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Speech at a Reception Celebrating UN Women’s HeforShe Campaign and SAFE Ireland's MAN UP Campaign

Áras an Uachtaráin, 11th March 2016

A Chairde Gael,

Tá fíorchaoin fáilte romhaibh ar fad chuig Áras an Uachtaráin. Tá áthas orm féin agus ar Saidhbhín go bhfuil sibh inár gcomhluadar ar maidin don imeacht tábhachtach seo chun Feachtas Ban na Náisiún Aontaithe - HeForShe - a cheiliúradh, agus chun ról na bhfear i gcur chun cinn cearta na mban a athaint, agus go háirithe a ról i ndeireadh a chur le foréigean inscne.

[Dear Friends,
You are all very welcome to Áras an Uachtaráin. Sabina and I are very pleased that you are joining us this morning for what is a very important event to mark UN Women’s HeforShe Campaign and to celebrate the role of men in advancing women’s rights in general, in the fullest sense, and in particular in combating gender based violence.]

Earlier this week I participated in a ceremony celebrating the role of women in the Rising of 1916 and in the foundation of our state. That event gave all of us cause to reflect on the experience of women in Ireland over the last 100 years. I spoke of how the hopes and aspirations for an equal Ireland, for women and men, which are so clearly articulated in the 1916 Proclamation were frustrated and were denied for the greater part of the 20th century. The women of 1916 were feminists, many of them of the most radical disposition, but the true Republic for which they fought has still not been achieved, and will not be realised until we have full equality for all our citizens.

My message to that event on Tuesday was that, as we commemorate the courage and idealism of those revolutionary women from our past, we must be inspired to do everything we can to complete the journey towards the full enjoyment of women’s rights.

The equal Republic is incomplete, but we do have causes for optimism both in Ireland and at global level. In Ireland, access to education, access to employment, participation and representation in political life, equality of pay – are all areas in which progress has been substantial and where equality can now be considered to be within our grasp.

In this spirit of optimism I accepted, in February 2015, the invitation of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, to become a Champion of the HeforShe campaign. This global campaign is one that has the engagement of men and boys at its core, seeking to bring one half of humanity together in support of the other half of our human family, and engaging institutions and organisations that are in a position to influence change within communities, and particularly those settings where women are most vulnerable to gender inequality and discrimination.

In taking up this role, along with a number of other Heads of State and Heads of Government, I committed to using the influence of my office to convey a simple but essential message: that men must stand up and show leadership if women's rights are to be fully achieved.

Throughout our public life, Sabina and I have been involved in many campaigns for equality – in the areas of labour, welfare, housing, education, healthcare and in relation to fertility and private life. Over those many years we have spent working on those issues, it has always been clear to us that women's rights and equality is a political project in which men should have as great an interest and as onerous a duty as women. All of society loses when you have gender inequality. All of society is flawed if gender violence is allowed to occur, is tolerated, and if an intolerable silence prevails around this grave issue. Then too, no invocation of cultural differences or tradition can ever be accepted as an excuse for gender violence.

Ours is a moment of great significance in that, by initiating the HeforShe campaign, the United Nations has provided the focal point for an international campaign aimed at harnessing the efforts of men and women working together for equality. HeforShe thus provides a framework for individuals, institutions, corporations and civil society to direct their efforts at areas identified as ones of priority concern:

• Education
• Health
• Identity
• Work
• Politics; and
• Violence – in any form.

The HeforShe campaign identifies actions that can be taken by all of us to contribute to change. It presents a unique opportunity to realise the dream of a truly equal world in which the relationships between the genders is one of mutual support, equality, and respect.

A defining change in how the international community addresses issues of equality can be seen in the way women's rights are now conceptualised as a universal human rights issue. This is recognised, not just in the HeforShe campaign, but also in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed in New York last September. Those 17 SGDS, and the 169 targets associated to them, were adopted by the largest gathering of world governments in history. They are universal objectives for all nations, rich and poor, and provide a pathway to addressing complex questions of distribution of wealth and resources over the medium term – distribution within countries as well as between countries.

