Giving voice to women in the N.I. peace process

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 00:00

Irish Research Council scholar and doctoral student in the Department of Sociology , Niall Gilmartin, presented a paper at the Political Studies Association of Ireland conference held at Trinity College 18-20th October, 2013. Niall's paper was entitled : "Mobilised By Conflict, Restricted By Peace: The Ambiguous Transitions of Female Combatants and the Northern Ireland Peace Process." 

The Good Friday Agreement heralded the end of Northern Ireland’s bitter conflict, signalled the onset of peace and is acclaimed by some as a prudent model of conflict resolution. Despite female combatants’ central and prominent role during the Troubles, particularly within the Republican Movement, their conflict transformation experiences have been largely neglected thus far. Based on in-depth interviews, this paper critically explores the highly ambiguous transitions of republican women during the Northern Ireland peace process. Despite emerging as mobilised political agents upon the conclusion of armed actions, this paper finds that republican women were largely excluded from active participation during the peace process. While grassroots republican activism during the conflict fostered high levels of women’s involvement across an eclectic range of political and social issues, the years of the peace process witnessed a resurrection of pre-conflict normative gender roles, resulting in the side-lining of gender-based issues as roles regressed towards more ‘traditional’ lines and the political agenda for peace became narrower and more restrictive. This case-study also finds that while ‘conventional armed conflict’ has largely concluded, the testimonies here suggest that Northern Ireland is still a long way from peace. Daily experiences of sectarianism, domestic violence, political and social exclusion, a mistrust of the police and continuing structural violence are indicative that a genuine peace entails far more than just the absence of observable armed conflict. The paper concludes that standard processes of conflict resolution invariably exclude women as women, regardless of their differing positions and war-time roles. In terms of female combatants, the perilous consequence of such an approach ensures that a significant sector of women and combatants are largely ignored and neglected. Consistent throughout this paper is the articulation for a more transformative and inclusive approach towards conflict resolution; recognising women as combatants and including their voices and unique experiences is a salient first step in that process of transformation.