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WRDA is in the process of delivering a Good Relations programme that runs across two years, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. The purpose of this programme was to work more closely with the groups that we engage with, focusing on long term engagement to look in depth at community relations issues and the problems that lie behind them, these included tribal politics, sectarianism, and social and financial inequality. This goal of this work was to inform and equip these groups to address issues in their own community.

When circumstances changed due to COVID in March 2020, we were close to completing work with the 6 groups we were working with for the 2019-2020 term. It was disappointing that we did not have an opportunity to complete that work, because up to that point the work had been very fruitful.

The longer-term engagement had allowed us to explore in depth the issues and concerns of these various groups of women. We structured the sessions in such a way that we allowed the participants themselves to lead us to the structural issues, by asking them to brainstorm and list the issues of most concern in their local communities. From this we moved forward, asking the participants to link their concerns to larger issues, and to draw out the connections between the issues. Rather that frame this as teaching, we asked questions and guided the participants to draw the conclusions themselves through workshop facilitation.

The issues chosen by the groups were remarkably similar – there was variance, but they often overlapped with each other. Again and again people listed similar issues; concern over the mental health crisis and high rates of suicide, paramilitarism, increasing addiction issues, a lack of jobs and opportunities, and the perception that the narrative is dominated by those who do not seem to want to move on or heal old wounds or are disinterested in the work that would be needed to tackle complex issues like mental health or addiction. All groups, without exception, expressed a view that nobody with power or influence wanted to know what they thought about the issues, and this was often seen as a lack of interest in the views of working class women, rather than any kind of sectarian motivation.

Our goal was to help them see the structural issues behind many seemingly unconnected and specific issues, and we found that very often this was not a challenge. The promise shown in Year 1 is now being developed in the 2020-2021 year.

We continue to deliver this programme and are delivering as much of this as possible online, via Zoom or through other platforms as appropriate. As Covid guidelines change, some of this work may be deliverable in person as the programme design originally stated. While some are eager to continue to work online, others are limited in terms of access to technology, high speed internet and especially to the time it takes to engage in these workshops – particularly relevant concerns are difficulties around childcare and potentially the need to resume home-schooling at some point, which at present seem set to continue to be barriers to women’s participation in this work and indeed in the workplace and public sphere as a whole. We will work to overcome these barriers as much as possible.

To supplement our online delivery, we will soon launch a series of online Good Relations lectures, covering such issues as; the need for gendered Good Relations work, the importance of UNSCR1325 and more. This follows on from our successful Good Relations Week event; Women, Peace & Security in a Post-Covid World, building on our contribution to the Feminist Recovery Plan. Our Good Relations programme is still recruiting new groups, and we will work with you to meet your needs.

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