Lived justice: women's senses of justice, reparations and decision-making after wartime sexual violence in northern Uganda (2022)
This dissertation centers the lived experiences of women who survived wartime sexual violence and forced marriage during a war in Northern Uganda (1986-2008) between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels and Uganda’s government. In the post-conflict setting, little information exists on how women decide whether or not to continue forced marriages started in rebel captivity. More so, some fifteen years after the war ended, few feel they have realized justice in a legal sense, despite a successful prosecution of an LRA commander in the International Criminal Court. Drawing on lived experience as knowledge, this qualitative research addressed the following questions: Why do mothers decide to reunite or not with the fathers to their children born of forced marriage and sexual violence? How do women make these decisions? What is the prevailing sense of justice and reparation sought by women who had children from forced marriage? Over a seven months’ period in 2019, interviews, focus groups and storytelling were conducted with sixty-eight participants in Gulu district, northern Uganda. Most scholarly literature on wartime forced marriages and sexual violence focus on rights-based approaches to justice, limiting it to retribution for a legal wrong; yet women emphasize that justice is pluralistic and exceeds law. This interdisciplinary research develops a theory of lived justice, a holistic sense of justice that enables women, and their children, to live dignified lives after wartime sexual violence and forced marriage. The theory has four intersecting themes. The first theme is place-based justice realizable when women own land to live on. Land fulfills senses of home, identity and belonging. Secondly, compensation-based justice offers recognition of suffering, shattered dreams and time lost in abduction. Thirdly, needs-based justice enables lives of dignity by enhancing women’s livelihoods, children’s education, and housing. The fourth theme is relationship-based justice that involves love, acceptance and recognition of women’s victimhood, citizenship and humanity from their families, communities, and government. These four themes intersect to enable lived justice and contributes knowledge on justice and reparations for wartime sexual and gender-based violence especially literature that reckon with senses of justice.