Mary Robinson on Her History in Politics
Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and more former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), has spent most of her life as a human rights advocate. Born Mary Bourke in Ballina, County Mayo (1944), the daughter of two physicians, she was educated at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), King's Inns Dublin and Harvard Law School to which she won a fellowship in 1967.
A committed European, she also served on the International Commission of Jurists, the Advisory Committee of Interights, and on expert European Community and Irish parliamentary committees. The recipient of numerous honours and awards throughout the world, Mary Robinson is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the American Philosophical Society and, since 2002, has been Honorary President of Oxfam International. A founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, she serves on many boards including the Vaccine Fund, and chairs the Irish Chamber Orchestra.
Currently based in New York, Mary Robinson is now leading Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative. Its mission is to put human rights standards at the heart of global governance and policy-making and to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are addressed on the global stage.
Topic: Women in Politics
Mary Robinson: When I graduated from Trinity College in Lowell, I was fortunate enough to go to the Harvard Law School at a particularly interesting time. I’m the class of ’68, so I was there in 1967-68. And that was the time when young Americans were questioning the war in Vietnam. They were interested in civil rights programs in the South. Martin Luther King was assassinated that year, and Robert Kennedy just after I graduated. And I came back to Ireland imbued with that sense that young people can make a difference. And I was elected to the Irish Senate very shortly afterwards. And the first measure . . . bill in the Parliament that I introduced at the age of 25 was a bill to legalize family planning. It seemed to me to be very simple because married women were not allowed to have the contraceptive pill unless they had cycle regulation problems. And it must have been the weather, but there was a phenomenon of many married women having cycle regulation problems. And also you couldn’t buy or sell the pill. It was a criminal offense. But if you could manage to get a pill . . . or sorry, a condom . . . then you could use a condom, but not buy or sell it. And I felt, “This is something that just needs to be straightened out.” And I completely underestimated the grave offense and concern that I caused to a whole range of people. I was denounced by bishops and priests from the pulpit. I was denounced by newspapers. I was an outcast for a while, and it was a very troubling experience. I kind of wobbled, because I had been used to being more or less reasonably admired and liked. I was doing well, and suddenly I was actually a hate figure and got hate mail. And it was very good for me, because I learned a lesson that if you really believe that something is important and it’s true, then stick to it. Go through with it. Pay the price. Be unpopular. Don’t be arrogant, but sometimes you have to stick to your principles.
I talked my way into being elected to the Senate for the university constituency by pointing out, “Why was there elderly male professors?” And so they said, “If you go forward, we’ll try and get you in.” And I learned that to make changes – particularly on issues of concern only to women . . . which weren’t the only issues, but they were important in Ireland at that time –you needed a critical mass of women in the Irish Senate. There were six out of the 60 when I was first elected. When we were 13, we began to be able to shape the agenda. And I’ve learned that women’s leadership has to be about women supporting other women trying to create those critical masses, and trying to work in a way that supports and empowers women.
Mary Robinson on progress and modernity.
Can sensitive coral reefs survive another human generation?
- Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
- The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
- If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's CEO, believes we're entering the age of smart medicine.
- The United States health care system has much room for improvement, and big tech may be laying the foundation for those improvements.
- Technological progress in medicine is coming from two fronts: medical technology and information technology.
- As information technology develops, patients will become active participants in their health care, and value-based care may become a reality.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.