Monday 21 May 2018

President hits out at 'sexism' of Trump's America in US speech

President Michael D Higgins is joined by Bridget Moynahan – an American actress and model who stars in the television series ‘Blue Bloods’ – at the Ireland Funds breakfast event held yesterday in the Rockefeller Centre in New York. Photo: Maxwells
President Michael D Higgins is joined by Bridget Moynahan – an American actress and model who stars in the television series ‘Blue Bloods’ – at the Ireland Funds breakfast event held yesterday in the Rockefeller Centre in New York. Photo: Maxwells

Cormac McQuinn in New York

President Michael D Higgins has criticised "unapologetic sexism" in Donald Trump's America and expressed "great disappointment" that the US plans to turn away from an agreement on tackling climate change.

The President used two speeches in New York to raise concern about the direction the US has taken in recent times.

Mr Higgins addressed the Ireland Funds' Women's Leadership event, which he said was a "most important initiative" in a world where there were still obstacles to "true equality".

He said attitudes suggesting female inferiority and fuelling prejudice towards women were 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 was 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," he added. In a reference to the #MeToo movement, Mr Higgins said women's rights were to the fore of public debate 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 said women's voices were "marginalised, ignored or silenced" for too long in Ireland's first 100 years of independence.

The President said Constance Markievicz's membership of the first Irish Cabinet was a "false dawn" as it took another 60 years for another woman to be appointed to Cabinet.

He 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.

Profound

But he added: "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."

Mr Higgins later addressed students at the prestigious Columbia University on the need for greater international co-operation to tackle conflict, poverty and climate change. He was speaking as part of its World Leaders Forum. Previous participants have included Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama.

He said it would be easy for him to "merely criticise" the US intention to withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change in 2020 adding that it was a "great disappointment" that a founding member of the UN was turning away from the deal.

But he also said a "more insidious risk" to shared global commitments is if other wealthy countries, including Ireland, "were not truly authentic in our words... that we did not intend to make the difficult and necessary sacrifices demanded of us over the next decades".

Mr Higgins also hit out at global inequality, singling out the Davos World Economic Forum as an event where "a very small number of people present themselves as gods come to Earth".

Irish Independent

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