Struggling for Peace: How Women in Northern Ireland Challenged the Status Quo

Renjie L. Butalid
There are roughly 2,000 murals, many of them political, in Northern Ireland. The murals pictured here are in Derry, and they depict “the Troubles,” the 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland that ended in 1998 with the Belfast Agreement.

In Brief

Since the late 1990s women have been struggling for a place at the table in peace accords. The inclusion of women in such negotiations is not merely a question of gender equity but also contributes to an improved negotiating process and the creation of a more durable peace agreement. A new political party established in the midst of a macho conservative culture, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) succeeded in getting elected to the multiparty talks that led to the Belfast Agreement in 1998 (also known as the Good Friday Agreement). The struggle to find solutions so that women’s concerns are not discarded, particularly following the implementation of a peace agreement, should resonate with those working with the UN resolutions on women and peace building. The NIWC’s legacy is its freshness of perspective and solutions-focused approach—much needed in countries coming out of conflict. The coalition’s achievements in creating workable outcomes for the long term should encourage people everywhere who seek solutions in peace negotiations so that they can rebuild their societies.

Key Concepts

  • Women can play a strong role in conflict situations.

  • The establishment of credible networks can help women build influence in the peace process both at home and abroad.

  • Inclusive dialogue and risk taking are necessary to sustain relationships with excluded parties during periods of serious tension in the peace process.

  • Casual encounters can be essential in gathering insights from other parties and those working behind the scenes in negotiations.

  • Gender analysis can lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the realities of conflict and the meaning of security.

Eavan Boland, the Irish poet, wrote that, for women, engaging in political struggle was about daring to be at “the scene of the crime.”