Student life and career
Bronagh was born in Belfast in 1951 and graduated in law from Queen’s University Belfast in 1974. She was elected President of Queen’s Students’ Union the same year, the first female president of a students’ union in Ireland. A civil rights activist, she marched in Derry on Bloody Sunday and stayed to gather witness statements; she later served on the NI Civil Rights Association executive committee. With other feminists, she co-founded the Northern Ireland Women’s Rights Movement in the mid-1970s. When NIWRM opened the first Women’s Centre in Northern Ireland Bronagh set up and ran Rent-a-Crèche so that women could participate in conferences, training and trade union events.
Bronagh’s career has spanned the voluntary sector, public bodies and academia. She was the NI Information Officer in NI Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, moving to Dublin in 1977 as the Information Coordinator for Combat Poverty. Returning to Belfast she was Secretary to the NI Consumer Council before leading one-parent family organisation Gingerbread NI (1981-1991). NI Director of Oxfam (1990-1992) was followed by Director of the Ulster People’s College (1993-2001). Among voluntary roles in this period was chair of the NI Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) (1986-1989), founding chair of NICVA’s European Affairs Committee and Secretary of the working group that established the European Anti-Poverty Network.
Building leadership for peace
In the Ulster People’s College (UPC) Bronagh worked with people from diverse backgrounds and persuasions: community activists, women’s and human rights advocates, former paramilitaries, politicians and journalists. In addition to capacity building programmes in local communities, she facilitated political and cross-community dialogue and relationships in pursuit of economic and social goals, peace and political stability. Bronagh has been associated with several conflict resolution/peace-building initiatives, such as Initiative ’92 which was behind the Opsahl Commission on Northern Ireland and Community Dialogue.
A co-founder of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition Bronagh managed its election to the 1996-98 peace talks and was senior advisor and a negotiator of the Good Friday Agreement. Afterwards, as the first Deputy Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (1999-2003) she oversaw implementation of the Agreement’s equality and good relations commitments across the public sector. She served on the EU Peace Programme Monitoring Committee for many years, exercising the equality oversight role. Following the Good Friday Agreement, Bronagh was awarded UK Woman of Europe in 1999 and the International Women’s Democracy Center’s Global Democracy Award in 2002.
Bronagh became a Senior Fellow in the Institute of Governance in Queen’s University Belfast (2002-2008) bringing together academics with central and local government officials, politicians, and civic leaders to explore critical issues and challenges. While there she advised the government on checks and balances for post-conflict reform of local government in 2005. She worked with international agencies and countries emerging from conflict: e.g. the UN and Iraqi politicians on governance, policing, human rights and reconciliation; the British Council and Iraqi civil society; local governance in Kosovo; community leadership in Croatia; and peacebuilding in Colombia. She was appointed an Honorary Senior Research Practitioner in Queen’s School of Law (2009-2018).
Empowerment and women, peace and security
Working with others, Bronagh has striven to empower women. Having established the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (NIWEP) in 1989, serving as chair for 10 years, she built access and capacity to engage at European and international levels. She secured direct access from Northern Ireland to the European Women’s Lobby and organised a large delegation to participate in the UN for the first time, at the Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing in 1995. She collaborated with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales, England and the Republic of Ireland, on women’s rights and equal participation in politics, social and economic life and peacebuilding.
Bronagh is the Senior Associate with DemocraShe which she founded in 2000. At that time she prioritised the Good Friday Agreement’s mandates on the ‘right of women to full and equal political participation’ and ‘the advancement of women in public life’. She introduced election candidate training for hundreds of women in N.Ireland’s political parties, and programmes that increased women’s advocacy and leadership among civil society activists. She was invited to help the local government with the ‘Women in Local Councils’ initiative to build momentum on women’s leadership among female councillors and council staff. In 2010 she was appointed to the Local Government Staff Commission for 5 years and was the NI Commissioner on the UK Women’s National Commission (2007-2012).
DemocraShe invests in women across the North and South of Ireland in partnership with bodies like the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Women into Public Life, and the NI Assembly’s Politics Plus. Working at both grassroots and strategic level, the goals are to strengthen women’s leadership in community, political and public life and release their power as champions of peacebuilding. Bronagh also contributes to Northern Ireland’s Women’s Policy Group and Gender Budgeting Group.
Women, peace and security (WPS) challenges abroad are also tackled. Bronagh has worked in Iraq with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and UN Women, in Ukraine with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, in South Korea with the Northeast Asian Women’s Peace Forum, and in Uganda with the Gender Justice Initiative. DemocraShe assisted Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with a cross-learning project that gathered women’s experiences on transitioning from conflict in NI/Ireland, Timor-Leste and Liberia (2009-2010), and shared the lessons at the UN on the 10th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325. Bronagh co-authored reviews of Ireland’s National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and a Strategic Guide and Toolkit on Women, Peace and Security. During 2017 and 2018 she co-facilitated capacity building for the EU Informal Task Force on Women, Peace and Security and the Regional Acceleration of Resolution 1325 partnership (EU, NATO, OSCE and UN agencies).
Bronagh has worked regularly since 2013 supporting women and civil society in the Syrian conflict. Working with UN Women she assisted the development of the Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy. With the Centre for Civil Society and Democracy and the Peaceful Change Initiative, the focus was on local leadership and shared vision for peace. With the Gender Advisor in the Office of the Special Envoy on Syria she has supported the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board to impact on negotiations.
Bronagh has written on matters affecting women, equality and peacebuilding. In addition to reviews of Ireland's 1325 National Action Plans, she co-wrote the Guide to Developing and Applying Women, Peace and Security Practice in Northern Ireland/Ireland (2014). She authored The Northern Ireland Economy: Women on the Edge? A Comprehensive Analysis of the Impacts of the Financial Crisis, Women’s Resource and Development Agency (2011). She has contributed chapters and articles on women’s leadership and political participation, affirmative action, problems solving negotiation and peacebuilding.