The theme for the 4 Corners Festival this year is “Dreams… Visions for Belfast.” One event that took place during the festival was a special evening in Clonard Monastery exploring the role of women in peacebuilding in Northern Ireland.
Clonard Monastery is a symbolic location because of its role as the location of the secret talks which helped contribute to a ceasefire and later the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. While these talks involved mostly men, some women clergy from Protestant traditions contributed to these important discussions.
The panel, chaired by Professor Gladys Ganiel, QUB, comprised Inspector Róísín Brown PSNI; Dr Maria–Adriana Deiana, Queen’s University; Eileen Weir, Shankill Women’s Centre; and Emma De Sousa, campaigner and writer. Music from singer songwriter Ferna, a recent winner of NI Music Award’s Single of 2022 opened the evening. She shared her songs focussing on dreams and a New City.
Dr Deiana opened with an overview of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) which affirms the important role of women in peacebuilding. However, UNSCR 1325 has not been applied in Northern Ireland. The evening was an important time for reflection on how, 25 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, we must implement a commitment to prioritise women being involved in peacebuilding. The women were asked to share their experience of working in peacebuilding and reflect on the barriers to women’s peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. The panel also reflected on opportunities for promoting women’s peacebuilding for the next generation.
The panelists offered some practical ways in which the sphere around women in peace building might change, particularly with the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and how this might contribute to a sustainable peace. Women are doing peace building, however, it is not formally recognised, as it is in their everyday lives. They may often not realise themselves that they are peacebuilders.
Key themes coming from the discussion on what women bring to peace building included the importance of building relationships, the empathy of women, and the vocational approach to peace building that women often have.
Barriers to greater involvement that were identified included the other responsibilities women have such as being care givers, the lack of coverage in the media of women peace builders, the lack of investment in both funding and in the women themselves and the absence of a formal structure that equips the next generation of women peacebuilders.
This emphasis on equipping the next generation of women and girls to take on peace building roles and the investment in education that is needed to give women the skills necessary to see peacebuilding as an achievable area to be involved in was the key take away of the evening.