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Reparation can address gender inequality

Blog / 7 December 2023

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Reparation programmes which aim to redress gross human rights violations can shift societal norms and prevent gender-based violence. 

This is a strong statement, so let me add a caveat. Reparation programmes can shift societal norms and prevent gender-based violence – if they are funded comprehensively.

The connections between gender inequality and conflict-related sexual violence are well documented. Poverty is often one of many factors that can result in and perpetuate gender-based violence. And, also often, conflict-related sexual violence (which affects people of all genders but disproportionately women and girls) results in a deteriorating economic life for survivors as they are abandoned by their families and excluded from their communities. This poverty then increases the likelihood that the survivors are subjected to gender-based violence. The interconnectedness of poverty, conflict-related sexual violence, and gender inequality may seem to some like an invitation to debate the chicken and the egg; ‘which came first?’ and ‘let’s address that one’. 

There is no need for this debate. Comprehensively funding reparation programmes that are co-created, contextualised, and implemented with the purpose of being transformative will address past violations, shift societal understandings of gender dynamics, and prevent future violations. Just as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on truth, justice and reparation said in their 2023 Annual Report, it is insufficient to fund reparations that simply place victims back in the situation they were in before they were violated. Reparation is meant to be transformative – it should transform the lives of victims as well as the power structures that sustain unequal relationships and promote victimisation.

Reparation is meant to be transformative – it should transform the lives of victims as well as the power structures that sustain unequal relationships and promote victimisation.

This is no clearer than with guarantees of non-recurrence. One of the five forms of reparation that survivors are legally entitled to, guarantees of non-recurrence set their focus on society at large. They are the steps taken to address the root causes of conflict and violence aimed at preventing them from happening again to the same or other victims. Ultimately, this requires States and societies to reinforce the rule of law and respect for human rights, while sustaining peace and development. States and societies must invest in programmes which aim to prevent gender-based violence and transform culturally embedded patriarchy, alongside investment in education, legal frameworks, and robust public policy approaches. In doing so, they send out, and also abide by, the message that sexual violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, is an egregious act which will not be accepted or repeated. 

Our own interim reparative measure projects offer a proof of concept that reparation can be transformative in relation to many forms of equality, from gender to economic. Defined as ‘interim’ because the responsible authorities bear the ultimate responsibility to provide reparations to survivors, these projects aim to acknowledge the harm done to survivors and provide them with rehabilitation, compensation, and some form of satisfaction, restitution and collective repair, supporting survivors to rebuild their lives. Longitudinal studies conducted in both Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo before, during, and towards the end of interim reparative measures projects highlight that survivors had become more financially independent and had an increased financial and social status in their communities. Positive intergenerational economic impacts of reparation programmes have also been documented through a recent study of the State-led Colombian reparations programme. 

Co-created, contextualised, transformative reparative measures can empower survivors economically, and if undertaken at scale by duty-bearers, reparations could positively impact the long-term economic future of survivors, thereby positively impacting the intersection between poverty and gender-based violence. 

The unique circumstances of women, men, girls and boys who have survived conflict-related sexual violence, as well as the issues that led to and perpetuate gender inequality, must be considered in the process of budgeting for reparation programmes.

Funding remains a main issue for these programmes. But it's not just funding - allocation matters too. UN Women rightfully made gender-responsive budgeting one of the core issues of the 2023 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Gender-responsive budgeting has the power to foster a sense of justice by allocating budgets in a manner that includes all people proportionately. UN Women lays out strategies for governments to follow to increase the gender-responsiveness of their budgets, and reparation programmes should be no different. 

The unique circumstances of women, men, girls and boys who have survived conflict-related sexual violence, as well as the issues that led to and perpetuate gender inequality, must be considered in the process of budgeting for reparation programmes. Gender-sensitive budgeting by governments, international organisations and donors should be considered a necessary element of the comprehensive funding of reparations programmes. 

The interconnectedness of the funding of reparation and funding of programmes to prevent gender-based violence offers an opportunity for increased impact by policymakers. Both need comprehensive funding; both benefit from each other being funded. Areas of complementarity should be leveraged, and greater levels of investment must be prioritised to both fulfil survivors' rights and prevent future harms. 

More information on reparation financing can be found in Reparations are Affordable: Pathways to financing reparations owed to survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.  

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