The first woman President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson attended the Covent at the end of March to talk to pupils about the fight against climate change and its impact on our human rights.
Mary, who was in London to officially collect a Kew International Medal for work on food security and climate justice on Tuesday, opened her talk to pupils by sharing the personal connection she has with the Convent having had two aunties who were Jesus and Mary nuns and once considering becoming a nun herself.
Mary discussed with the girls some of the highlights of her prestigious career and reassuringly emphasised that she didn’t start off with a plan for where she is today, but being wedged between four brothers did spark an early interest in gender equality and human rights.
Mary also benefited from parents who told her she had the same opportunities as her brothers, and despite life in Ireland at the time not reflecting that sentiment – and bookies odds at 100 to one when she stood for President – Mary defied expectations becoming Ireland’s first female President 1990 – 1997.
With a background as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and her appoint by Nelson Mandela as one of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders that works for human rights, Mary herself went on to establish the Mary Robinson Climate Justice Foundation. Here she focused the conversation between human rights and climate change, highlighting the fact that all the good work that was being done to help poor countries was being undermined by the effects of climate change. Mary, who advised she ‘always keeps a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in her handbag’ described to students what she calls the intergenerational dimension of climate change and the responsibilities for the world that will be inherited by young people and those generations yet to be born.
Pupils were invited to ask questions which covered her thoughts on globalisation.
In answering Mary Robinson said: “One of the things we need to look at is how we run our economies. We basically run them on consume, consume, consume, produce consume – we can’t go on like that. We need to move towards a more sustainable life and livelihood.”
In the fight against climate change Mary advised pupils: “Do something to make a difference that you wouldn’t otherwise do, in your families, lives and home. In my case it was becoming a pescitarian. Secondly once you have made your own personal commitment, you need to get angry with government, and that’s governments of every level, who are not doing what they should be doing. And the third thing, which I think is really important, and something young people can really help with is, to imagine the world we want to get to. A world where we don’t need to do some of the things we thought we had to do in modern life, a world of happier times and better relationships perhaps.”
Headmistress Louise McGowan said: “We were so honoured to have Mary come and talk to our girls today, her achievements have inspired us all and reminds our girls that success is something we should all strive towards despite the barriers.”