REPRESENT Women’s Ambassador Forum, Friday 10 May
‘Full, inclusive participation of women is essential at every level of public life to ensure ongoing peace and reconciliation’ – that was the message today at the second REPRESENT Women’s Ambassadors Forum, hosted by Irish Rural Link, where more than one hundred participants of the Next Chapter project and invited guests gathered to hear the stories of some of the women who helped build peace, as well as those who are building for the future.
REPRESENT was organised by Irish Rural Link, together with partners Politics Plus and Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), as part of The Next Chapter’s civic empowerment project building positive relations between women from different communities and backgrounds in Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland. It is funded through the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body. Match-funding for The Next Chapter project is provided by the Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development in Ireland.
This event, which is the second Women’s Ambassador Forum, heard from former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Liz O’Donnell, and founder member of the Women’s Coalition and Deputy Speaker of the NI Assembly, Jane Morrice and Bronagh Hinds, Senior Associate at DemocraShe and UN expert on women’s engagement in peace processes, who spoke about the challenges they faced during the peace process and their determination to ensure that the voice of women was heard. The forum also heard from four participants of the Next Chapter, who have already used the skills they have learned through the training programme to step forward and become more involved in community and public life.
With more than 300 participants in ten Chapter Hubs across Northern Ireland and the border counties, the Next Chapter provides a network and training for women to develop ideas, build communities and support the transition out of conflict. Participants have already completed modules ‘Women as Champions of Peacebuilding’ and ‘Decision Making, Politics & Public Life’, and are currently working on ’Developing a Powerful Voice’ and ‘Communicating with Impact’.
The forum was opened by Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys TD, who said: “It is my great pleasure to open the REPRESENT Women’s Ambassador Forum on the theme of “Women: Champions of Peace Building – The Past and The Future” marking the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which opened a new chapter of peace in Northern Ireland. One element of the peace process, and one that is of keen interest to peace-builders internationally, is the crucial role that women have played throughout successive years of negotiations. When women are meaningfully involved in peace negotiations, it is acknowledged that there is a far more significant chance of a longer-lasting and more inclusive peace. Our Government is a key supporter of this principle, and we will always work faithfully to support the protection and full realisation of the achievements of peace for everyone. As we move ahead with today’s phase of the peace process with a new generation of leaders in politics and in our communities, everyone involved needs to re-commit to the principles at the core of the Agreement—equality, mutual respect, partnership, tolerance, and trust.”
Welcoming delegates, Sinead Dooley, Deputy CEO Irish Rural Link said: “The role women have in peace building and reconciliation cannot be underestimated, and has been recognised in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. Today, we heard from three women who came forward at a very difficult political time, and ensured that the voice of women was heard in the peace process. They know how important it is for women to be at the fore and how the full, inclusive participation of women is essential at every level of public life to ensure ongoing peace and reconciliation. Thanks to funding from the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and match-funding provided by the Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development in Ireland for The Next Chapter project, Irish Rural Link, together with partners Politics Plus and NICVA, are currently delivering this opportunity at grass roots level, to 300 women of all ages and backgrounds.”
Speaking at the event, Joanne Jennings, Head of Programmes at Politics Plus, said: “More than two decades after the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement we are still seeing an insufficient representation of women in peace negotiations and in engagement in community reconciliation. To create a lasting legacy we need to make sure that women’s voices are heard. Whatever your background or passion, from aspiring public representatives to environmental activists, from charity campaigners to community organisers, we want even more women to get involved. It is important to make change happen and to make that a success full, inclusive participation of women, as part of a wider representation of all voices in the community, is essential at every level, from your local community group right through to the seats of government.”
Highlighting the significance of the project Gina McIntyre, CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), said: “Women have historically played a vital role in peacebuilding and this has helped to maintain order, reduce violence and keep families together. The Next Chapter project will support and encourage more women to become actively involved in this vital work, which will help to create a truly equal society in which women are empowered and afforded the opportunities to take up leadership positions within their own communities.”
More information on The Next Chapter can be found at www.thenextchapter.eu