International Women’s Day 2019

Today is International Women’s Day; a day that aims to bring focus on gender equality, or inequality, in various aspects of everyday life. This year’s theme is ‘better the balance, better the world’, with the overall vision being to build towards a gender balanced world.

In looking forward, it is not uncommon to reflect on the past and in Northern Ireland and as the legacy of the Troubles continues to resonate throughout today’s society, reflection and building for the future are crucial.

The conflict here contributed to gender specific issues in both the period it spanned and right throughout today’s society.

There have been various articles and studies seeking to explore this area of gender and conflict, such as Jessica Doyle and Monica McWilliams’ ‘Intimate Partner Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies: Insights and Lessons from Northern Ireland’ (2018) and ‘Gender Principles for Dealing with the Legacy of the Past’ by the Legacy Gender Integration Group (2015). The former of these suggested that gender narratives created by conflict in Northern Ireland continue to hinder a shared future whilst the latter highlights that the needs of women in this post-conflict society have not been addressed effectively.

The Commission convenes a Forum of victims and survivors, of which eight are women. They have shared their own personal experience of being a woman during the Troubles emphasising the unique issues faced by women in conflict situations:

“It has affected every part of my life (and) has stopped me from being a mother, a wife & continually uphold relationships,” says one Forum member, “but I still have lots of love to give as a human being.”

Another of our Forum members notes that “The accepted narrative was not really interested in the gendered harms experienced by women and children left to pick up the pieces and these were therefore never exposed…It was commonplace to medicate women who were under pressure, a practice which in reality meant children were being raised by young, vulnerable and often drugged up mothers. The real harm for me came in the aftermath of my father’s death – grief was the least of what we had to deal with.”

Though the impact was, and is, profound, the resilience and strength that these women demonstrate is amazing; in their own words:

Life could either become tragically negative or positively progressive. I chose the latter… The Troubles have been horrendously hard but have strengthened us as individuals and as a nuclear family. Our children have now gained these traits which have enriched their lives.”

“Both my husband and I served in the Ulster Defence Regiment… we were a partnership. Moving forward is my legacy and tribute to him and to all those that paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

It is this strength and determination to work towards the future that inspires a new generation to try and ensure a more balanced and shared future for all victims and survivors of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. As one Forum member highlights, atrocities were “indiscriminate, gender does not matter.” It is perhaps with this outlook that we as a society can work towards a better balanced world; working together to ensure that it never happens again.