veröffentlichung ist die Verantwortung von Off-University.Organisation für den Frieden e.V. und gibt nicht notwendigerweise eine Position von RLS wieder.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?