Wednesday 12 December 2018

Michael D Higgins criticises 'unapologetic sexism' in Trump's America

Visit to New York by President Higgins and his wife Sabina, as they attend a reception hosted by the Irish Arts Centre in New York with Mrs. Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Chairman Emeritus of The Ireland Funds America prior to attending a performance by a selection of Irish Artists in the Symphony Space in New York city. Pic: Maxwell's
Visit to New York by President Higgins and his wife Sabina, as they attend a reception hosted by the Irish Arts Centre in New York with Mrs. Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Chairman Emeritus of The Ireland Funds America prior to attending a performance by a selection of Irish Artists in the Symphony Space in New York city. Pic: Maxwell's

Cormac McQuinn Political Correspondent in New York

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has used a major speech on women’s leadership in New York to criticise "unapologetic sexism" in Donald Trump’s America.

Mr Higgins also said that women’s voices were “marginalised, ignored or silenced” for too long in Ireland’s first 100 years of independence.

He delivered the strong remarks in a speech to an Ireland Funds event in New York where he also cited the #MeToo movement as proof women's voices are being heard.

Mr Higgins said the Ireland Funds' Women’s Leadership series is “a most important initiative in a world which continues to face obstacles and many challenges towards attaining true equality”.

He said that attitudes suggesting female inferiority and fuelling prejudice towards women are far from being the preserve of any one culture or religion.

In a reference to the United States, he said: “Indeed, today we are witnessing a worrying surge of unapologetic sexism and the undermining of women’s rights in one of the world’s most advanced democracies.”

He said it is a reminder that “no society is ever immune to such harmful regressions of rights painstakingly won.”

“We must never let down our guard, and confront, not just violence, but prejudice and disrespect wherever it arises."

In a reference to the #MeToo movement, Mr Higgins said that women’s rights were to the fore of public discourse last year.

“Sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace was openly discussed and called out across a range of high profile sectors including the film industry, politics and the media.

“Women’s voices are being heard and demands for change in behaviour and attitudes must continue to be progressed for the benefit of all society,” he added.

Mr Higgins also criticised how women have been treated in by the Irish State. 

He said: “In Ireland, as across the world, the exclusion of women led to the impoverishment of our public policy and our body politic”.

He added that this “resulted in too many lives which were not allowed to achieve their potential merely because of their gender”.

The President said that since the establishment of the first Dáil in 1919, “strong women leaders” like Constance Markievicz have championed the pursuit of the increased participation of women in decision making.

He noted that she was the first woman elected to Westminster in 1918 and was appointed as the first democratically elected Cabinet minister anywhere in the world in the first independent Irish government.

Mr Higgins added: “However, for too long during our 100 years as an independent Irish State, the voice of women in Irish political life was marginalised, ignored or silenced.”

He said Countess Markievicz’s achievements were “a false dawn” and that it would take another six decades for a second woman to be appointed to an Irish Cabinet.

Mr Higgins also told his audience how until 1973, women who married while in the Irish public service, were required to resign; with the exception of teachers.

He said that at the same time, male members of the public service received a pay rise on marriage. 

Mr Higgins also said: “Both of my predecessors Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese were remarkable women and both represent the profound and positive social change which Ireland has undergone in recent decades.”

He said that the Ireland Funds have worked tirelessly to promote peace, culture, education and community development in Ireland and around the world.

Mr Higgins says that there is still “profound and persistent global injustice for women” and there are “many immediate and longer term challenges which must be overcome if we are to achieve empowerment of women across the world.”

In one example he said: “We know that gender inequality lies at the heart of the gap between the richest and poorest people in the world.

“The economic marginalisation of women is not only bad for women, it also threatens global growth and stability.”

He said that gender equality cannot be seen as an issue that’s totally separate from sustainable development.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section