Speech for Ms. Sabina Higgins PACT (Peace and Conflict Transformation) Closing Conference
29 April, 2021
I am delighted to be able to join you all this morning, on this very important occasion, as you begin this Peace and Conflict Transformation Closing Conference.
It is wonderful to have this opportunity to celebrate a project that has I’m sure had such a profound impact on the lives of women across communities on this island, and it is a real pleasure to have the opportunity of commending the work of the project’s staff, stakeholders and participants. This is a special moment of achievement, of course for the participants, but also for all of those at the Women for Training Network who established and lead the project, as well as those involved from Intercomm, Foyle Women’s Information Network, Queen’s University Belfast and others.
This project centres on the vital importance, issues, and ideals of equality, diversity, innovation and transformation. It is a platform, and a springboard, for long-lasting, meaningful relationships, equipping participants with the skills needed to bring about change – both personal change, and shared social change.
I hope that you found it to be a great experience that was developmental, and evolutionary, of yourself. I am sure it has given you an added consciousness of your dignity and authenticity in all of your dealings with yourself and others.
I know that the Training for Women Network continues its work through this project, and through all its other endeavours, in advocating for women of all backgrounds – recognising their needs, and ensuring that their voices are heard.
Your initiatives have sought to bring women’s issues to the fore, thus ensuring that women from disadvantaged and rural areas are given sufficient support. Your efforts have helped to engage and empower women, to make a meaningful contribution to post-conflict transition, reconciliation and reconstruction.
The absolute importance of the role of women in the prevention of conflict, the building of peace and the transformation of post-conflict societies has been enshrined by the UN, in a landmark resolution, UN1325. This resolution recognises that the full participation of women in peace processes is critical to the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security. This is the crucial work of which the Training for Women Network, and so many joining together here today, have become a key part.
It is so essential that work such as this, which promotes the role of women in civil and political life, continues to be supported. Women are agents of change - in their families, their communities and in their countries.
This training, and your being helped in developing the tools to be agents for good and for change in your society and across the region, has come at a time when there is such need for leadership.
The United Nations and the World Health Organisation and UNICEF have stated that the emancipation and empowerment of women is going to be the vital key to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the ‘17 commandments’ that will ensure that humanity and the very planet itself survive the disaster of climate change, and the destruction of global warming that has brought floods, desertification and conflicts over scarce resources.
We have come to understand that globalisation means that what is global is local, and what is local is global. Our awareness and responsibility must have a global perspective.
As and when we emerge from the pandemic, we know things must change and it is acknowledged now that austerity as a response to crisis has not worked. The time for obscene inequalities between countries and inside countries has to be brought to an end. We must change to new models of economics that recognise that the resources of the planet are limited and must be cared for, harvested and redistributed in a sustainable way so that the whole of the human family can flourish. If a country and society is to flourish and be at peace, it needs an equality that creates the capacity to be happy.
People need to have a basic good standard of living. That means they have to have their basic universal needs met in order that they can survive and flourish, think for themselves, and participate in society. To achieve this would be an exciting endeavour at any time, and now it is possible if we make it happen.
By Universal Basic Services is meant the need to provide for adequacy in the structures of health, housing, education, infrastructure, transport and communication. There needs to be a guarantee that work is decent, fulfilling, secure and that workers have adequate trade union representation and basic protection, and that the human rights for women and men, and all gender rights, are legally respected. Culture must be promoted and valued, and especially a culture of non-violence, where gender or domestic violence are never tolerated.
In the passing on of lived experience to younger people, we are all parents and we are all teachers. The experience of coming together in forums such as this shows the strength of co-operation, the power of dialogue. When we take the opportunity to share those lessons with the next generation, we are planting the seeds for a stronger and more resilient peace. Integrated education, I believe, will play an important role, in fostering environments where all traditions are respected and included. If children learn and play together they will not learn to see other children as the ‘Other’, as ‘us’ and ‘them’.
When the President and I visit schools where there are children whose parents are of 40 different nationalities of origin, and all denominations of religions and none, we are struck by the richness of their childhood experience. They learn of the religions and cultures of all religions and all countries and celebrate a multicultural experience. The school is enriched by the addition of the arts and musical traditions of many cultures.
My husband and I campaigned, with many others, for many years before we succeeded in getting an integrated school in Galway. Integrated education is now the preferred choice of so many parents. I think for the people who see the value of, and speak out on the importance of, integrated education there is much beneficial work to be done in campaigning and lobbying for this to come about as soon as is reasonably possible. It is my dearest wish that integrated education, at both primary and second level, would be the norm on the whole island. If our history has taught us anything, it is that there is no match for talking to each other, getting to know those who may have different perspectives, and learning together. We are motivated and energised when we are part of a joint effort of co-operation whether it be at local or global level.
Again, may I congratulate everyone involved in the PACT project today, for the exceptional work you have done in fostering such positive change across communities into the future.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today at what I hope will be an enjoyable and inspiring conference for you all, and may I wish you every continued success.