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Lessons from Northern Ireland: Workshop with women activists

February 23, 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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