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A unique Women’s Conference brings together 120 women peacebuilders

Published on:  04 Dec 2014

More than 120 women who work with some of the most sensitive issues linked to community division met for the first time at a special event in Belfast today (4th December).

The cross-border and cross-community Women’s Conference, organised by Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI), is part of the International Fund for Ireland’s Peace Impact Programme (PIP) which supports more than 50 rural and urban groups. It was organised to highlight the huge but often unrecognised contribution women make to peacebuilding work in Northern Ireland and the border counties.                       

Over the past 18 months, women from the local groups have been advancing projects designed to engage with communities that have not previously or have only partially been involved in peace building activities.  

Over lunchtime, the women welcomed the An Munia Tober Women Singers who joined them to perform some inspirational songs – a unique occasion in itself.

Many of the local projects, including the Derry/Londonderry-based Unheard Voices and the Grace Women’s group in north Belfast, have been successful  in encouraging underrepresented women from unionist and nationalist traditions to work together to articulate opinions and resolve difficult issues linked to the legacy of the conflict.

Dr Adrian Johnston Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland said:

“The Peace Impact Programme has assisted community groups to bring forward ambitious new approaches to deal with complex topics like parading, interface tensions and encouraging young people away from paramilitaries. These projects are bringing positive change in difficult areas with impressive results. It is important that events like this enable the women involved in that work to share their experiences.

 “Many are making the first efforts to engage with marginalised individuals – particularly young people – and groups who remain disconnected from government interventions. The work undertaken by these women challenges root causes of sectarianism and is impacting positively on social stability and prosperity.”

Dr Avila Kilmurray, former Director of the Community Foundation NI who now works globally on peacebuilding and gender issues, delivered a guest address at the Women’s Conference and said:

“Women have a crucial role to play in peace building, but their voices need to be heard by those in power in communities and those making decisions in government. The reality is that sectarianism, domestic violence, suicide, isolation and disaffection are complex issues that deeply affect women in all communities and on both sides of the border. Getting conversations about divisive issues on the table is crucial and could be pivotal in developing action at times of tension.

 We hope to encourage participants to listen and learn from some powerful speakers discussing women's voices and roles in peacebuilding from a range of backgrounds.  Moreover, we hope they will talk to each other and share their experiences of working on peacebuilding issues at the local level, as well as the barriers they have experienced.”

In November, the International Fund for Ireland awarded more than £180,000/€205,000 through the Peace Impact Programme to five projects, taking the total funding to more than £4m/€4.8m and the number of projects to 53.

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