Transitional justice as education: A feminist network for empowering truth commissions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol


Colombia's Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition is tasked with investigating the truth behind one of the world's longest running armed conflicts. In its preparatory phase, the Commission has been attentive to lessons learned from truth commissions around the world, of which there have now been more than forty. It introduces a number innovative practices, positioning it as an important part of Colombia's wider transitional justice process and of its chances to build a lasting peace.

Too often, truth commissions (TCs) have left engagement with formal and informal education until the end of their work, missing out on opportunities to engage the wider population in their work and to effect change in mind-sets and educational processes. Likewise, many TCs have included women's experiences of violence only narrowly or have approached gender as a discrete theme, unconnected to the rest of the TC's work. The Colombian TC is determined not to repeat these mistakes. However, like the Colombian peace process more generally, the TC faces significant challenges - polarised public opinion around peace, as demonstrated by the no victory in the 2016 referendum on the peace deal between the government and the FARC; rising rates of violence and active conflict regions of the country; and an upcoming Presidential election that may jeopardise the peace process. As they begin their work, Truth Commissioners and TC staff working on gender and pedagogy are bound to confront daily challenges of a high stakes, emotional, and exhausting stakes endeavour to collect the testimonies of up 50,000 Colombians affected by conflict.

This network seeks to support the gender and pedagogy work of the Colombian TC, ensuring that the TC is able to make a significant contribution to embedding a gender just and inclusive peace in Colombia. Using tools from the arts and humanities in feminist methodologies, affective agency, and transformative pedagogy, the network will connect Colombian truth commissioners and their teams with inspirational feminist leaders, who have led and learned from TC experiences elsewhere. These former Truth Commissioners are peace activists, human rights advocates, indigenous leaders, educators, and dignitaries - they will share their experiences being part of truth commissions from South Africa to Canada and Timor Leste to Peru, and they will support and offer strategic advice on the gender and pedagogy work of the Colombian TC, through a series of workshops and travel visits.

The project will collect the experiences and reflections of these inspirational leaders through a series of peer interviews, that will also feed into the supportive relational work of the project. These will be used to produce an interactive website aimed at future feminist peace activists and leaders around the world, which shares the life histories, advice and inspiration of these incredible individuals.

The network will have impact at a number of levels, including for: 1) the individuals who make up the network and draw energy and inspiration from it for their important transitional justice work; 2) the success of the Colombian truth commission and its contribution to peace in Colombia; 3) international TC and transitional justice best practice; and 4) sharing and developing theoretical tools around affective agency and transformative pedagogy in transitional justice.

Planned Impact

Drawing on the PI and Co-I track records of producing impactful research and on the strong networks of all project partners, our network will have impact for the following constituencies:

Impact for network participants
The network will bring together approximately 15 individuals (the great majority of whom will be women from the global south) to reflect upon, support and share experiences about doing high profile, emotional and important work on gender and pedagogy within truth commissions. This will be an affirming, supportive space that will nurture and benefit participants. It is oriented especially towards supporting those working in the pedagogy and gender working groups of the Colombian TC, who will be in the midst of an intense, emotional and high stakes period of work. The support of the network will contribute to their wellbeing as well as to their abilities to successfully and strategically undertake their professional roles within the TC.

Impact for the Colombian TC and its contribution to the Colombian peace process
A successful TC has the potential to help consolidate peace in Colombia, but also faces considerable challenges and needs support. Gender and pedagogy are central commitments of the Colombian TC and are identified as priorities for successful TCs in the international literature. The project will support this work and therefore contribute to ensuring that the Colombian TC makes a positive contribution to: 1) women victims and survivors of conflict that it engages with through its work; 2) embedding gender justice in the wider post-conflict landscape in Colombia thanks to its recommendations; and 3) the wider transition to peace in Colombia thanks to its successful engagements with formal and nonformal educative and pedagogical processes in Colombia.

Impact for transitional justice best practice and future TCs
The Colombia TC experience will be shared at a public event in Bristol during Workshop 3. There is a large, existing audience for this type of event in Bristol thanks the projects outlined above. We will publicise the event widely and share a blog summary on the Centre for Comparative and International Education blog. One of the academic publications from the project will also focus on sharing the Colombian TC experience in implementing these areas of 'best practice'. It will be published open access in a leading academic journal. We will also produce a PolicyBristol brief (published in Spanish and English) aimed at international transitional justice actors and future TCs, based on this article.

Impact for future feminist leaders and peace activists
The project will produce an interactive website based on content (including some filmed content) from peer interviews with network members, all of whom inspiring women leaders primarily from the global south with expertise in TJ, gender and pedagogy. It will be designed as a resource to inspire and offer practical support and advice to future feminist leaders working to support peace and justice in their contexts.
The website will be launched at event in Bristol during Workshop 3. The website link will then be shared by project partners and through their extensive networks.

