Category Archives: What we’re thinking/reading/doing (IFLS blog)

What’s interesting these days?

Máiréad Enright on reproductive rights in Ireland – past & present colliding

A belated link to a post by Máiréad Enright over at Inherently Human about symphysiotomya surgical procedure which breaks bones in the pelvic region to allow vaginal delivery:

“Symphysiotomy was thought to permanently enlarge the pelvis, and therefore, when carried out in a first pregnancy, it might remove the necessity for a woman with ‘disproportion’ to face repeated CS in future pregnancies. This was a particular problem for Catholic doctors. Contraception was practised in most developed countries, making repeat problem pregnancies less common, and non-Catholic doctors advised sterilisation after three CS. Irish Catholic doctors were unable or unwilling to do this. They were aware of criticism by colleagues who believed that Catholic religious structures disadvantaged patients. ” (from Jacqueline Morrissey, ‘The murder of infants? Symphysiotomy in Ireland, 1944-66″ (2012) 20(5) History Ireland, quoted in The Journal November 2012 “A history of symphysiotomy: the impact of Catholic ethics on Irish medicine”, here)

Many women who were given the procedure testify that they were not properly informed, did not consent and were not even told about the procedure during recovery.     This procedure was not performed in any other country where there was the capacity to provide safe C-sections.

The procedure was used until the 1980’s.  Since then, there have been court cases, a Report, an Independent Review, and now the group Survivors of Symphysiotomy have asked the UN Committee Against Torture to look into the Irish experience (see the SOS report here).  Máiréad’s post examines, in some fascinating detail, the Irish state responses to the UN Human Rights Committee [UNHRC]in a recent ICCPR review, with particular reference to the proposal for redress of women who received this surgery.

Her conclusion is both brutally clear and nuanced in its analysis:

At Geneva, the state delegation seemed poorly prepared to discuss institutional gender-based violence. The common sense that Ireland is ‘facing up to its past’ is self-satisfied nonsense. True, the papers are happy to print stories of oppression and violence suffered in an Ireland neatly consigned to some long ago time. But it has proven too easy to swat away public scrutiny of the administrative systems which the state has devised for the management of the Magdalene women, the subjects of the Ryan report, the children abused in national schools, the women subjected to symphysiotomy, and, soon, the women and children circulated through and confined in the Mother and Baby Homes. Those systems are structured by a strange intertwining of paternalism and penny-pinching. In ‘the past’, the Irish state was frankly committed to containing, disciplining and directing the conduct of those considered unfit to think for themselves, and at the lowest possible cost. Today’s redress policy is a softer, but no less threatening, echo of that grim political economy.via Ireland, Symphysiotomy and the UNHRC | Inherently Human

Grim is the word.  Those of you following the current debates over abortion law and practice in Ireland  will find this post a critically important piece of context, both historical and contemporary.

Once you have read the post described above, read another more recent post by Máiréad, over at Critical Legal Thinking.  This one describes what is known and not known about a recent case dealt with under Ireland’s abortion laws.  READ IT, please, if you have any interest in these issues.

Once you have done that you will know much more about the current state of the law in Ireland, you might have new insights into the state of the law in your jurisdiction, and you will probably want to know more about Máiréad Enright.  So,

  • follow her on twitter@MaireadEnright
  • learn about what she does at Kent Law School as a lecturer, here
  • anticipate what is sure to be a no holds barred Irish Feminist Judgments project here and here
  • virtually attend an Economic and Social Research Council seminar series she co-organizes – The Public Life of Private Law – here (because there is audio of so many things you missed)
  • read some of her work on SSRN here, such as Girl Interrupted: Citizenship and the Irish Hijab Debate (2011) 20 Social and Legal Studies  463,
  • and find more in the blogosphere by looking here (or, of course, any search engine, since she’s probably writing something right now)

Don’t waste time feeling inadequate either.

Via Slaw: Why Prof. Joanne St. Lewis Stood Up to Racist Cyber Libel – Slaw

If you don’t know what this is about, I urge you to read Professor St. Lewis’ words as guest blogged on Slaw.   As noted in the piece, the case is likely to be appealed.  This is what racist speech looks like – and the gender angle here is also apparent.  For those, like me, not entirely comfortable with the tort of libel, this case may help to clarify anxieties and boundaries in terms of its use.  As always, Professor St. Lewis is eloquent as she draws the connections between past and present, individual and community, law and power.