We must all rejoice at the fact that gender equality was tackled in New York both as a transversal issue and as a specific Goal – Goal no.5 – which calls on all the nations of the world to, I quote:

“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”

Within this Goal no.5, there is also a specific target aimed at gender violence, which is phrased as follows:


“eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.”

The SDGs are aimed at the medium term, the aspiration being to end gender-based violence within 15 years. While we must all welcome the fact that women’s rights are recognised as a central question of development throughout the agreed text, we should, however, be animated by an even greater sense of urgency when tackling the issues facing women globally. We must give leadership as citizens of a Republic. We should not have to wait 15 years.

Indeed, given what we know, what we understand about the causes and consequences of such violations of human rights, and given the resources and expertise available to us, as well as the strong public support that exists in Ireland for this work, we can say unambiguously that 15 years is far too long to wait for equality, and that even a day is too long to end gender-based violence in our country or anywhere else for that matter.

That is why I am so pleased that in hosting this event today we also have the opportunity of partnering with SAFE Ireland and their MAN UP campaign, which exemplifies the spirit of HeforShe in calling on men to stand up and play their part in ending gender-based violence

We are delighted to have with us today not only Sharon O'Halloran as Chief Executive of SAFE Ireland and the members and partners of SAFE Ireland, but also Ryan Tubridy, representing the male champions who have stood up and confronted prejudice, stereotypes and stigma by declaring their commitment to “man up” in the face of gender-based violence. The great importance of HeforShe and MAN UP lies in their recognition that the change we wish for cannot be achieved simply by laws, policies or funding. Social change is necessary as well as a change in consciousness.

One step in achieving that change is the building of an environment where men feel comfortable and empowered to identify themselves as feminists and as champions of women’s rights. In standing up to be counted in this respect and in using your public profiles to convey this message, Ryan Tubridy and others have shown great leadership and courage.

We are also honoured to have male leaders from large national organisations who are willing to show that same leadership and who are willing to advocate the messages of HeforShe and MAN UP among their members. We welcome today Gerry Collins from IBEC, David Joyce from ICTU, John Delaney from FAI, Jack Leahy from USI and Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett from the Defence Forces.

Agus muid ag dul i mbun feachtais chun athruithe a chur i gcrích tá rud amháin atá níos cumhachtaí ná focail, ná pholasaithe, ná sluáin agus ná póstaeir - is é sin an cheól. D'fhéadfá a rá gur fíoraíodh é seo le linn an toghcháin le hathbheochain an amhráin feachtais!

[Finally, when embarking on a campaign for change there is something that is more powerful than words, policies, slogans and posters - and that is music. You might even argue that this was proven by the renaissance of the campaign song as a feature of the recent election!]

It is a great gift to have the power to communicate ideas through the medium of melody and sound and I want to congratulate Andrew Hozier for choosing to lend the power of his musical gift to this important cause. Through his song “Cherry Wine” and his video collaboration with Saoirse Ronan, he is bringing the message of today’s event to a wider audience and it is a great thrill to Sabina and me, and I know to all of you, that he has given so generously of his time to be here this morning and we look forward to hearing him perform later.

As a final word, may I, once again, thank you all for being with us this morning, in this week of International Women's Day, at a moment of great hope, when there is an unprecedented consensus and momentum internationally to achieve true equality between men and women.

HeforShe and the MAN UP campaign are such important and valuable tools and platforms made available to us, and I ask all of you here today to avail of these tools and these platforms – Do become a supporter of the HeforShe campaign through the website, and consider the actions that you as an individual or an organisation can implement. Similarly, consider ways in which you or your organisation can play an active part in SAFE Ireland's MAN UP campaign.

Is ócáid cheiliúrtha é an lá inniu, lá chun ceiliúradh a dhéanamh ar féidearthachtaí agus ceiliúradh a dhéanamh ar an chaidreamh idir fhir agus mná, caidreamh atá á mhúnlú acu siúd atá, maraon libh féin, ag leiriú ceannasaíochta.

[Today is a day of celebration, celebration of what is possible, and celebration of a new relationship between men and women which is being forged by those, like yourselves, who are showing leadership.

Beir beannacht.