MARY ROBINSON. HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD
How do you go about changing the world, exactly?
If you track the extraordinary path of Mary Robinson, the clues emerge from the overwhelming fog like signposts: challenge the status quo; don’t be afraid to be hated; work tirelessly for ideals about which you are passionate.
And – the brightest guiding light – believe that everybody matters.
“It’s something I learned from my father,” Mary Robinson told The Hoopla in Australia last week. “My father was a beloved vocational doctor in the west of Ireland, and he would listen and have all the time in the world for people, no matter who they were.
“He clearly felt, very fundamentally, that everybody mattered.”
Mary Robinson is one of the most inspiring women of our time.
She was elected as the first woman President of Ireland in 1990 (pictured below) having worked as a lawyer to bring constitutional change for Irish women at a time when divorce and the purchase of contraceptives were illegal.
One of her bedrock beliefs is that access to family planning is essential to the empowerment of women the world over (highly controversial in the Ireland she sought to change) and that the empowerment of women the world over is essential to building a better world.
Those who heard her stirring acceptance speech in 1990 can’t forget it – she quoted the poet W.B. Yeats (“come dance with me in Ireland”), and thanked the women of Ireland for helping to elect her, saying – with rising passion in her beautiful Irish timbre – “the hand that rocks the cradle can rock the system!”
She went on to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, travelling to the world’s worst sites of human rights abuses, giving voice to the poor and the oppressed, the tortured and abused. Her time in that office stretched over Kosovo, Chechnya, East Timor, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, the second Intifada, the civil war in Somalia, and September 11.
She was handpicked by Nelson Mandela, alongside Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu as one of The Elders -10 global leaders who work together for world peace and human rights.
Some internal compass has directed Mary Robinson to devote her life to making the world a better place, and now her autobiography gives some insight to its provenance.
The title of the book is, appropriately enough, Everybody Matters.
“It seems to capture, in a very simple way, what human rights is all about,” she said. “I often think when people hear the two words Human Rights they think of rather strident finger pointing, of governments and politics, I wanted to show that it’s all that and much, much more.
“I wanted to encourage people to understand that not only does everybody matter, but everybody can make a difference, and help to have the world be a fairer place.”
In telling her own story of a girl in 1950s Ireland who grew up to become a world leader and agent for change when the options for women were to get married or become a nun, Mary Robinson wants the oppressed women of the world to have hope that things can change quite radically in the span of just a lifetime.
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