Professor Joanne St. Lewis: Why I Stood Up to Racist Cyber Libel – Slaw

In the end, it was not simply pride that enabled me to persist. I firmly believe that racialized professionals in the academe have a unique role as knowledge producers well beyond the expectation that they be role models and mentors. We must do our work with integrity. This integrity includes bringing rigor to how issues of racism are analyzed and developed within and outside the classroom. If we cannot engage in these discussions within the academe then what hope is there for the broader social engagement that is essential for the realization of an enlarged Black humanity in a constitutional democracy?

via Impact Ethics – Commentary by Rachael Johnstone: Privileging Infertility over Abortion in New Brunswick

whath/t Sanda Rodgers for this very interesting piece by Dr. Rachael Johnstone.

Privileging Infertility over Abortion in New Brunswick at Impact Ethics blog

If it were part of a larger commitment to create a spectrum of women’s reproductive health services, the infertility fund could be laudable. However, when contrasted with the government’s long held, paternalistic stance against the creation of substantive access to abortion, it suggests more alarming commitments. Validating the desires of women to have children by investing money in expensive (often unsuccessful) treatments, while simultaneously denying the rights of those facing unwanted pregnancies by failing to provide relatively minimal financial support, suggests deeply troubling views of women’s reproductive rights. If pregnancy is the only reproductive choice the government supports, what happens to women who do not want to reproduce, or are unable or unwilling to support a child? What do these policies say about the value of women’s contributions to the community? Moreover, without clear policy guidelines to protect the health of women who undergo infertility treatment, what message is the government sending about the importance of women’s health?


Feminisms, Structural Violence and Transitional Justice: A one-day conference (CFP: Sept 1, Conference Oct 31)

York University Doctoral students Jessica Chandra and Emily Rosser are planning a very interesting looking one day conference.  Details below, pdf here.  Please circulate widely.

Call for Papers:
Feminisms, Structural Violence and Transitional Justice: A one-day conference

October 31, 2014
Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security; Graduate Fellowship Program
Osgoode Hall, York University, Toronto ON

Deadline for abstract submissions: September 1, 2014

Submit to:

Transitional justice is a field that brings together academic and practitioner approaches to post-conflict, peace-building and post-authoritarian settings considered to be ‘transitioning’ towards democracy. This field includes the study of truth commissions, international criminal justice, human rights movements, post-authoritarian democratization and reparations (Teitel, 2000; Hayner, 2002; De Greiff 2006). Consolidated in the decade after the cold war, this field has often treated liberal democracy as a default goal of transitional processes (Miller 2008, Arthur 2009). In particular, mainstream approaches across multiple sites emphasize rebuilding a war-torn state into a liberal one with a focus on development, building democratic institutions and liberalizing the economy for foreign investment (Richmond 2010; Stokke & Uyangoda 2012).
Since the early 1990s, there have been significant developments around sexual violence and women’s rights in international legal and rights-based frameworks. Key legal developments included more explicit recognition for harms through the prosecution of rape as genocide in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), securing the legal status of rape as a stand-alone crime against humanity in the International Criminal Court (ICC) charter, and ensuring gender visibility in a range of other processes such as truth commissions and reparations programs. Critical feminist interventions on peace-building in transitional settings advanced a parallel agenda within the UN Security Council, beginning with S.C.Res.1325 in 2000 (Brouwer 2005; Pankhurst et al 2008; McGlynn & Munro 2010).
Despite the increased visibility of gender and sexual violence, advocates and researchers have identified a marked disconnect between symbolic progress at the international level and the more disappointing material realities of survivors on the ground (Human Rights Watch 2004; Nowrojee 2005; Theidon & Laplante 2007; Duggan, Guillerot & Paz 2008; medica mondiale 2009; Buss 2010). Liberal human rights based approaches favored in transitional justice processes have often over-determined women as one-dimensional and apolitical victims in need of rescue, without accounting for women’s key social roles in conflict and post-conflict (Grewal 1999; Kapur 2002; Engle 2005; Zarkov 2007; Hesford 2011). Critics argue that such approaches contribute to the sidelining of survivors, women activists and transformative feminist politics (Ross 2003; Driver 2004; Theidon 2007; Al-kassim 2008; Meertens & Zambrano 2010). This situation calls for more complicated critique of the intersection of gender discrimination and violence with various other forms of structural violence, including colonialism and neoliberal capitalism, and a feminist engagement with redistributive politics that seeks not to replace but to extend beyond the brief post-conflict reparations agenda (Seuffert 2005; Smith, 2005, 2006; Ní Aoláin and Rooney 2007; Rubio-Marín et al 2009). What are the limitations and possibilities? This conference aims to facilitate such a dialogue across feminisms, disciplines, histories and theory-practice divides.


