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Inez McCormack

Political Participation Award, 2002

Northern Ireland

Focus Areas

Civil Rights & Voting

Inez McCormack was one of the most influential civil rights leaders in Northern Ireland today. She was introduced to President Clinton as “the most important woman in Northern Ireland” and described as “one of the sharpest brains in the Irish trade union movement,” by a critic. Throughout her career, she crossed sectarian lines and national boundaries to fight for those who have faced, in her words, “the humiliation of exclusion,” particularly women.

Inez began her professional life as a social worker in West Belfast. When armed conflict broke out there in the late 1960′ s, Inez became deeply aware of the effects of deprivation and inequality on women and their families. She became active in her country’ s civil rights movement and began a life’ s work of instituting non-violent change.

She played a critical role in the Good Friday Peace Accords, galvanizing her community’ s women, whom she has said, “have shown huge capacities for endurance and survival.” She harnessed their experience so that their voices were heard in the peace process. She initiated two initiatives designed to assist the implementation of the equality and human rights aspects of the Good Friday Accords.

As a labor activist, Inez worked tirelessly to ensure that all employees, particularly those in public sector and service industries, receive fair treatment and pay that reflects their value. She was a seminal influence in campaigns for equal pay and stronger equality laws for women and brought women from Northern Ireland and the Republic together to campaign for equal rights. She served on the board of directors of InterTrade Ireland and is a member of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

Inez was the first woman in a number of roles: the first woman appointed as Northern Regional Organizer of Unison; the first woman elected to the Northern Committee; and the first woman executive of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Inez advocated for fair labor practices for women and minorities as the director of UNISON, the largest trade union in the United Kingdom. She founded the Northern Ireland Fair Employment Commission and was co-founder of the Northern Ireland Equal Opportunities Commission. She was a force behind the successful drive to persuade the British government to adopt the 1991 Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment Guidelines to ensure that all employment policies in Northern Ireland would be proofed against inequality and discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, race, age and sexual orientation.

In the 1980′ s, Inez was a signatory of the McBride Principles, a set of international ethical investment. She continues to work for ethical globalization to ensure that no one is left behind.

Please see Vital Voices President and CEO Alyse Nelson’s tribute to Inez McCormack here: