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North Ireland Has a New Women-Run Program to Tackle Paramilitarism

This program is about giving women the agency to heal themselves and others from the trauma caused by paramilitarism.
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By the end of April, around 500 women will receive leadership and teamwork certifications that allow them to help others heal from paramilitarism trauma as the country continues to fight against persisting drug and crime problems.

The certification is part of the Stormont Tackling Paramilitarism Program project where women from different communities affected by paramilitarism and other gang crimes can come together to tackle he tissues at hand. The program works behind the scenes to address fears and provide a support system for women who have had encounters owing debt to drug dealers or have had a loved one harmed by criminals.

“We’ve discovered that we’re all the same,” said Kathy, a Belfast woman affected by the trauma. “Women come from different communities, but we’re all mothers, we’re all women that are all fighting the same battles, we’ve got children that we’re trying to keep away from that kind of activity. Sometimes it’s a struggle, but for me to be able say to Anne, you know this is what I’m going through, and you discover that Anne’s gone through the same thing with her family.”

A survey from the North Ireland Department of Justice showed that 57 percent of respondents stated fear as a factor that prevented people from reporting an incident. Violence and drug use were also stated as effects that organized crime has had among the communities. The aim of the Tackling Paramilitarism Program is to build confidence in North Ireland’s justice system, to come up with effective strategies directed at minimizing criminal activity, and to build a communal foundation that will serve as a long-term prevention method against illicit activities.

“I think it’s not about having a go at anyone, it’s about trying to support these women through this process, so we go at their pace,” said Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, a former commissioner for Children & Young People. “We have to listen to their voices, because they’re the people who live in the community, therefore it’s important that if they say ‘look we need to slow down because it’s starting to have a ripple effect’, we need to do that.”

This unwanted ripple effect comes from a significant amount of pressure from opposing sides, namely the Republicans and the Loyalists, to not speak out on the criminal activities and attacks. Despite the 1998 signing of the Good Friday Agreement, tensions and violence between the two parties remain prevalent. Between late 2016 and late 2017, there were a reported 60 attacks committed by Loyalists.

“For a long time women have been excluded,” said Lewsley-Mooney. “They have been doing the work, but not getting the recognition. This is about bringing women to the fore, so that they’re on a par. They have a contribution to make, not in a threatening way, but in a good way.”

The basis is clear: there is strength in unity. For women who have seen firsthand the destruction that organized criminal activities activities perpetrated by the paramilitarists – have had on the safety of their communities, it’s more than lobbying to pass regulations. It’s about healing the people who experience the trauma and about building a better, safer future.

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