From Northern Ireland to Korea: The Power of Nonviolence and Love in Action

Seventy years ago Korea was divided into two separate states by the US and former Soviet Union — an event which precipitated the 1950–53 Korean War. The war resulted in the death of 4 million Koreans, mostly civilian, and left millions of families separated by a 2 mile wide demilitarized zone. This past May, thirty international women peacemakers from around the world walked with thousands of Korean women, north and south, to call for an end to the Korean War — the world’s longest un-ended war, the reunification of families and women’s leadership in the peace process. As the women prepared to cross, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire spoke of the role of women in bringing peace to Northern Ireland and her hopes that they can play a similar role to end the more than 60 year cold war between North and South Korea.


Dear Friends,

Good Morning – Jo-eun-achim-imnida

I believe passionately in the power of women as peacebuilders because I have witnessed their power of nonviolent love in action. In l976 when Northern Ireland was on the brink of civil war, it was the civil community, particularly women, who marched in their thousands against the ongoing violence, and articulated a clear moral message ‘stop the violence, stop the killing, there is another way to solve our problems’.

When my sister Anne’s three children were killed in ‘the troubles’ in August, l976, their deaths, preceded as they were by thousands of violent deaths, touched the conscience of us all. Many people realized violence was wrong, life was sacred, and indeed we each had a right not to be killed and a responsibility not to kill each other. There was also an acknowledgement that violence was fueling retaliatory violence and deepening the fear and anger in the community. Something had to break this vicious downward cycle, of killing and destruction.

It was the civil community, particularly women, who by articulating ethical and moral values, and by calling on everyone including the political leaders and governments, faith and spiritual leaders, paramilitary groups, to take up their responsibility, unambiguously reject all violence, and begin, through dialogue to solve the problems faced by the Northern Irish people.

There was an acknowledgement by all parties, both state and non-state actors, that militarism and paramilitarism could not solve the deeply complex, historical, ethnic, political problems, which the Northern Irish people had inherited. Indeed for every bullet fired, bomb exploded, civil and political rights curtailed, there was a violent reaction. Women, many of whom experienced at first hand horrific violence, raised their voices and mobilized to end the war. They started to make space to create the critical will of the political leaders and paramilitaries to enter into genuine dialogue, diplomacy, compromise and co-operation. Women insisted that violent begets violence and this included violent rhetoric and a demonization of each other. They acknowledged that we needed to start peacebuilding in our own hearts, homes, communities, schools, and to teach peace, nonviolence and conflict resolution. The task of building a culture of nonkilling and nonviolence and changing the mindsets of militarism and war, was taken up by many people as they embraced a new consciousness of respect for each other, diversity, and the environment.

In a divided society, such as Northern Ireland, where there was a great deal of fear and anxiety, and where identities are changing, people are often traumatized by separation, isolation, and they lack confidence and belief in themselves and each other. Therefore it is not enough to insist only on dialogue, courageous and risk-taking efforts must be made, by both people – and particularly by political leaders – to open the paths to dialogue. In Northern Ireland in order to give people a chance to talk, and to listen to each other, women/men/youth helped to set up hundreds of peace groups. They traveled across Northern Ireland, setting up exchanges and discussing how to cross the emotional/religious/political divides and how to build a just, equal, and peaceful Northern Ireland.

They also traveled across the border to the Republic of Ireland to build links, cultural exchanges, economic co-operation. In the North of Ireland, women visited the prisoners and families who had lost loved ones during ‘the troubles.’ Their focus was on forgiveness and reconciliation, realizing that forgiveness is the key to peace. When the peace process was happening in Northern Ireland women played a critical and decisive role at the negotiating table, insisting on all inclusive, unconditional talks and bringing difficult issues, such as demilitarization, prisoners’ rights, equality and minority rights, to the power sharing negotiations. We have been blessed to see an end to the Northern Irish violent conflict, but acknowledge too that post-conflict peacebuilding is a work in progress.

