Global Carceral Feminism and Domestic Violence: What the West Can Learn from Reconciliation in Uganda

Publication Date

Winter 2018



Document Type



Policies and laws emphasizing criminal justice have dominated domestic violence interventions, in the United States and globally, for decades. The feminist advocacy promoting the criminal justice approach is referred to by critics as “carceral feminism.” Western influence in the international human rights movement has spurred the spread of carceral feminism around the world, seeing it as the key means for addressing violence against women. However, the carceral approach is now criticized for failing to help, and sometimes outright harming, its supposed beneficiaries. In place of carceral policies, advocates have begun to push for community-based restorative and transformative justice alternatives to prosecution. This article examines Uganda’s use of reconciliation, a restorative justice mechanism, to respond to and prevent domestic violence in the community. Uganda is an instructive example because, unlike other case studies, it is a state-sanctioned, nationwide mechanism intentionally made available to all domestic violence victims. Reconciliation in Uganda gives advocates an opening to not just meet the expressed needs of victims of domestic violence, but to also effect normative change in a way that the formal legal system has failed to do. This is important not just in Uganda, but beyond its borders as well. For example, western countries, many of which have already seen restorative justice experiments occurring on a smaller scale, can take note of the possibilities available with widespread restorative justice mechanisms. Whereas historically, the international rights movement spread ideas and concepts from the west to the rest of the world, the potential of restorative justice indicates that at least in some cases, justice is better served by reversing the flow of ideas.