Key questions:

 How has the legacy of liberal legalism shaped or circumscribed feminist possibility in transitional justice?
 What strategies of accounting for gender violence can avoid reproducing narratives of hyper-victimization?
 How have processes such as truth commissions supported or resisted feminist analyses of structural violence or feminist counter-histories of struggle?
 How can anti-racist and anti-colonial feminist critiques of neoliberal “rule of law” agendas better intervene in this field?
 How can feminists and others working in the margins of this field engage in more productive dialogue and ultimately, social change?
Other possible themes include (but are not limited to):
 The difficult balance between institutionalizing hard-won gains around sexual violence and moving towards a more holistic agenda for women’s rights
 Indigenous and other feminist engagements with imperialism, colonialism, land theft and genocide
 Practitioner experience, strategies and struggles that rarely make it into the literature
 Feminist agendas of redistribution in transitional contexts
 The meanings and consequences of raced, classed, gendered divisions of labour in transitional justice work (eg. lawyer/non-lawyer; victim-witness/analyst)
 Different logics of gender in historical memory, legal or social justice work
 Assessing the utility of continuum models of gender violence in transition and long term impunity
 Critical approaches to militarized or other masculinities

Submission details

We invite:
 250-word abstracts for 15-minute individual presentations (research papers, critical reflections on experience, or artistic production related to conference themes)
 300-word descriptions of panels (3-4 presenters), followed by individual paper abstracts
 Detailed proposals for 45-60 minute round-table discussions on a theme: Why the theme? Who participates? How will the discussion be structured?


Who should apply? Practitioners, academics, graduate students, independent researchers, activists.
How and when to submit?  Submit by email in .doc or .pdf format to: by September 1, 2014. Please include your name and a short biographical statement (150 words) with your submission. All applicants will be notified if their submission has been accepted by September 1, 2014.

Other useful details:

Negotiations are underway for the publication of selected papers. We hope to have (limited) travel funds available for activists and those from remote or Global South locations. At this stage we cannot guarantee any funding, but aim to support your participation and welcome your inquiries.
Looking to volunteer? Contribute your skills and enthusiasm and participate in making this event a success! Contact us—undergraduate and graduate students are welcome. Most volunteer tasks will be concentrated in September and October 2014 on Keele Campus, York University, Toronto.


Works Cited

Al-kassim, Dina. 2008. “Archiving Resistance: Women’s Testimony at the Threshold of the State.” Cultural Dynamics 202:
Arthur, Paige. 2009. “How ‘Transitions’ Reshaped Human Rights: A Conceptual History of Transitional Justice.” Human
Rights Quarterly 31: 321-367.
de Brouwer, Anne Marie. 2005. Supranational Criminal Prosecution of sexual violence: The ICC and the Practice of the
ICTY and the ICTR. Antwerp: Intersentia
de Greiff, Pablo (Ed.). 2006. The Handbook of Reparations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Driver, Dorothy. 2005. “Truth, Reconciliation, Gender: the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Black
Women’s Intellectual History.” Australian Feminist Studies 2047: 219-229.
Duggan, Colleen, Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, and Julie Guillerot. 2008. “Reparations for sexual and reproductive violence:
Prospects for achieving gender justice in Guatemala and Peru.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 22:
Engle, Karen. 2005. “Feminism and its DisContents: Criminalizing Wartime Rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” American
Journal of International Law 994: 778-816.
Grewal, Inderpal. 1999. “Women’s Rights as Human Rights: Feminist Practices, Global Feminism, and Human Rights
Regimes in Transnationality.” Citizenship Studies 3(3): 339-354.
Hayner, Priscilla. 2002. Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions. New York: Routledge.
Hesford, Wendy. 2011. Spectacular Rhetorics: Human rights visions, recognitions, feminisms. Durham and London: Duke
University Press.
Human Rights Watch. 2004. Struggling to Survive: Barriers to Justice for Rape Victims in Rwanda. New York, Human
Rights Watch.
Kapur, Ratna. 2002. “The Tragedy of Victimization Rhetoric: Resurrecting the ‘Native’ Subject in International/Post-
Colonial Feminist Legal Politics.” Harvard Human Rights Journal 151.
Laplante, Lisa, and Kimberly Theidon. 2007. “Truth with consequences: Justice and reparations in Post-truth commission
Peru.” Human Rights Quarterly 29: 228-250.
McGlynn, Claire and Vanessa E. Munro (Eds.) 2010. Rethinking Rape law: International and Comparative Perspectives.
New York: Routledge.
Meertens, Donny and Margarita Zambrano. 2010. “Citizenship deferred: the politics of victimhood, land restitution and
gender justice in the Colombian Post? Conflict.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 4: 189-206.
medica mondiale/Mischkowski, Gabriela & Gorana Mlinarevic. 2009. “And that it does not happen to anyone anywhere in
the world…” The Trouble with Rape Trials – Views of Witnesses, Prosecutors and Judges on Prosecuting Sexualized Violence during the War in the former Yugoslavia. Cologne: medica mondiale.

