MEP Anderson addresses European event on Women, Fundamental players in Peacebuilding.

Addressing a Colombian Peace Process event at the European Parliament in Brussels today on ‘Women, Fundamental players in Peace-building’ Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson was joined by speakers from El Salvador and Colombia

Martina Anderson said:

“This is about learning from experiences and while our Colombian colleagues are basically still in the initial stages of their peace process, we in Ireland have been engaged in the public phase of our process for over 15 years.

“In Ireland’s peace negotiations, women made up a sizeable proportion of our negotiations team with the late Siobhan O’Hanlon and former MEP Bairbre de Brún playing prominent roles in the process.  Sinn Féin put a major emphasis on the importance of inclusive dialogue and my party colleague Conor Murphy MP who took part in a cross party delegation to Havana recently in support of the Colombia peace initiative called on the International community to get behind the process in the same way in which it supported the Irish Peace Process.

“On behalf of Sinn Féin, we wish you well in your endeavours and we will assist your peace building efforts in whatever way we can. And today as part of Sinn Féin’s continuing support for and solidarity with the Colombia Peace Process I am honoured to speak at this event today and particularly about the role of women in Ireland’s peace process.

“Inclusivity, as we have learned in Ireland, is a fundamental principle on which peace processes should be built if they are to be successful. And given that women make up 51% of the population an inclusive process of any kind cannot succeed without the support and participation of women.

“In discussing the role of women in any Peace Process and the contributions we make to reconciliation, the role of women combatants must be acknowledged – and therefore their participation in suing for peace is essential.

“To that end, account has to be taken of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which was unanimously adopted by the UN on 31st Oct 2000 and called for the adoption of a gender perspective that included the specific needs of women during elements of post conflict resolution.“

 

Full text of Martina Anderson’s address to Colombian Peace Process Event.

 

This is about learning from experiences and while our Colombian colleagues are basically still in the initial stages of their peace process, we in Ireland have been engaged in the public phase of our process for over 15 years.

In Ireland’s peace negotiations, women made up a sizeable proportion of our negotiations team with the late Siobhan O’Hanlon and former MEP Bairbre de Brún playing prominent roles in the process.  Sinn Féin put a major emphasis on the importance of inclusive dialogue and my party colleague Conor Murphy MP who took part in a cross party delegation to Havana recently in support of the Colombia peace initiative called on the International community to get behind the process in the same way in which it supported the Irish Peace Process.

On behalf of SF, we wish you well in your endeavours and we will assist your peace building efforts in whatever way we can. And today as part of Sinn Féin’s continuing support for and solidarity with the Colombia Peace Process I am honoured to speak at this event today and particularly about the role of women in Ireland’s peace process.

Inclusivity, as we have learned in Ireland, is a fundamental principle on which peace processes should be built if they are to be successful. And given that women make up 51% of the population an inclusive process of any kind cannot succeed without the support and participation of women.

In discussing the role of women in any Peace Process and the contributions we make to reconciliation, the role of women combatants must be acknowledged – and therefore their participation in suing for peace is essential.

To that end, account has to be taken of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which was unanimously adopted by the UN on 31st Oct 2000 and called for the adoption of a gender perspective that included the specific needs of women during elements of post conflict resolution.

This is the first formal and legal document from the UN Security Council that requires parties in a conflict to respect women’s rights and to involve women in post conflict resolution.

It was long overdue because it’s widely accepted that women bear the brunt of conflict and yet it is often the case that women’s experiences of conflict are generally ignored; hence advancing women’s rights is usually down the list of priorities.

Although men tend to dominate military and political organizations, this has not excluded women from fighting in conflicts – even if such conflicts are generally regarded as the sole terrain of men.

In Ireland it is estimated that approximately 25,000 Irish Republican prisoners served 100,000 years in prison – and there were a number of us women who were given life sentences.

In the Irish context, while the struggle of prisoners – mostly men – has been well documented, the struggle of women prisoners – or of mothers, wives, sisters and daughters who struggled on the outside – is less well documented.

During the jail protests there was little mention given to the fact that women prisoners in Armagh Jail who were on the no wash protest – as were the men in Long Kesh Prison – had to cope with monthly menstrual cycles and the regular strip searches were akin to sexual assaults carried out at times by male prison wardens.

