Mairead Maguire

Remarks at the Partnerships for Change Conference - 2011

Mairead Maguire
December 31, 1969
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My dear brothers and sisters, it is a great honor for me to be here with you and I feel quite emotional of being here in Oslo. It's like a home to the people of Northern Ireland, where we have a lovely peace center called Freedom. Please come and have a cup of tea anytime you're in Belfast, because that peace center was bought by the people of Norway for the people of Northern Ireland.

Because they realized that we were coming out in ‘76, mostly ordinary men and women – ninety percent women – most women who’d never done anything political in their life and we were coming out to say, we have a simple message for the world. We reject the use of the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence. We dedicate ourselves to working day in and day out to building a peaceful society for our children, for our world.

And I remember saying to the third co-founder of the peace movement, Ciaran McKeown – because it was not a woman's movement, it was Betty and I and Ciaran, a young journalist who when he came Norway in 1976 to receive with Betty and I the Norwegian’s People's Prize, which was the very first prize we received, and they called him Mrs. Ciaran McKeown, because we all know the difficulty of the Irish words.

But it is very important, I said to Ciaran. Do you know people from all over the world are coming to support us? Because the world did come to us in ‘76. I said, why is this? He said because the world wants peace. Everybody in our world today recognizes this is not the way the human family should live. We all want peace.

Yes, there's not one person in this room who doesn't want peace and want it passionately, and I thank every single one of you, whatever your gift is, whatever your work is. I thank you for what you are doing.

Because no one person can bring peace. This is a team effort. This is about us as men and women standing up no matter where we live for human dignity, for what is right, for speaking the truth from our heart.

Because the days of playing politics with the lives of so many men, women and children in our world has to end. The days of manipulation and domination and control and power-mongering and greed and selfishness has to end for the sake of all of us because we cannot live lives of dignity when we look at our television and see the suffering in our world today.

So this is all our work.

What we also need to say is, what is human dignity? You know, every single person is a gift, whether you believe in God or not - we're all given the gift of life. And when we're given that gift of life, it's so precious.

Maybe we don't appreciate the gift of life till we're told you've got six months to live or till some drone from some far-off country drops a bomb on us and kills our people when they’re at a wedding, or till some country decides we must invade and occupy that country in order to teach these people democracy because they don't know how to do it.

What arrogance we have created in our world today amongst our leaders who think that just because you live in Afghanistan, just because you live in Iraq, just because you live in the Sudan, you don't know how to live. You don't know how to look after your little the children and feed them and want education.

And what do we send them? We send them bombs, and we take their oil and we take their gas and we take their resources because we know.

We live with a great deal of arrogance in our world today and unless every one of us as an individual says, teach me him a living so that I somehow may be part of a world that is kind and compassionate and equal and sharing.

So we have to take on board ourselves, what is human dignity? What is ethics in our world? What values do we want in our world?

And what values am I prepared to live by? Because the world may well go on and blow itself up. We may well be destined to blow itself up, though I don't believe in this because I believe people are too good and too wise and two intelligent and too smart and too creative and two magnificent to allow that to happen.

But we are at that turning point.

But if we as people proclaim our first a identify is and the thing we put above all the nationalisms, all the flags, all the religions is life – life – and everything that means, and if we can as a human family, I put life above all religions, flags, everything. They're important, but they're not as important as the gift of life and the gift of each other.

So when you come to that you really you can't kill anybody. Why could you kill anybody? How could you hurt them? So non-violence is at the base of what we who want to change the world must stand by – never to kill.

And we see around the world…. I go to Palestine and I'm so inspired by the nonviolent movement. I go to Palestine and I see women who 15 years ago would not have walked to the wall to protest the occupation and destruction of their country now walking to the wall.

Women are rising everywhere and women have a new agenda. Women's agenda is no to war, no to militarism, no to injustice. Women's agenda is yes to life, yes to education, yes to health care and food, yes to partnership in our world today. Because we don't want to make enemies – we want to come together as friends and it's only in that way that we will bring about change. And that is women's agenda. And women want human rights, they want equality, they want international laws they want justice.

But you know when we came out in ‘76 in West Belfast… We came out – three of my sister’s young children were killed and a young IRA man was killed and we came out – and we didn't know international laws or human rights. We didn't read all these treaties. But what we did know in our heart – this is wrong to kill people.

Militarism, paramilitarism, removing basic civil liberties and human rights and locking people up in prisons was not the answer. The answer was dialogue, negotiation, sitting down round the table, forgiving your enemies. Because in peace movements, you have to do a lot of forgiving.

In Northern Ireland, ’76, we were on the brink of war. In Northern Ireland, we have a good society. We have dealt with a lot of the injustices which caused the problems and we are a peaceful society, but we still have a lot of work to do to see that that peace is maintained.

So I believe passionately in the power of individuals. I believe passionately in the power of people coming together and team effort and staying at the table until they solve the problems.

That is why the Nobel women came together as a group of women to work together on certain issues and with men; you know, men and women working together can make a great team. I know – I have a marvelous husband. So we can work together and a lot of these issues. And we chose rape and sexual violence and conflict as a campaign.

You know it's not easy to talk about rape, but it's even more painful when you listen to the stories of people and women who have been raped and sexual violence going on around the world.

I was in Burma many years ago and we wanted…. We didn't get in to Burma; we went to the Thai-Burma border and there we listened to the stories of the caring women who had been raped by the Burmese soldiers. That is still happening today.

Again in the Congo we listen to the stories of mass rape going on in refugee camps. We know in Haiti, the UN soldiers were accused of raping women in the camp.

So you see, we have to talk about rape. It's not a nice subject. People don't like to talk about it. But we have to bring it to the fore and we have to say that governments have a responsibility and politicians to protect people and to end this scourge of rape and sexual violence against man, against mostly women but also man.

Violence in our world today is so rife. But we can change it. We can create a culture of non-violence.

When the Secretary General said one in every four women will experience violence in their life – that is a dreadful statistic, and it's not only happening in developing countries, it happens in every one of our countries.

So we have to move out of a mindset of militarism, a mindset of war, a mindset that somehow violence will always be with us. Violence should never be always be with us. Violence is a preventable disease and it starts with us in our own lives learning to be peaceful, happy and light. And it starts our families, starts in our communities.

And it starts in us demanding that the world governments make peace and stop making war. War must become a thing of the past.

Thank you very much. [applause]

SCOTT LONDON, MODERATOR: I wanted to ask you, when you started doing your peace marches in the mid-70s with Betty Williams, most of the women who showed up at the marches, most of the people who showed up at the marches were women. What's it been like for you to be a role model to women over all these years?

MAGUIRE: Well, I think that I have had many great role models in my life in my mother and many of my friends who were always great people of peace, and I’ve had that modeled to me, and they always believed that peace was the most important thing in the world. And I remember meeting Mother Teresa in the height of the troubles up in Corrymeela in Northern Ireland and I said,”You know, Mother Teresa, it's very, very difficult. We're doing a lot of fighting in the peace movement,” and I said, “What do you doing?” and Mother Teresa said to me, “Oh pray, pray, never cease to pray.” And you see a great deal of that. That's why I have such hope, because when you go a lot of people from many faith traditions pray and even in the Middle East. That's why I have hope. They're praying for peace, there are many working for peace and peace is possible when the politicians have the courage to take the steps necessary to make peace. I believe peace will come to the Middle East. So that's why I've always had great role models, right?

LONDON: You're an inspiration. Thank you for so much for coming to the Partnership for Change.

MAGUIRE: Thank you.