CSW 57: Reconciliation or rage? Striking a balance between forgiveness and justice

CSW 57: Reconciliation or rage? Striking a balance between forgiveness and justice


Date: March 6, 2013
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New York, 6 March: Before I left for New York to attend CSW there was a radio discussion on Talk 702 -a provincial station in South Africa -around the punishment of rapists. A lot of respondents insisted that perpetrators of gender based violence (GBV) be equally brutalised, hanged or chemically castrated. I can comprehend this perspective due to the surge of rage that boils one’s blood when witnessing or hearing about the heinous crimes committed against women. However, my view is that the solution lies prior to and beyond punishment. I still believe punitive justice is important, but we need to attend to the violent structures at play and foster a cognitive transformation.

I attended a presentation by Feminenza; a non-profit international network, operating in countries across Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia and Kenya in Africa. It focuses primarily on the long-term development of women and promoting respect between genders through the advancement of forgiveness and reconciliation. Feminanza views the restoration of partnerships between men and women as a key to building peace.

Since 2008 Feminenza has worked in the rift valley of Kenya training ‘victims’ of GBV as well as perpetrators. The training supports the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR 1325) by training women to become leaders in ending conflict and advancing forgiveness and reconciliation in their communities. Feminenza offers training to local women who then continue to teach and engage with their fellow survivors and perpetrators within the community.

Their Seven Pillars of Forgiveness program teaches women to “manage their fear” allowing them to overcome the paralysis and self-destruction that fear breeds. This process then enables these women to start their journey on the “pathways to forgiveness”. This process of forgiveness is certainly an important act of self-empowerment, urging women to rise above victimhood and actively end the suffering that continues long after the violence was perpetrated against them.

According to this organisation, their workshops have made incredible changes in the lives of Kenyan women, who were survivors of unspeakable violence. Previously these women would not even step out of their front doors, but now they have overcome their fears and are able to continue living their lives without being controlled by their fears. Some have even faced their perpetrators, most being male family members. In this way, perpetrators have to recognise the trauma they have caused. Feminenza also encourages perpetrators to face their fears, deal with their guilt and forgive themselves.

As much as reconciliation is important for both survivors and offenders, it is not often that women are able to simply “manage their fear”, especially if it is a very real part of their everyday existence. How often is it that women have the luxury of face-to-face accountability from their perpetrators? How often are perpetrators willing to account for their crimes, never mind being accountable to their victims?

We often hear about the multiple burdens that women bear: economic oppression, sexism and violence, all compounded by race and class. Women also then shoulder the on-going burden of fighting for change. Are women now encouraged to lead the process of reconciliation and the rehabilitation of their perpetrators? Must they not only continue as mothers and heads of households, but also somehow take up leading roles in keeping peace in their homes and communities to prevent further violence? Is this not falling trap to the enduring expectation that leaves the responsibility to the survivors and not the perpetrators?

Feminenza says that men and some offenders within these communities are showing interest and have expressed a desire to be a part of the reconciliation processes. These men have also spoken out about the structures that incite their violence, such as militias forcing men to kill and rape as well as teenage boys told by elders during initiation, ‘You no longer have to listen to women’. Although responsibility is emphasised in their training, perpetrators merely embarking on a pathway to reconciliation and forgiveness is not enough. This pathway needs an element of reparation and commitment to changed behaviour.

Without perpetrators acting and atoning in some way or form, the line between impunity and a simple washing of hands by apologising and expressing guilt, becomes all the more finer. Women cannot “forgive the person” unless that apology is tangible and change is visible. Words and metaphorical pathways alone will not cut it.

Women should not have to take up the leading roles in “improving partnerships between genders” or “understanding the other gender”. It is about time that men start doing this. In fact, men and only men can take the leading role in fighting GBV. As much as reconciliation and forgiveness is necessary for the survivors, a fair degree of rage is important too. As Gurpreet Singh Johal explains in his paper Order in Chaos, “A pedagogy of rage insists upon an unconditional commitment to justice. As much as systems of oppression attempt to ensure justice as “just us”, a pedagogy of rage is an instrumental catalyst of opposition”.

Katherine Robinson is the communications manager for Gender Links. This article is part of GL’s special coverage of CSW 57.


0 thoughts on “CSW 57: Reconciliation or rage? Striking a balance between forgiveness and justice”

Chenda Josephine says:

Indeed a very good article on reconcilliation. Being a christian I beleive in forgiveness and only when you forgive can you also be forgiven. Trully, the only way we can reduce and eliminate the GBV is by the men who are the main perpetrators to initiate the process of preaching and ending the GBV.

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