The impact of sectarianism in women’s lives in Northern Ireland was highlighted in a report carried out by Women’s Information Northern Ireland (WINI) and Community Dialogue, at a launch event held at NICVA headquarters.
Caroline McCord from WINI described the background of the project: sectarianism is in the foundations of this society, and undoubtedly a part of the religious and political landscape. The purpose of the project was to offer a place where women — underrepresented in the peace process and in the political arena – can come together and talk about how they experience sectarianism and its impact upon them.
After that, Ms McCord explained the methodology: “Between February and March 2015, a total of 72 women drawn from Protestant and Catholic communities across Belfast participated in a series of six structured dialogues.” The report quotes women’s thoughts anonymously, to protect the identity of the participants.
“I was very, very deeply moved by this project”, added Ms McCord.
Jim O’Neill from Community Dialogue, who also contributed to the compilation of the report, said community dialogue means “the deep understanding between us and other”. He added that sectarianism is not exclusive: “…we lived in terror, but they [the other side] suffered the same.”
Mr O’Neill also highlighted some quotes that he found especially interesting. He said women need to be empowered to make decisions. He also put an emphasis on humanising people: “Perceptions need to be challenged. We need to look at what we have in common rather than what divides us.”
Dympna McGlade from the Community Relations Council said the report really moved her when she read it. She emphasized the massive role of segregated education in perpetuating sectarianism, “instantly identified as who and what you were by your school uniforms”.
Ms McGlade also said that intimidation “was just there”, sometimes more and sometimes less directly. She quoted a woman who said, “Sectarianism stole my human rights.”
Finally, she said that a paramilitary structure still exists in some areas, making education all the more important. Ms McGlade also argued that politicians have an important part to play, in showing leadership in tackling sectarianism.