I pray this story gives hope, and helps to deepen your confidence, courage and conviction that peace is possible. Indeed, it is a basic human right and a concrete step to ending the suffering. In North Korea, we are conscious that you and your families have suffered so much, and I am truly sorry for this. Our delegation have come on this visit, to both North and South Korea, and to walk across the De-Militarized Zone as we want to tell you that we love you, we care for you all, and we join in solidarity with you and your work to end the Korean war, unite Korean families, and bring more women into the peace process and negotiating table for a peace treaty.

President Obama said recently in response to the opening up of diplomatic relations with USA/Cuba, ’50 years of isolation for Cuba has not worked’, we hope he will also say that ’70 years of isolation for North Korea has not worked, and it’s time to end the war, time for peace’. Such visionary political leadership would not only give hope to the Korean people as they build a nonkilling peaceful Korea, but also to the whole world that disarmament and peace is possible through diplomacy, not war.

Thank you – gamsa-hamnida

Peace and happiness to you all – pyongwha-rul-derimnida.


To find out more about this major initiative undertaken by women peacemakers, watch this short video.

For a list of the thirty women peacemakers who have launched this project, click here.

Mairead Maguire was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her extraordinary actions to help end the deep ethnic/political conflict in her native Northern Ireland. She shares the award with Betty Williams. Mairead organized, together with Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown, massive peace demonstrations appealing for an end to the bloodshed and a nonviolent solution to the conflict. They co-founded the Peace People, a movement committed to building a just and peaceful society in Northern Ireland.

This article was originally published on the openDemocracy 50.50 website. You can find the original article by clicking here. OpenDemocracy is a digital commons committed to promoting human rights, reconciliation and peacebuilding. The 50.50 project has an ever-growing collection of articles on the issues of inclusion and gender equality, and many wonderful ones dealing with gender, war and peace. We encourage you to join the conversation at . All articles are published under Creative Commons licensing.


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4 Responses to From Northern Ireland to Korea: The Power of Nonviolence and Love in Action

  1. Vasili M December 13, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    I think that this article is a great example of how force cannot be used to solve all conflicts. This article shows how we often forget that civility is a tool that can used to help solve conflicts but it is often seen as a sign of weakness to want to use other means beside the military.

  2. Nicolas Laporte February 27, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

    This article explains the importance of the nonviolent actions of women in Northern Ireland. In the face of violence, many realized that it was not an acceptable means to an end, and that violence begot violence. The civil community, led by women, called upon the religious and political leaders as well as paramilitary groups to end the cycle of violence. Women also realized that the adoption of a culture of nonviolence was key for a peace agreement to succeed on a countrywide scale. Thus, women all around the country set up peace groups, where people could have open and safe conversations about the conflict (and how to best approach resolving it). These actions were very important to ending the conflict in Northern Ireland. In sum, this article is yet another example of the effectiveness of nonviolent means to resolving conflicts

  3. Kelly MacDonald March 27, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

    Here is a wonderful example of why peace negotiators don’t always have to be involved in the war and why women should be some of them. Insisting the violence only begets violence is an argument made not by someone who is always directly involved in the fighting (and who is perhaps lost in it) but by someone on the outside. Women have never been allowed to be “involved” in war yet the destruction of a country or a people through war involves everyone. Women, as outsiders, can offer valuable insight into war and peace and their opinions should be taken more seriously.

    I support the idea proposed in this article that forgiveness is necessary for peace. To forgive someone is to ultimately understand them and their actions. Once this is the case, I believe there is less likelihood for conflict in the future, since it is harder to fight someone you understand.

  4. Isabelle R. May 12, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

    I have explored and analysed the political violence that had been rampant in society during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I have also analysed how the Belfast Agreement has in many ways failed to produce a lasting peace in the divided society that is Northern Ireland. A class divide still remained after the agreement, and underlying unresolved tensions kept communities apart. But that is where my analysis ended. Mairead Maguire expresses women’s role in peace building in a country plagued by violence and their call for a cultural adoption of nonviolence as key for a peace agreement to succeed has offered an alternative to the Belfast Agreement’s shortcomings. Having understood how and why the conflict can to be, it is also important to focus on the future of Northern Ireland and their need for peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

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