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After years of growing social and political tensions, sectarian violence finally broke out between Catholics and Protestants in 1968. It lasted until 1998, when the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement was signed.
Overview of past and present security situation
The violence was characterised by the armed campaigns of paramilitary groups, such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). These paramilitaries saw British forces as active combatants in the conflict, however, British Government (HMG) maintained the neutrality of their security forces - HMG opted to treat the violence as a wave of criminality rather than socio-political conflict. The emergence of the PIRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein, after emotive hunger strikes in the 80s began the road towards political dialogue. However, despite the ceasefires, low levels of violence continued until 2006.
Successful elections reinstated Parliament, which had not sat in seven years, in 2007 and Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, and Ian Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party announced the formation of a power-sharing government.
Society and women
The casualties from the violence in NI are recorded as being 3591, with an estimated 40,000 injured from a population of 1.5 million. Some women were involved as combatants, prisoners and victims, yet the conflict was experienced by civilian women in differing ways, with middle class groups remaining barely inconvenienced and working class women struggling with social and economic hardship.
To tackle these hardships, working class women led a collective help movement in the 70s and by the 1980s, women’s centres were established to serve all communities and to give them a voice. Despite this, women's concerns remained at the local level, unable to reach higher political levels. To overcame the ghettoization of women’s concerns at the community level, the establishment of a The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition enable women to be elected to engage in the peace talks. This was a precedent.
NIWEP notes that women continue to face major politcal inequalities, such as not having full implementation of reproductive rights afforded to the rest of the UK and very few female politicians. Although Northern Ireland is a post conflict region, it is not mentioned at all in the UK National Action Plan on women, peace and security.