Women and Peacemaking


Mari Fitzduff

Professor and Director of the MA Conflict and Coexistence Programme at Brandeis University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

One of the particularly useful groups we had was the women who whenever there was a murder. The women could have more courage because they were less likely to be shot. In other words, don't forget our war started in the early 70s when sexism still prevailed and I had a colleague who happened at one stage to live actually with royalist paramilitaries and she said it was just astonishing. They would be discussing how they were going to go out and kill the Catholics and they wouldn't pay any attention to the women coming in and out because they would assume this was men's work and the women wouldn't understand it. So there was something around women not being seen as threatening because this was men's business, killing each other.

Most war is young men killing other young men at the behest of older men. This was a particular women's group who utilized that safety, who, whenever there was a funeral they would actually go in and out of each other's territories with wreaths and say this was not done in our name. I can remember a particularly awful couple of weeks; it was dreadful, just before the ceasefires, so it must have been '94. Where the provisional IRA had been trying to murder some of the leaders of the loyalists and they heard they were meeting above the fish shop. They went in and they placed a bomb in the fish shop and what they got was in fact a couple dozen civilians who had just gone in to buy fish, Protestants, and the whole place was blown up.

I can remember going down a couple of days later and there were the wreaths brought by these women saying this is not in our name, we have suffered too, we don't want you to suffer. In fact a week later, the loyalists had targeted a pub, a Catholic pub in Gray Steel, which was slightly further away.

They just went in and shot everybody in the pub, except there were actually some Protestants in the pub, and therefore that brought forth another outpouring on the part of both sides of the community. Actually accumulatively that kind of outpouring by the community, which basically began to say this truly is not in our name, was extraordinarily important. The people who moved across the barriers first of all were the women. The women were the first people to move. Then there were the community development workers, then eventually we got the churches involved, and last was the politicians. I mean, David Trimble, the first funeral he went to of a Catholic was

post cease-fire, a bombing which happened a couple of years later by another dissident republican group. So you can see the sequence. Women do find it easier, and then you move up to the politicians who find it the hardest. Just the church finds it almost as hard but not quite as hard. There were moments like that when people just so much put themselves on the line.

I can remember my own community, which was a deeply republican community, I can remember police, who at the risk of their own lives would come in to talk to me about what could happen. I knew that by coming up my lane they were actually going to be targeted by various paramilitaries around. So there were people who did move, despite the enormous, enormous pressures that communities put each other under when you're in situations of conflict.