There is “a big empty hole” where women affected by the Troubles have been “left out”, the manager of Falls Women’s Centre has said.
In the Falls, Shankill and Glengormley areas, three women’s groups are working together to build better relationships.
They want to empower through education.
“We want to give women a voice at the table, to speak up in their own communities and have the confidence to stand up for what they believe in,” Susan McCrory told BBC News NI.
“It doesn’t happen every time – that would be paradise if it did – but we know that with the politics of this place there are parts of Belfast that are under paramilitary rule and women are frightened.
“But we are trying to come together to allow the women to see that they are not completely ruled and they do not need to feel the fear factor. They can be empowered through education.”
The Troubles was a period of conflict in Northern Ireland, which lasted for 30 years from 1969 and cost the lives of more than 3,500 people.
Falls Women’s Centre, based in the traditionally nationalist Falls Road area of Belfast, and Shankill Women’s Centre and Queens Park Women’s Group, which are located in traditionally unionist areas, work together closely.
The groups provide education and training courses, and offer childcare assistance to make learning more accessible.
“We’ve been building these relationships for over 30 years,” Eileen Weir, from Shankill Women’s Centre, told BBC News NI.
“If you keep people separate, you are inclined to listen to the talk on the street or what the media tells you, but that isn’t actually having a difficult conversation to help you try to understand someone else’s point of view.
“We need to bring women together and give them the tools to have ownership over their lives because women have been left out throughout the whole peace process – through education, funding, everything.
“We don’t want rid of the men, we just want to have women at the table to be able to challenge what is going on around us.
“We want to give our women the education and confidence to be able to sit at every table, to make life better for everyone involved, regardless of what side of the community you’re from, and then they can pass that on to empower the next generation.”
‘Everyone suffered the same’
Together, 24 women from the three organisations have created a series of plays based on their experiences over the past 30 years, to mark Good Relations Week, which is organised by the Community Relations Council.
The three seven-minute plays were filmed in Rosemary Presbyterian Church in north Belfast after four days spent discussing how the last three decades had affected the women, at a social distance due to coronavirus restrictions. They will be shown online on Tuesday.
“One of the women, who features in a play, said that when she started taking the courses [run by the groups] and meeting the other women she realised that it wasn’t just about ‘them’,” said Ms Weir.
“She realised that everyone suffered the same. Even though their version of events may have been different, their experiences were very similar.”
Ms McCrory added: “These women wouldn’t meet if it wasn’t for the women’s sectors who work together and share resources so you end up going to your grave only thinking about your version of events, that’s one of the biggest problems we have here.
“It takes a lot of years to build up the confidence, the trust and the relationships with the women from both sides of the community so that they can become good friends.
“You can’t just take a woman off the street and say ‘we want you to see this point of view and respect the difference’, that doesn’t happen.
“You have to go on your own journey. It’s a really long and slow process and then you get to there, you can have a whole different perception in life.”