Last February Relatives for Justice launched a report on the impact of conflict related bereavement on women. It was a call to action to policy makers to address the long term effects of how conflict affects women differently and in particular to those women who suffered the worst of our conflict. It was a call that has been ignored.
The thing is there are international frameworks for ensuring that women are part of any process post conflict. The Irish and British Governments are signatories to them. These include UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Thus far they have been irrelevant to our conflict resolution processes in general and our processes to deal with the past in particular.
Our processes on dealing with the past have ignored women’s experiences and needs. In the three sets of proposals – Eames Bradley; Haas O’Sullivan and Stormont House, women’s interests are not mentioned once.
91% of those killed in our conflict were male. The Stormont House Agreement processes will focus almost exclusively on the circumstances of deaths. By not paying attention to the obvious implications of that statistic it means that the conflict related experiences of women could be reduced to that of next of kin or possibly eye witnesses. Women’s own experience of harm will not be understood or addressed. This is scandalous in 2015.
There are many agencies responsible for this. But ultimately responsibility lies with the Irish and British Governments as co-guarantors to the promise of the Good Friday Agreement that our post-conflict society will be based on human rights. Women’s rights are human rights. Especially the women whose rights were egregiously violated during the conflict.
When the Quakers and visits centres were the first buildings to be demolished at the Long Kesh site it was the clearest physical indication of the complete blindside to women’s experience of conflict. Thousands of women went through those visits – that was the physical space to remember that. It seems to me that experience, in its complexity, was not even considered.
For the bereaved there is particular need for attention. The sister of a person killed who will explain that the day their brother or sister was killed they lost their parents too as their parents were overcome with grief and they assumed the role of carer. The mother who suspended her own personal grief to care for those children who survived. The wife who doesn’t like to talk of the economic impact of her husband being killed and how that killing without reparation condemned the family to decades of hard, grinding poverty. And that is without the constant legacy of denial and injustice.
Conflict related bereavement and injury are not exclusively female experiences – but there is a female experience which is different and is being ignored. Our society must act now to ensure we hear from women, learn from women and ensure those women’s needs are supported in the long term. Or we run the risk of only knowing half of any story.