Miller, Zinaida. 2008. “Effects of Invisibility: In Search of the ‘Economic’ in Transitional Justice.” International Journal of
Transitional Justice 2: 266-291.
Ní Aoláin, Fionnuala & Eilish Rooney. 2007. “Underenforcement and Intersectionality: Gendered Aspects of Transition for
Women” International Journal of Transitional Justice 1(3): 338-354.
Nowrojee, Binaifer. 2005. “ ‘Your Justice is Too Slow’: Will the ICTR Fail Rwanda’s Rape Victims?” Gender Equality:
Striving for Justice in an Unequal World. Occasional Paper 10. Geneva, UNRISD.
Pankhurst, Donna (Ed.) 2008. Gendered Peace: Women’s Struggle for Post-War Justice and Reconciliation. New York:
Richmond, Oliver (ed). 2010. Palgrave Advances in Peacebuilding: Critical Developments and Approaches. New York: Palgrave.
Ross, Fiona. 2003. Bearing Witness: Women and the Truth Commission in South Africa. London, Pluto Press.
Rubio-Marín, Ruth (Ed.). 2009. The Gender of Reparations: Unsettling Sexual Hierarchies While Redressing Human Rights
Violations. Cambridge: International Center for Transitional Justice and Cambridge University Press.
Seuffert, Nan. 2005. “Nation as partnership: Law, ‘Race,’ and Gender in Aotearoa New Zealand’s Treaty Settlements.” Law
and Society Review 393.
Smith, Andrea. 2006. “Boarding School Abuses, Human Rights and Reparations.” Journal of Religion & Abuse 82: 5-21.
—. 2005. Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. Boston, South End Press.
Stokke, Kristian & Jayadeva Uyangoda (ed). 2012. Liberal Peace in Question: Politics of State and Market Reform in Sri
Lanka. London: Anthem Press.
Teitel, Ruti. 2000. Transitional Justice. New York, Oxford University Press.
Theidon, Kimberly. 2007. “Gender in Transition: Common Sense, Women and War.” Journal of Human Rights 6: 453-478.
Zarkov, Dubravka. 2007. The Body of War: Media, Ethnicity and Gender in the Break-up of Yugoslavia. London: Duke
University Press.

Pricture of Genevieve Painter

Visiting the IFLS this week: Genevieve R. Painter

Pricture of Genevieve PainterGenevieve R. Painter is a doctoral candidate in Jurisprudence and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.  She is here this week only, to pursue some archival research and talk with members of the IFLS, Osgoode and York communities about mutual research interests.
Drawing on archival research, interviews, and participant observation, her doctoral project investigates the indigenous-settler colonial relationship, gender equality, and the meanings of sovereignty and self-governance in domestic and international law. She has worked as an advocate, manager, and researcher for several human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, WOMANKIND Worldwide, and the Trust Fund for Victims of the International Criminal Court. Genevieve is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at McGill University and a member of the Quebec Bar.
You can find Genevieve’s article, “Thinking Past Rights: Towards Feminist Theories of Reparations” (2012). 30 Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice open access here.


The notion of reparations encompasses debates about the relationship between individual and society, the nature of political community, the meaning of justice, and the impact of rights on social change. In international law, the dominant approach to reparations is based on individual rights. This normative framework is out of step with the understanding of reparations circulating among many women activists. I develop a theoretical approach to justice and reparations that helps to explain the gap between the international normative framework and activist discourses. Based on distributive, communitarian, and critical theories of justice, I argue that reparations can be thought of as rights, symbols, or processes. Understanding reparations as either rights or symbols is rife with problems when approached from an activist and feminist theoretical standpoint. As decisions about reparations programs are and should be determined by the political, social, economic, and cultural context, a blueprint for ‘a feminist reparations program’ is impractical and ill-advised. However, the strongest feminist approach to reparations would depart from an understanding of reparations as a process.
If you would like to pay us a visit, please follow the general Osgoode requirements for visitors (see Osgoode Research website) and indicate an interest in the IFLS on your application. If you want to discuss possibilities, send an email to Sonia Lawrence, the IFLS director s lawrence at Osgoode dot yorku dot ca