Impact for theoretical development of feminist TJ, affective agency and gender and education in transitional justice
The second academic publication from this project will focus on the theorisation of the network's activities, with a particular focus on affect theory and affective agency. It will be published open access in a leading interdisciplinary journal.
Description Key findings include:

1) integrating an overarching gender focus into a truth commission's daily operations is challenging but essential. Even within the Colombian truth commission, which is generally thought of as a progressive environment (and receives criticism for this from some sectors), there is resistance to a feminist lens. This adds a further dimension to the exhausting and emotional work of the truth commission for the members gender working group.
2) women truth commissioners from around the world are keen to build solidarity, share learning and work together to enhance the possibilities of an explicitly feminist transitional justice.
3) feminist transitional justice and the idea of a feminist truth commission is easier to discuss in international/global conversations than it is within Colombia generally and within the Colombian truth commission specifically. Within the truth commission, resistance comes in many forms, including worry over the co-optation of the TC agenda, the feeling that women's issues are 'minor' in comparison to the scale of conflict, and struggles over resources, territory and primacy in the final report.
4) including gender and pedagogy in innovative ways in a truth commission mandate does not guarantee an impact in terms of either - each needs to be supported with resources, capable team members, clear strategies and civil society and international allies over the course of the truth commission, including in order to navigate internal as well as significant external challenges.
5) these findings have ODA relevance for a number of reasons:
a) transitional justice is a crucial process for peacebuilding and therefore, for inclusive economic recovery and development that reaches the most marginalised. This project contributes directly towards transitional justice in Colombia by supporting the work of its truth commission.
b) women are often among the most marginalised and victimised by conflict. For transitional justice to be successful, it must respond to women's needs, acknowledge their experiences and contribute to tangibly improving their lives. This project supports the Colombian truth commission to do this, by providing key support to its innovative gender working group.
c) this project will share lessons from the Colombian truth commission widely, highlighting the work of its gender working group, which no other truth commission to date has had. This will enable future truth commissions in ODA countries to improve the ways in which their transitional justice mechanisms met women's needs and contribute towards meaningful peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery.
Exploitation Route 1) the network that the project has developed between former women truth commissioners can be maintained through personal contacts and commitments as well as by further funding from UN Women, which is currently under discussion. The inspirational and influential women who gave their time to the project to support the Colombian truth commission based on their experiences leading truth commissions around the world recognise the need for a network to support, learn from and share the experiences of being a female truth commissioner and are commitment to maintianing this network.

2) the theoretical conceptualisations are feminist transitional justice and truth commissions and learning truth commissions can be used in research and scholarhip.

3) taken together, the network and the theoretical conceptualisations, can strengthen and support the work of future truth commissions, especially around gender and pedagogy. this project will share lessons from the Colombian truth commission widely, highlighting the work of its gender working group, which no other truth commission to date has had. This will enable future truth commissions in ODA countries to improve the ways in which their transitional justice mechanisms met women's needs and contribute towards meaningful peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

