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Lessons From Northern Ireland: Workshop With Women Activists

23 February 2015

The WILPF initiative Women Organising for Change in Syria and Bosnia continues its activities with women from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Building on the existing experiences and capacities of the BiH women’s organisations and activists, we are working to elevate those experiences to the level where they will be able to overcome nationalistic politics of division and the current focus on issues that prevent the Bosnian peace from becoming sustainable.

As part of the initiative’s ongoing activities to provide the necessary information on how to organise on specific issues and across nationalistic divides, we organised a workshop that introduced the approach that women from Northern Ireland took in regards to the negotiations of the Good Friday Peace Agreement and their subsequent involvement in politics.

The example of Northern Ireland

Our guests from Northern Ireland were Bronagh Hinds, Avila Kilmurray, and Monica McWilliams. The three of them were co-founders of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, a cross-community political party elected to the Multi-Party Peace Negotiations that lead to the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998.

These women have since then been working with women’s and civil rights movements, in conflict transformation and peacebuilding initiatives, with transitional justice issues and on different aspects of the peace agreement such as human rights, community relations, and re-integration of political ex-prisoners.

The workshop was organised for women from BiH who had expressed an interest in participating in a study tour to Northern Ireland planned to take place later this year. The participants came from different parts of BiH, and included representatives of formal organisations, informal initiatives, political parties as well as individual activists.

Transformation and reshaping of the political space for women

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Participants discuss strategies used by women activists in Northern Ireland and the possibility of applying them in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo credit: Sanja Vrzic

At the workshop we talked about what peacebuilding and activism looked like in Northern Ireland. The focus was on what strategies women used in order to become a party to the negotiations, what strategies they applied to activism at the community level while working across nationalistic divides, and what Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition meant for peace negotiations and the peace agreement itself.

The experiences shared by our Northern Ireland colleagues triggered important discussions among the participants in terms of what strategies and activities need to be applied in BiH in order for women to not just participate and be represented in decision-making bodies without real means to exert influence over the situation in the country, but to transform and shape the space for women in politics in a way that gives it real influence.

The discussions we started were only the beginning and we are looking forward to new meetings and workshops where we can continue to develop and turn our discussions into important strategies for meaningful and influential participation of women in politics, with the ultimate aim of creating a just society grounded in the principles of solidarity and equality.

Visit Women Organising for Change in Syria and Bosnia for more info.

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WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

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WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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