Women’s Charter for Change Launched

On Tuesday 17th September, as part of Good Relations Week, WRDA launched the Women’s Charter and the full report into the North Belfast Women’s Voices programme that produced the Charter.

The report was launched in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour in Belfast City Council and we were honoured to have the Lord Mayor speak at the launch and express his appreciation of the work that the women who participated in this programme put into it. The programme required a willingness to engage in challenging discussions around some of the most difficult issues that our society faces, and to be keen to do this required a generosity of spirit and a courage that should be applauded. Without the determination of these women to tackle such a tough set of problems this programme would not have been a success.

The methodology was also key to the success of this programme. Taking around 2 years to complete, we worked first to give the participants a sound understanding of human rights, difference and othering and critical thinking, while also including training around inequalities and issues they faced in common, particularly health and gender inequality and a concern for younger people. By the time we began work on writing the Charter and discussing more sensitive issues such as parades and flags, the participants had built a mutual trust and respect. This allowed an openness and a degree of compromise not seen enough in these conversations.

The summary of the Charter is as follows:

· People want a better future for the next generation but fear this may not happen

· Integration, whatever way that happens, is key

· Understanding and education can help us understand the difficult parts of our history, as well as the reasons for certain traditions

· This understanding enables genuine respect and that must be mutual

· There is a feeling that certain vested interests want to keep us divided and suspicious; what more can be done about that?

· There is a role for women, specifically, who are more willing to engage in cross-community work and healing.

· There is an enormous well of trauma and grief and not enough help available for those who need it.

We believe that the learning from this programme seems to point the way forward; when we truly strive to include communities in these conversations we can foster trust and respect by genuine integration and good faith cross community work. It is vital also that we include women, as they are key to the long-term success of peacebuilding efforts. We won’t always agree, but if we can learn a little more about who we are, who our neighbours are, and how best we can share this place we call home, then we can go a long way towards making that better future for our children and future generations.