A woman who has inspired me
“I must be a President for all the people, but more than that, I want to be a President for all the people. Because I was elected by men and women of all parties and none, by many with great moral courage, who stepped out from the faded flags of the Civil War and voted for a new Ireland, and above all by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system. And who came out massively to make their mark on the ballot paper and on a new Ireland.” - Mary Robinson, who inspired me at the age of 19 when I was a second year law student in Belfast. Before the peace process really took hold, Mary made a pioneering visit to Belfast in 1996. She visited a women’s centre in loyalist West Belfast and she was heckled by local protesters as she left for her next engagement in the nationalist Springfield Road area. It was here the first public handshake between the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and the Irish Head of State took place. This pivotal moment of Irish politics was down played and even demonised, but Mary was the first person to take this kind of risk long before others felt safe enough to do so. From that moment I have been a huge admirer of Mary Robinson and her determination to take on taboo subjects in Ireland - including same sex relationships, contraception and abortion - in the interests of reaching out to people in need. I think it was because Mary was a woman that she was perceived as a different voice, so she felt empowered to do what other male Irish leaders were afraid to do. She was never afraid to show her own vulnerability as well as her strength. She changed the face of Ireland forever and the more tolerant and liberal nation that Ireland has become has Mary’s stamp all over it.
My words to share with others
My constant self styled motto is ‘never underestimate being underestimated’. Even though it feels frustrating when you are younger, I have found that it’s amazing how much easier it is to achieve things when people have low expectations of you. So try not to care so much about being noticed or receiving immediate credit for everything you’ve done. Just keep going and when you consistently perform well, you will be recognised eventually. Suddenly you’ll find that you’ve quite effortlessly overtaken those who once saw you as irrelevant.
My thoughts on feminism and women’s suffrage
It amazes me that we don’t have nationwide memorials for the Suffrage movement or annual parades of honour for what those women achieved for both women and men in the modern age. I come from a society where marching and memorialising battles, war and conflict is a huge part of our cultural character. It amazes me how patriarchal traditions of celebrating the sacrifice of mostly men in military contexts dominates how we remember and how we identify ourselves by reference to past events, yet a seismic event of achieving votes for women is not really remembered or celebrated at all. There are no monuments in every town to gather around every year and show our gratitude, there are no marches or parades to express our identity as free and independent women. Therefore, I think modern women need to seize every opportunity they get to shout from the rooftops ‘ These women made sacrifices for me. These women changed the world. I am proud to live under the freedoms they gave me.