Description 1) findings from this award have been used within the truth commission to help to build support for a cross-cutting approach to gender within the commission's work, for example by profiling an interview with me (Julia Paulson) in the truth commission's public newsletter in January 2019 and by inviting all of the Commissioners to the March 2020 event with former truth commissioners. 2) findings from this award have been used to support the gender work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP, the transitional justice court in Colombia), including through dialogue with the research team and JEP colleagues and by a visit and dialogue with ex-commissioners at the March 2020 event. 3) the October 2019 event on 'what does it mean to be a feminist and learning truth commission?' was attending by a large audience, including a non-academic one, many of whom were inspired by the stories of arts based activism and feminism that Alejandra Coll from the gender working group shared. Attendees explained that this influenced a mural in Bristol that they went onto create about women's rights in the context of the Chilean protests. 4) in March 2021 the contributions of this project and the University of Bristol more widely were recognised by the Colombian truth commission at a public event, which celebrated the collection of thousands of testimonies, including from women in remote and difficult to reach areas, collected using feminist and gender sensitive approaches developed and funded in part by this project. The gender and feminist work of the Colombian truth commission is influencing transitional justice practices in and beyond the country and will likely continue to do so after the publication of the commission's final report in November 2021. The project has impact on Colombia's transitional justice process - crucial to peacebuilding and economic recovery in the country - by directly supporting the work of the truth commission, including by meeting the needs of two important areas within the truth commission: gender and pedagogy. This helps to ensure that the truth commission will directly meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable and marginalised by conflict, including women and children. The project has a strong gender element, given its partnership with the truth commission's gender working group and with the leading women's rights organisation, Pacific Route of Women (Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres), its focus on bringing together former female truth commissioners and gender-focused experts, and its project leadership team with is entirely female in the UK and in Colombia. We adopt a feminist lens, promote the Colombian truth commission as a feminist one, and orient our activities towards ensuring that the truth commission has a positive and important impact for women and other communities marginalised by conflict in Colombia, including LGBTQ communities (how best to support and include LGBTQ communities in the truth commission's work and its final report is a focus for the March 2020 workshop).
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description El Spectador article
Geographic Reach South America 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Education, Justice and Memory Network (EDJAM)
Amount £1,999,980 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/T007842/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 03/2024
Title Truth Commissioner interviews 
Description This database compromises 30 interviews (audio files and transcripts) with current and former truth commissioners from around the world, with a focus on gender, pedagogy and education within truth commission work and final reports. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact We are currently analysing data and drafting publications, which will be submitted in 2020 and 2021 
Title Truth Commissioner interviews 
Description This is a database of 30 interviews (transcripts and audio recordings) with current and former truth commissioners from around the world exploring the ways in which truth commissions have worked with gender and pedagogy in their work. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact We are currently analysising data and will begin to publish from this dataset in 2020 
Description Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres 
Organisation Peaceful Women's Route
Country Colombia 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This partnership results from the ongoing collaboration between Maria Teresa Pinto (MEMPAZ CoInvestigator) and Ruta Pacifica. Thanks to their existing relationship, Ruta Pacifica has been a key partner for both MEMPAZ and 'Transitional Justice as Education', shaping project directions and leading activities.
Collaborator Contribution Transitional Justice as Education: Ruta Pacifica have played a key role in shaping the project and its objectives and in organising project activities in Colombia. MEMPAZ: Ruta Pacifica leads memory work in Antioquia, working with women in the communities of Caceres and Caucasia, both of which have been very affected by conflict and violence, to produce memory work using theatre.
Impact All outputs reported in MEMPAZ and 'Transitional Justice as Education'
Start Year 2019
Description UN Women partnership 
Organisation United Nations Women
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution UN Women were aware of the development of 'Transitional Justice as Education' and when it was funded, joined the team as key project partners. We shared project objectives with them and became partners thanks to the shared commitment to supporting the gender working group of the Colombian CEV.
Collaborator Contribution UN Women have offered additional financial resources to support the March 2020 workshop and have offered in kind support, including by sharing their networks and contacts with us, enabling us to be in touch with ex-commissioners around the world.
Impact All outputs and outcomes reported in relevant sections.
Start Year 2019
Description Civil society and the truth commission's gender working group - closed discussion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact In July 2019, Representatives from leading women's rights and LGTBQI+ civil society organisations in Colombia met with members of the Colombian truth commission's gender working group, and with MEMPAZ team members, Maria Tersesa Pinto OCampo, Martin Suarez, Fabio Lopez and Matthew Brown to discuss the approach and strategies of the gender working group and to ensure a broad coalition of support for it from across civil society.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Colombia Week (October 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In October 2019, the University of Bristol hosted 'Colombia Week 2019: Truth, Memory and Diaspora: The Seeds of Peace in Colombia'
The description of the event is below. It was very attended, with all event registration pages selling out. Colombia week helped to build a strong community in and beyond Bristol supporting the peace process in Colombia and raised awareness about the ongoing work of both MEMPAZ and 'Transitional Justice as Education'.

Colombia is at a crucial crossroads in the implementation of its peace accord. This week of events offers a vital opportunity to reflect upon the innovations of and challenges for Colombia's truth commission and the legacies of the country's long tradition of research in historical memory.
Guests include Carlos Beristain, Truth Commissioner; Gonzalo Sanchez, Former Director of the National Centre for Historical Memory; and Alejandra Coll, Gender Working Group, Truth Commission.

Wed 16 October: What does it mean to be a feminist and learning truth commission? (with Alejandra Coll - CEV Gender Working Group - and Ana Cristina Navarro - CEV Pedagogy Director)
Thu 17 October: Memory, truth and the challenges for peace in Colombia (with Gonzalo Sanchez, former director the National Centre for Historical Memory)
Fri 18 October: The Truth Commission and the Colombian Diaspora (with Carlos Beristain, Truth Commissioner, CEV, and members of the UK testimony collection team)
Sat 19 October: El Testigo (Film Screening with comments from the Director)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Ex-commissioners Bogota workshop - Mar 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This activity will take place 4-6 March 2020 in Bogota, Colombia, and is a key event in the Transitional Justice as Education project. It brings together women who have served as Truth Commissioners around the world to support the gender and pedagogy work of the Colombian truth commission at a key stage in their work. The Colombian truth commission is concluding its testimony collection phase and is entering into analysis and synthesis ahead of starting to draft the final report. The workshop is organised to answer key questions that they have at this stage of their work and to ensure that their contributions have a strong presence in the final report and contribute to broader processes of transformation and peacebuilding.
The workshop includes a strong media strategy, to ensure that the presence of high profile former commissioners generates support for the truth commission's work and for its gender and pedagogy strategies in particular.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020