Civil wars are not only destructive: they can also give birth to new, long-lasting social, political, and economic structures and processes. I argue that we should in fact view civil wars as critical junctures. Civil wars relax structural constraints, opening opportunities for changes generated by wartime processes, while war's end can lock in these changes, creating path dependency. Government victory may foreclose change (critical junctures do not necessarily lead to transformation), but governments can also make lasting reforms in response to conflicts. Rebel victory has major potential for statebuilding and societal transformation, while negotiated settlements can institutionalize a new balance of domestic political power. I illustrate the benefits of a critical junctures approach to civil wars in the literature on wartime and postwar women’s empowerment, and I discuss how a critical junctures framework may prove useful for civil war studies employing methods beyond comparative historical analysis.