This paper explores the often-undervalued role of gender in transitional justice mechanisms and the importance of women’s struggles and agency in that regard. We focus on the efforts of the women’s movement in Guatemala to address questions of justice and healing for survivors of gendered violence during Guatemala’s 36-year internal armed conflict. We discuss how the initial transitional justice measures of documenting gendered war crimes in the context of a genocide were subsequently taken up by the women’s movement and how their endeavors to further expose sexual violence have resulted in notable interventions. Interviews with key organizational activists as well as testimonies given by victims of sexual violence during the conflict suggest that transitional justice mechanisms, extended by women’s movements’ efforts, are creating conditions for the emergence of new practices and spaces that support the fragile cultivation of new subjectivities. Sujetas de cambio (subjects of change) are premised not on victimhood but survivorhood. The emergence of these new subjectivities and new claims, including greater personal security and freedom from everyday violence, must be approached with caution, however, as they are not born automatically out of the deeply emotional struggles that play out around historical memory. Still, their emergence suggests new ways for women to cope not only with the sexual violence of the past but also to work against the normative violence that is part of their present.

Author Biography

Rebecca Patterson-Markowitz earned her B.A. in International Interdisciplinary Studies and French at the University of Arizona in 2012. She currently lives in Tucson, AZ and is in the process of applying for a Fulbright research grant. Her research interests include gender in transitional justice, historical memory, and feminism in Latin America and francophone North Africa.

Elizabeth Oglesby is Associate Professor in the School of Geography and Development and the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona. She has worked in Guatemala since the 1980s, and from 1997-1999 she was a member of the research and writing team of the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification. She is co-editor, with Greg Grandin and Deborah T. Levenson, of The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

Sallie Marston is a Professor in the School of Geography and Development. Her work is located at the intersection of socio-spatial theory and the state. She examines how the state, or political identities related to the state, are made, remade and transformed in the intimate spaces of everyday life through the meaning systems generated through subject formation.