Welcome back, Academic Feminists! Today is the final installment of our student series, where undergraduate and masters students discuss their work on gender and sexuality. Today’s interview is with Zala Žbogar.
Zala is a recent graduate of the Mst in Women’s Studies at the University of Oxford. She holds an MA in International Relations and Spanish from the University of St Andrews. Her previous work has included examinations of post-conflict gender mainstreaming, rape in the military, and sex work. Tweet her @blablazala with any questions or comments!
Gwendolyn: What is your thesis about?
Zala: My thesis took a feminist institutionalist approach to examine why, despite the extensive provisions in the Rome Statute under which the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established, the ICC has failed to prosecute for gender-based crimes. It focused on the trials of The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and The Prosecutor v. Germain Katanga. My research questions sought to uncover the embedded gender norms of formal and informal institutions (embedded gender norms), how the ICC addressed or challenged them, the relationship between the two, as well as the gaps and silences. I found that, in both the Lubanga and Katanga cases, there were consistent failures in the prosecution of gender-based crimes. In both cases, embedded gender norms were made visible through actions, such as the treatment of witnesses and the verdict, as well as through silences, such as the failure to gather sufficient evidence and the failure to amend charges.
What got you interested in this subject?
Having studied International Relations as an undergrad, I learned about the increased institutionalization of many aspects of the international arena, including international criminal justice. We rely on these institutions as tools to affect change. The problem is that they themselves are embedded with gender norms. I found this in the case of the ICC’s prosecution of sexual violence. These underlying power structures need to be uncovered for institutions to truly hold to their mandates.
What is the one thing you are most proud of?
My methodology! I have had countless discussions with friends based in various disciplines who devalue feminist approaches, because they are not “objective” (to which I counter: objectivity does not exist!) but, as my supervisor kindly phrased it, this often comes down to an “epistemological clash.” Many academics’ suspicions of feminist research does mean that we have to very clearly justify our approach.
What was the most difficult?
Definitely gathering evidence. I had some problems accessing certain people or experiences, as it was difficult to assess whether I was really seeing all perspectives. Much of the evidence used by the Prosecution, as well as parts of the trials, was closed in both of the cases I evaluated. I therefore had to rely on materials obtained from open sources. This, in fact, illuminated the problematic nature of hidden and invisible power, and the ways in which these make the uncovering of gender norms so difficult.
What is the one piece of advice you’d offer to students who will be working on theses this year?
Your masters thesis is your opportunity to specialize within your specialization; to delve into exactly what you are passionate about. My advice is to take your time, and really explore your options before deciding on a topic. Read widely and take advantage of your professors’ insight and the smaller class sizes.
Thanks to all of our Feministing Student Series participants! Although this series is finished for now, we always welcome new scholarship at the undergraduate and graduate level here at the Academic Feminist. Give us a shout at scholarlyfeminist[at]gmail.com or @gwendolynb. And happy back-to-school season, everyone!
The Academic Feminist is curated by Gwendolyn Beetham.