Project Closing Conference – 29 April 2021

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The PACT closing conference had Louise Haigh, the Shadow Secretary of State for NI as the keynote speaker; we were delighted that Louise was able to attend in person.

Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions; a small scale event was held with a socially distanced audience. Sarah Travers, former BBC Reporter was the facilitator for the day.

Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, CBE, TWN’s Chairperson opened the conference, welcomed everyone and set the scene for the day.

We were delighted to receive videos from our match funders - The First and deputy First Minister, Arlene Foster & Michelle O’Neill and from Heather Humphreys, TD, Minister for Rural and Community Development.

We then had a lovely video from Ms Sabina Higgins; her passion for the role and empowerment of women shone very clearly through her message.

Gina McIntyre, the CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body; the managing authority sent a video of congratulations and highlighted the need for people to respond to the PEACE+ Consultation.

TWN’s John Mooney, talked about the project particularly the toolkits whilst Jim Nicholson, former UUP MEP spoke of his work alongside the late Dr Ian Paisley and John Hume in securing the PEACE funding for NI.

The PACT project has been funded by the EU's PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB)

A PACT Participant, April Dalzell highlighted the benefits of the programme to her and she was followed by Dr Shirley Graham - Director, Gender Equality Initiative in International Affairs (GEIA), The Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University highlighted the importance of ‘male allies’ in encouraging women to take their rightful positions in society.

Linked with this, Shirley discussed the important role confidence plays in women’s ability to undertake leadership roles.

Associated with the previous two points, Shirley also espoused the importance of lifelong learning and education so that you have time to determine what career path you want to take as well as take the opportunities that present themselves to you within any given context.

The mindset of continuous education and improvement is synonymous with the importance of women’s confidence.

Eileen Bell, CBE, First Female Speaker of the NI Assembly warmly congratulated all the participants and highlighted the importance of continuing to learn from everyone and everything.

Meanwhile, Liz O’Donnell, former Progressive Democrats TD for Dublin, South and Minister at the time of the multi-party talks leading to the Good Friday Agreement, highlighted how women could use their voice to make changes in their own community and at the national level.

Two of the PACT Project Partners, Foyle Women’s Information Network (FWIN) and Queen’s University, Belfast both spoke about the project, with Catherine Cooke of FWIN speaking about the benefits to participants and Dr Caoimhe Ni Dhonaill speaking about the Toolkit.

Former RUC/PSNI Officer, Lesley Stock recited a poem which highlighted the trauma she had suffered in the aftermath of the Shankill and Omagh bombs.

We had a wonderful encouraging video from Ambassador Melanne Verveer – Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security; she spoke of the need for women to be ‘agents for peace’, the work of peace does not end with the ‘signing of an agreement, that it was the beginning of reconciliation, not the end’.

She spoke of being impressed of the voluntary sector in NI, ‘knitting communities together’. Ambassador Verveer noted that “Transformation must occur both at the top of Government and in the neighbourhoods where people live their lives and cross-community efforts like those you have been engaged are more important than ever.”

May de Silva, Commissioner of Anti-Corruption Commission, Seychelles discussed the important role multicultural can play within a deeply divided society and used the example of how the Seychelles has grown as a country due to the ethnic diversity present there.

May also discussed how she always felt welcome in Northern Ireland no matter what community she was in. Finally, May discussed the importance of women acting as leaders in their community both in formal political and community roles as they bring unique experiences and viewpoints to issues.

The Keynote address was delivered by Louise Haigh, Shadow Secretary of State for NI who noted “This untold story of the peace is the work you are keeping alive today – the work that politicians either can’t or won’t do and at this moment of fragility and instability is utterly essential.

Women, in their roles as leaders in households, in families, in communities, who raise the next generation, were not passive victims to the conflict but fought to protect their families and their society from the violence. Today, the role you play in challenging violence and demonstrating choice is helping protect people again.

The work that TWN do has helped equip generations of women to take on those leadership roles in their communities and tackle the systemic issues that still plague Northern Ireland society and it must play a proper part in politics here, it must be heard.”

To bring a successful project to a conclusion, we had a video from Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, who expressed her appreciation to everyone who had taken part in the PACT Project.

She noted that “this work remains urgent and there was a particular pressure on all of us to up our efforts.” Secretary Clinton noted “We have known for a long time that the security and peace of countries is related to women’s involvement in their society and in peace-making itself.”

Sincere thanks are due to all the staff of the Special EU Programmes Body for all their help and support in this innovative, ground-breaking project.