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Mary Robinson Thinks Everybody Matters

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson has been all over the world. Chechnya, Rwanda, and, as of tonight, the Eisenhower Auditorium. Radiating girl power, she detailed her impressive career as a defender of human rights and encouraged students to make a difference in a lecture titled, “The Future of Global Ethical Leadership.” Her story was one that inspired men and women alike.

President Robinson has worn many hats over the years — Ireland’s first female president, the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, and member of the Council of Women World Leaders. In each role, she has placed a high importance on all moral leadership. A blend of two articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has helped her shape this idea of leadership.

Article 1 states simply, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Due to factors like poverty, Robinson believes that this has not yet been achieved.

Article 29 goes on to say, “Everyone has duties to the community without which you don’t reach the full expression of your personality.” Robinson encouraged the audience to ask themselves who their community is. Their family? Their university? Their country?

Tonight, she concentrated on issues relating to the largest community — the world. Specifically, Robinson has been recently concentrating on the issues of child marriage and climate change.

President Robinson and other Elders (a coalition of Human Rights activists) recently joined forces to create Girls Not Brides. Robinson spoke about societies in which girls as young as twelve years old can be married off. How can we change this? First, ideas about women must be changed. Girls need to be represented as having potential.

With regards to child marriage she said, “It is not culture. It’s a harmful traditional practice.”

Another initiative Robinson heads is Climate Justice. The effects of climate change on communities was brought to her attention while speaking to a group of African women. Periods of long droughts followed by sudden flash floods were keeping their communities from farming.

When climate change forces these communities to move, human rights are jeopardized. Basic rights to food and education are obstructed. Further, sexual violence and conflict increase as people migrate to new areas.

So, how can a room full of mostly students make a difference? First of all, it was being a student that actually inspired Robinson to embark on her journey of activism. As a student at Harvard during the Vietnam war she was surprised to see how many young people could make a difference.

President Robinson encourages students to take the initiative to join clubs like Oxfam. Her two philosophies are, “Everybody matters” (coincidentally the title of her new memoir) and, “Everybody can make a difference.” Human rights are all about combining the two.

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