Back to top

Gender Persecution

​​Strengthening International Norms to Ensure Accountability

War-time abuses against women, girls, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer (LGBTIQ), non-binary and gender non-conforming persons are not new. They are as old as human history, appearing in modern international criminal law as far back as World War II. In conflicts across the globe, from Iraq to Colombia, armed actors have perpetrated gender-based crimes amounting to persecution in an effort to reinforce oppressive, discriminatory gender narratives. Rarely documented when they happen, perpetrators are hardly ever held accountable for these crimes. As a result, they are often excluded from consideration by international and domestic tribunals, and in effect, are left out of history. 

In order to strengthen accountability for such crimes, MADRE and our grassroots partners are working together to raise awareness and understanding the understanding of the crime of gender persecution. Despite international law’s decades-long recognition of it as a crime, international criminal law mechanisms have been largely silent on the topic due to a lack of recognition and understanding of the intent to discriminate against a group based on their gender. 

Wider recognition of gender persecution and a practical understanding of its meaning in conflict and peacetime would be powerful tools in the hands of women’s and LGBTIQ rights activists. Key to our strategy is legal advocacy driven by a bottom-up, cross-movement campaign rooted in the diverse experiences and political demands of our partners and their broader networks in the Global South.

The time is ripe to reaffirm that gender is a social construct and understood as such in international criminal law instruments, while building recognition of the full scope of gender persecution. Unlike human rights law, which has been shaped by feminists since the 1990s, very little norm-building has been done to bring a gender perspective to international criminal law, especially regarding the intersection of gender with other identities.

The Policy Paper on Gender Persecution

In an effort to promote accountability, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) is embarking on the creation of a Policy Paper on Gender Persecution. This Policy Paper aims to strengthen recognition of gender persecution in investigations and legal proceedings and reaffirm the understanding of gender in international criminal law. Building on our long history of fighting for accountability for gender-based crimes within international law frameworks, MADRE is rallying civil society to participate in the development of the Policy Paper on Gender Persecution. This Policy Paper presents a unique opportunity to bring together the voices of grassroots movements from across the globe to ensure that their perspectives inform this historic process.

Click here to read more about MADRE’s work to include civil society voices in the new policy paper on gender persecution.

The Toolkit for Identifying Gender Persecution

With support from UNWOMEN, MADRE and the Human Rights and Gender Justice (HRGJ) Clinic at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law developed the “Identifying Gender Persecution in Conflicts and Atrocities Toolkit.” The toolkit is designed to provide investigators, lawyers, advocates, documenters, and first responders with a framework for recognizing and understanding the legal context of gender persecution. 

Developed with the input of legal experts, feminist scholars, and practitioners, the toolkit’s four main sections (1) provide an overview of the international crime of persecution on gender grounds as a crime against humanity; (2) outline how persecution on gender grounds manifests, including past and current examples of gender persecution across a range of geographic, cultural and political contexts; (3) provide exercises and tools to assist the reader with identifying and documenting gender persecution; and (4) concludes with recommendations for ensuring accountability for gender persecution.

The toolkit is available in English, French, Russian, Spanish, and available on request in Arabic and Kurdish.

On the Frontlines

In the 1990s, MADRE housed the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice coalition to address gender gaps in the draft Rome Statute, which created the ICC. The coalition’s success in winning recognition of sexual violence as a violation of international law stands as one of the great advances of the global women’s movement. We also succeeded in exchanging the word “gender” for “sex” in the Rome Statute, which remains a key safeguard for gender justice under international criminal law.

Building on this history, in 2019 MADRE and our partners won a worldwide, movement-driven campaign to challenge the inclusion of the Rome Statute’s opaque definition to gender within the new draft Crimes Against Humanity (CAH) treaty. MADRE mobilized nearly 600 organizations and academics representing over 100 countries or territories to call for the definition to be removed. We built a global, cross-movement advocacy effort and served as a bridge to advocate successfully with policymakers. Ultimately, a majority of States working on the treaty affirmed that the rights of women and LGBTIQ persons are protected under international criminal law and that the pending treaty must reflect this principle.