On the outside whether through death, imprisonment or husbands not able to live at home, mainly wives were left to raise their families – although there were women and some were mothers who were combatants, political activists and were victims of the conflict. Women were killed, and women were imprisoned.

In the Republican/Nationalist community women were to the forefront in political campaigns such as the anti-internment movement and in supporting the prison protests and the Hunger Strikes.    They organized and participated in vigils and Street protests and became important figures in our local communities.

I was first arrested at the age of 16, again arrested and charged at the age of 18 – was given bail and not believing I would get a fair hearing I did not show up for trail.

I went OTR – On the Run as it’s called in Ireland. I was arrested again at the age of 23 in Scotland, and sentenced to life at the Old Baily in England of which I served 13 ½ years before being released under the terms of the GFA.

All political prisoners were released as part of the GFA the peace process agreement and since my release in 1998; I have been involved with Sinn Féin and have held a number of positions.

Our Peace Agreement addressed a number of areas, one of which was equality – the GFA references equality 21 times. To that end legislation was enacted for an equality duty which is known as Section 75 of the 1998 Act.

Section 75 outlines 9 categories where there must be equality of opportunity – and one of those is equality of opportunity between men and women.

That said, ensuring that women and men have the same opportunities does not always guarantee that they will experience the same outcome because some groups in society — in this instance, women — need to be treated differently – need positive actions in order to ensure equality in practice and outcome.

Women’s inequality is a structural problem, stemming from a patriarchal society.

In the south of Ireland for example, there still remains an Article in the Constitution that ‘recognises the primary duty of women to be in the home’.

Sinn Féin was the only party that had women representatives in their negotiation team leading up to the Good Friday Agreement. This included among others the late Siobhan O’Hanlon a senior advisor to Party President Gerry Adams and Chief Negotiator, Martin McGuinness as well as my predecessor, Sinn Fein MEP, Bairbre de Brún.

Peace is not simply the absence of conflict. Participation – participatory democracy is crucial for the practice of rights and where there are frameworks like the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that name women’s issues or statutory equality duties like Section 75 we should hold onto them tight; hold them up and never give an inch of them up, because they name the issue of women’s relationship to power and facilitate the most excluded – namely women.

For any peace process to be successful, it has to be tested.

You have to examine who was at the table and who are the beneficiaries and it should not simply be implemented for those who were and continue to be at the table.

For the most part – apart from Sinn Féin, men dominated party politics in Ireland at the time leading up to the GFA peace negotiations, it was men who were at the table and there was a complete lack of engagement with and involvement of women in most political parties.

This inspired the establishment of the Women’s Coalition Party who organized themselves and got elected to participate in the negotiations.

However, this prompted chauvinist/sexist reactions from the Unionist and the conservative Nationalist party. Indeed the current Joint First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party at one time said, “Women should leave politics and leadership alone”.  Maybe participating in such a hostile environment contributed to the downfall of the Women’s Coalition.

In Ireland women’s role in the political arena is being led by my party Sinn Féin.

Today Sinn Fein has the largest number of female MLAs in the Stormont Assembly; SF’s Vice President is a woman and 75% of the All-Ireland team of EU candidates for 2014 is female.

Our Party President Gerry Adams advanced the need for greater female representation, which included our officer board and Party Executive now being elected by delegates at conference on 50:50 basis – and 3 out of the 5 Sinn Féin Ministries are held by women.

That said, we still have a long way to go and that is recognized by many of my male comrades within the party.

For women’s involvement in peace processes which generally excluded women from negotiations, attention should be given to the UN 1325 resolution which adopted a wide gender perspective that included the special needs of women and girls during repatriation and settlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction.

Globally Women share similar experiences of marginalisation and against that backdrop its little wonder that men dominate all our cultural, social, economic and legal infrastructures.

The struggle for women’s rights in all areas of life is central to political movements seeking to combat social injustices, generate societal change, and build inclusive societies.

This is the struggle that many of us face regardless of where we come from, it’s the common ground we share and only through our empowerment, participation and being at the table, will we achieve the necessary structural societal change that will guarantee equality and human rights for all.