MICHAEL D HIG­GINS

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Presidential Election -

What ac­tion have you taken to ad­vance women’s equal­ity that you are most proud of ? Through­out my life, I’ve been an ad­vo­cate for the rights and equal­ity of women.

As TD and sen­a­tor, I ad­vo­cated on hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, min­i­mum wage and a so­cial floor, high­light­ing the of­ten-un­equal ways these is­sues af­fected women. As min­is­ter, I brought tal­ented women to de­ci­sion-mak­ing tables.

Sabina and I were part of early pro­gres­sive po­lit­i­cal and civil so­ci­ety move­ments on con­tra­cep­tion, di­vorce and the sta­tus of il­le­git­i­macy and op­posed in­tro­duc­tion of the Eighth Amend­ment in 1983.

As Pres­i­dent, I found new ways to sup­port gen­der equal­ity at a lo­cal, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional level. I have high­lighted the achieve­ments of women in ev­ery sphere of life in­clud­ing sports, sci­ence, busi­ness and the arts, en­cour­aged greater recog­ni­tion for care and com­mu­nity and em­pha­sised the cru­cial role of women in peace and de­vel­op­ment. Vi­o­lence against women must end. In 2015, I be­come one of 10 Cham­pion World Lead­ers of the UN’s ‘HeForShe’ cam­paign.

I also met with women who had been in Mag­da­lene in­sti­tu­tions and apol­o­gised to them on be­half of our State.

My “Pres­i­dency of Ideas” has high­lighted the words, ideas and ac­tions of women, who, na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally have shaped his­tory, led con­tem­po­rary de­bate and charted a shared fu­ture.

How would you ad­vance women’s rights in the role of pres­i­dent? If re-elected, I have pro­posed a pres­i­den­tial ini­tia­tive on ‘Par­tic­i­pa­tion and Trans­for­ma­tion’, invit­ing pub­lic dis­cus­sion on par­tic­i­pa­tion — ob­sta­cles faced and sup­ports needed. Achiev­ing equal­ity is not sim­ply about op­por­tu­ni­ties for the in­di­vid­ual, it is about chang­ing our spa­ces and sys­tems. I will also in­vite in­sti­tu­tions to re­flect on how they can bet­ter de­liver in­clu­sion and equal­ity, in­clud­ing gen­der equal­ity.

Ad­vanc­ing rights and equal­ity for women will re­main at the heart of my work and think­ing. I be­lieve none of the ma­jor chal­lenges of the com­ing years, be it the right to shel­ter, cli­mate change, or the fu­ture of work, can be fully un­der­stood without recog­nis­ing and ad­dress­ing gen­der inequal­ity.

Dur­ing re­cent com­mem­o­ra­tions, I high­lighted the con­tri­bu­tion of women in to the early trade union, rev­o­lu­tion­ary, cul­tural and suf­frage move­ments. I will bring sim­i­lar in­clu­sion and re­spect to the more chal­leng­ing an­niver­saries ahead.

As your pres­i­dent, I will place equal­ity and rights for women on the agenda when I meet other world lead­ers. I will ex­tend my work as a UN ‘HeforShe’ cham­pion and, along­side Sabina, ad­vo­cate for the em­pow­er­ment of all women and girls as cen­tral to the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals.

Do you con­sider your­self a fem­i­nist? I am proud to call my­self a fem­i­nist. I be­lieve global fem­i­nism has been a trans­for­ma­tive source of new think­ing, ben­e­fit­ing every­one.

I’m heart­ened to see a re­newed, in­clu­sive, con­fi­dent, fem­i­nism within con­tem­po­rary move­ments for a more equal Ire­land.

I of­ten quote Nige­rian au­thor Chi­ma­manda Ngozi Adichie, who said: “We should all be fem­i­nists. A fem­i­nist is a per­son who believes in the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, and eco­nomic equal­ity of the sexes.

“A fem­i­nist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a prob­lem with gen­der as it is to­day, and we must fix it, we must do bet­ter’.”

What woman, past or present, in­spires you and why?

In mark­ing the cen­te­nary of women’s suf­frage, I was in­spired by the coura­geous words and work of Eva GoreBooth. A poet, na­tion­al­ist, trade union­ist and so­cial­ist, she had huge in­flu­ence in Bri­tain and Ire­land. In Manch­ester, she cham­pi­oned the rights of women and work­ing peo­ple along­side her life-long part­ner Es­ther Roper, and she founded the suf­frage move­ment in Sligo with her sis­ter Con­stance.

She was ex­cep­tional in com­bin­ing so many projects of egal­i­tar­i­an­ism in her work — trade union rights, gen­der equal­ity, paci­fism and spir­i­tual free­dom. In Fe­bru­ary, Sabina and I vis­ited her grave­stone in Lon­don.

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