DUBLIN, Ireland -- When Mary Robinson's past and present positions are read off, a listener might think that the speaker is talking about several people. Robinson is the former Irish president and former UN High Commission of Human Rights, one of Time Magazine's 100 Heroes & Icons, founder of Trinity's College Irish Centre for European Law, and president of Realizing Rights, The Ethical Globalization Initiative.
Robinson, in speaking to the 1,850 attendees at WOCCU's conference, stated that credit unions had a part in promoting human rights. She said all humans had the right to health, housing, food, sanitation, water and the participation in public discussion, but also they had a right to financial dignity, the later being where credit unions were the most important.
She said in many cases trade agreements hurt human rights because governments in accepting aid were required to cut the social services that brought the most basic of rights to the poor of their countries. Private banks aren't apt to help the poor, leaving them without the resources to develop a decent standard of living for themselves and their families.
"Poor people can be agents of change not just objects of pity," she told the audience. Co-operatives can be a major help in giving the people the basic resources so they can help themselves. Robinson, who has seen man's cruelty in its fullest by visiting Rwanda after the massacres and other places, said she can still remain hopeful. In an exclusive interview with Credit Union Times after the speech, she said that she "sees the glass as half full and sometimes only a quarter full," but there is still liquid in the glass. She cited countries in Africa like Tanzania and Kenya where co-operatives have made the difference between survival and destitution. Robinson has always had a great concern for the place of women in the world and stressed the importance that women can play in the world, but how lack of education, access to finance and cultural barriers have left this world resource under-developed.
She feels credit unions can help, especially organizations like WOCCU in their development projects, because they can educate people not just in financial matters, but in letting them know they do have human rights.
Robinson received a standing ovation.
She noted later, that she is committed until 2011 with her organization, now based in New York, although she travels all over the world fighting for her cause. She doesn't plan to give up her work, but she would like more time in her home in the country and more time with her children and grandchildren. She confessed that this visit gave her a chance to see those she loved.
Like all workingwomen, she has had to make some choices. When she was running for president of Ireland, both her sons broke their collarbones and she had to suspend campaigning to rush to the hospital, a decision she does not regret.
And if speaking in Dublin gave her an opportunity to see her grandchildren, her real mission was to convince those working with the poor to help them attain the human rights that all people living on the planet are entitled to under the UN resolution passed in 1948.