Grassroots movements can cement peace in post-conflict societies


Grassroots movements have come to prominence in post-conflict Northern Ireland, yet their contribution to sustaining peace in a divided society is rarely understood.

SCI Fellow Nicola Browne has examined the impact of these campaigns which bridge traditional political divisions.

Her latest paper, Keeping the Peace: Conversations with Grassroots Activists, follows the launch of Disrupting Rights: Putting People at the Centre of Change which was produced during her participation in the SCI Fellowship Programme.

You can find all the material on Nicola’s new platform Change From The Ground Up.

The Northern Ireland Act of 1998 which emerged from the Good Friday Agreement makes clear that the reconciliation of communities and an equality and rights-based society are interlinked.

Nicola’s paper is based on interviews with activists in Northern Ireland working on campaigns to realise social, economic and environmental rights.

The findings include:

  • The importance of centring economic, social, cultural and environmental rights is vital to building a sustainable peace, and paradoxically the tension created through the pursuit of those rights is a necessary part of peacebuilding.
  • There is untapped potential to build connections between traditionally divided communities through social, economic, and environmental campaigns. Despite this, institutions and media in Northern Ireland often describe human rights and campaign work through the lens of the conflict protagonists (as belonging to one or other of the two main communities) which obscures its true relevance and power.
  • Engrained knowledge around struggle and challenging power gained during the conflict is being applied by communities in social and economic struggles post-conflict.
  • The role of grassroots campaigning groups and movements in peacebuilding has gone largely unexamined.  With closer attention we can deepen our knowledge of how these movements navigate the realisation of rights in post conflict contexts.

The paper also reflects on the methods of work used by grassroots campaigners. It shows how these extend beyond the traditional approaches of legal work, monitoring and advocacy, and incorporate dialogue, personal development and relationship building work more usually associated with peacebuilding.