Peacebuilder / Community Worker
Living and raising her children in Newcastle, County Down in the 1980s was the safest option for Anne Carr, a Protestant, who had married a Catholic man amidst the terror of the Troubles. Belfast ‘was just too dangerous.’ By 1986 she had helped to develop the first integrated primary school outside of Belfast city and by 1990 she felt it safe enough to return to Belfast where she quickly set about joining Women Together, an organisation wherein ‘women worked together to protect their homes, families and communities.’
Carr started at Women Together as a part-time development officer to help the organisation move forward as it celebrated it’s twentieth anniversary. Her personal priority was to get women from different communities talking openly and honestly about their lives, their struggles and aspirations, with one another. She helped to develop Talking and Listening Circles with her close friend, Pat Campbell, to meet this end. In 1991/92 Carr, along with ‘women across our divides’ began to weave what they termed a ‘peace quilt’ and ended up creating three memory-filled quilts which continue to travel the world as ‘a visual representation of peacebuilding and reconciliation.’ The peace work carried out by the women within Women Together was constant; if a family lost someone to violence, two women – one Protestant and one Catholic – would visit the house as a ‘gesture of support,’ and many vigils were organised in the aftermath of any sectarian conflict. It was through these acts that they became aware of the lack of statutory support for families bereaved and injured in the violence over the previous twenty years. They began work that would eventually lead to the Bloomfield Report of 1998 – ‘We Will Remember Them’ – which was ‘the first serious effort to look at support in an ongoing way to victims and survivors of conflict.’
‘Let the mothers now unite and take a stand against all sectarian violence.’
On 9 January 1992, Carr’s friend, Pat, lost her youngest son. He was shot eight times in the back by loyalist paramilitaries as he worked a shift in a burger van on the side of the road. The tragic event only spurred the women on. They stepped up their campaigning and work building relationships over the next few years; they trained women in mediation and conflict transformation and they taught them leadership skills and public speaking, as well as how to build up their confidence. Carr represented the women of Northern Ireland when she attended meetings all over the United Kingdom with the National Women’s Commission.
‘We must remember that peace is people choosing to live differently. The vast majority of people in this country have made that choice and will not accept our destructive and bloody past to become our future.’
At the beginning of 1996, with tensions high and peace talks not making enough progression, Women Together members cut out over 3000 white paper doves with the idea that if violence once again broke out they would invite people to join them to stand together and demand ‘peace and a resolution of differences through negotiation and dialogue. On 9 February 1996, the IRA ceasefire did indeed break down with the Canary Wharf bombing, as anticipated by Carr and her fellow members of Women Together, and so they immediately began to organise a vigil for the following Monday. Over five thousand people attended the gathering and held up the paper doves in an image that was captured and broadcast across the world.
By the time the Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998, Women Together ‘were at the heart of the moving forward together campaign.’ According to Carr:
‘We lobbied and challenged politicians to take the risks for peace necessary to bring about an agreement as a foundation on which to build and cultivate a new inclusive society. The women involved found that dialogue became their daily focus. We helped people understand what the peace process was all about, come to terms with the proposed changes and support those who had suffered the most during the devastating decades of conflict.’
Women Together at the same time began developing their new initiative, People Moving On. Unimpressed by the lack of progress in implementing the Good Friday Agreement the women:
‘took a large table and chairs to the gardens of Parliament Buildings. Wearing T shirts emblazoned with the names of all the political parties, we sat down around the table and had a discussion on a big issue of the time: future maternity services for women in Belfast. Several politicians joined our conversations that day. We campaigned using an iron and ironing board and the slogan “Iron Out the Differences, Implement the Agreement.” We also challenged the blame game with a public poster campaign, “Pointing the Finger is Missing the Point.”’
Around this time, Carr realised that the important conversations were happening amongst politicians behind closed doors and ordinary people in the divided communities of Northern Ireland were not being included in such vital conversations. From this, Community Dialogue was born and Carr became the Dialogue and Research worker in 2001, work that is still being done today.
‘When we as a society really start to value the important role so many women played in keeping this society together during the darkest, bloodiest days […] maybe, just maybe we will create an environment where compromise is not only possible but embraced enthusiastically.’
Herstory invites students and artists to create brand new portraits of Northern Ireland’s peace heroines. To have your art featured in the Herstory 2020 project please send your name, age and high resolution jpegs to email@example.com
Anne Carr, ‘Women Together in the Darkest Days of the ‘Troubles’’, openDemocracy, online at https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/women-together-in-darkest-days-of-troubles/ [accessed 4 June 2019].
Anne Carr, ‘Women in Northern Ireland should be leading peacebuilders again,’ openDemocracy, online at https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/women-in-northern-ireland-should-be-leading-peacebuilders-again/ [accessed 4 June 2019].