“Tony Blair stole that line from me,” Monica McWilliams said, as the crowd broke into laughter. She was referring to the line “Peace is a process, not an event,” which she claims she told the British prime minister before he began to use it on a public platform.
On Dec. 9, women’s studies professor and former Northern Ireland politician Monica McWilliams gave a talk about women and the peace process in Northern Ireland as part of the Flatley Family Lecture Series.
The discussion was held in Devlin 001 in front of a crowd of about 30 students and faculty members. During the talk, McWilliams discussed the history of the tension between Irish Catholics and Protestants over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. She also discussed the gender inequality that existed during that period and how women began to have an active role in the peace process.
During her childhood in Kilrea in Northern Ireland, violence was a normal occurrence, McWilliams said. She joked that her aunt was more scared of thunder than the frequent trembling from a bomb explosion. After being exposed to this violence and seeing fear in the eyes of her friends and family, McWilliams knew she had to make a change.
“Peace is a process, not an event.”
She soon realized, however, that women were not granted a voice in politics. In 1968, McWilliams was suspended from convent school for marching at a civil activist rally. Women were discouraged from speaking out, as men were in complete control of politics and major decisions.
After several years of education and experience, McWilliams founded the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition in 1996. Although the initial reception of the group was not entirely positive, the party won two seats on the Northern Ireland Forum. McWilliams was elected to one of the seats and participated in the negotiations that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This agreement helped to solve problems of civil rights, cultural rights, and the decommissioning of weapons.
McWilliams became a prominent figure for peace in Northern Ireland. She advised President George W. Bush against involvement in Iraq and has met with former president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Nelson Mandela also invited her and her founding party members to South Africa to talk about peace in the modern world.
The gender inequality in Northern Ireland was characterized by marginalization and objectification, and only 4 percent of signatures on the Good Friday Agreement were women’s, McWilliams said. As a result, the party was based on a feminist platform and called for gender equality.
The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition traveled to Boston to spread their message.
“We figured if we could go to a place like Boston, [people] might just listen to our story,” McWilliams said.
Eventually, Americans did hear the party’s plight. Hillary Clinton was heard saying, “their grief became their, and our, call to action.” The Coalition united women and gave them a place to speak.
McWilliams closed the talk by explaining the importance of women in political discussions, because they are equal stakeholders in the evolution of the world. She argued that women have a different level of expertise compared to men, and representation from both men and women is beneficial for society.
“It is time for us to focus on welfare, not warfare.” McWilliams said.
Featured Image by Sarah Hodgens / Heights Staff