Twenty years ago, the landmark Good Friday Agreement ended 30 years of violence (known as the Troubles) between British Protestant unionists and the Irish Catholic nationalists. While many are marking this anniversary by heralding the contributions of leaders like chief negotiator former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine), a critical factor that helped secure and preserve the peace is too often overlooked: the participation of women.
Before peace talks began in 1996, public elections were used to determine which political parties would be allotted seats at the negotiation table. Taking advantage of this unusual design, Catholic and Protestant women’s groups led by Monica McWilliams and May Blood joined forces to establish the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition. They won enough support in the election to gain access to the talks, and were joined by one other woman representing the Sinn Fein party.
These women helped the Good Friday Agreement take shape and take hold. It’s a contribution that women around the world have made: research suggests that women's participation in peace negotiations makes the resulting agreement 64 percent less likely to fail and 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years.