Friday 18 January 2019

Robinson still breaking down barriers as she takes on global hunger

Lise Hand

THE former Uachtaran na hEireann practically pirouetted for the photographers as she awaited the arrival at Dublin Castle of the current resident of the Aras.

Mary Robinson was sporting the smile of a contented woman. She was about to welcome Michael D Higgins to the official opening session of a two-day global conference on world hunger which she was co-hosting along with the Government.

Mary had deployed her formidable reputation to attract a host of speakers to the event which was titled 'Hunger, Nutrition, Climate Justice'.

Michael D was giving the opening address, while the keynote speech will be delivered this afternoon by former US vice-president Al Gore.

Nonetheless, there was an informal feel to the event – each political speaker was 'twinned' with a person working in the frontline of hunger eradication. And the problem is immense, with almost one billion people affected by hunger. Or as the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore reminded the room: "As we sit here today, 870 million people in the world are hungry. That is almost twice the population of the entire EU."

Michael D Higgins arrived along with his wife Sabina and Mr Gilmore, and the President was given a standing ovation as he entered the conference room.

As is his wont, Michael D was forthright on the subject of inequality. "Global hunger in the 21st Century represents the grossest of human rights violations, and the greatest ethical challenge facing the global community," he said.

"According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation which I visited earlier this year in Rome, while the world at the present time produces enough food to potentially feed its entire population, more than one billion people are undernourished, over two billion suffer from nutritional deficiencies, and almost six million children die every year from malnutrition or related diseases," he added.

Mrs Robinson added a personal touch to her speech. "The truth is, we're talking about how to make a viable world in 2050. My four small grandchildren will be in their forties in 2050 and will share the world with nine billion others. How will they all look back at this vital period when it will be clear to them that we had the opportunity to take the right course. How will we be judged?" she asked.

She had pledged that this would be a "listening" conference, and delegates from the floor and frontline workers took part in panels and question and answer sessions.

Cecilia Kobe, co-ordinator of the Kenya Climate Justice Women Champions, described how the national network works with women all over the country, advising on nutrition. She explained how many women die in childbirth, as deficiencies in nutrients means they are too weak to deliver their babies.

Cecilia explained how her organisation showed women how to cultivate and use health-giving indigenous crops, and how they train women development leaders in the villages.

'We need to empower women," she said, then added to illustrate the task ahead of her. "I was talking about empowerment somewhere in Kenya, and one man got up and told me, 'Madam – your presentation is so good, but I cannot empower my wife. She is already a problem to me'. Laughter erupted in the room as Cecilia continued: "So what we are telling men here is, if you cannot empower your wife, please empower your sister or your mother."

Mary Robinson – possessor of the hand that rocked the Irish status quo – no doubt heartily approved.

Irish Independent

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