HK: Is there anyone who has inspired your work?
MR: Broadly, Mary Robinson. Because she puts decency, principles, human rights, law before political gain. She was my boss when I worked at the High Commission for Human Rights. Fortunately I got to work with her a bit.
When she was running for Presidency of Ireland, she was also involved as a barrister in the case of Dublin Wellwoman Clinic, which was about the right to abortion, and she did that, she did not withdraw from the case, which she could have done. But it was a matter of principle. She had been instructed, on what she thought was a human right; so she went ahead with the case. The Irish people respected that and went ahead and elected her, and still adore her. I do think of her as a very inspirational figure, because of that decency, the common practical sense of decency, that you know that you are going to be safe.
The times I was in Bosnia, I took a particular stand on the trafficking, as you know, and also on the rendition cases, the UN was complicit in both, as you know. And everyone else in UN, apart from head of UNICEF, would not stand with me. The UN family were like, ‘this has nothing to do with us. We do development, we do whatever’ but they were not touching these issues because they were far too contentious, and obviously I had already done stuff and she said to me ‘I want you on the record at all times on this and you have my complete backing. Very public. On the record. Explain it how it is.’ So that was great.
HK: A woman of principle. Have there been any big wins for women peace-builders?
MR: An interesting question. I think there have been – the fact that we got several of Nobel Laureates – Lehmah, Jodi, Tawakkol, Mairead – they have been inspirational because they have not just got their peace prize and kept quiet. On the contrary, they have received their peace prize and they have gone off and ratchetted it up, the need to address that. I think of it in terms of looking for successes, Liberia, sure. Other parts of the world, maybe the Solomon Islands where women have participated and done, been able to engage. I think it is too much to claim that there have been direct successes but I think the success that we have had, is the gradual, incremental understanding of the absolute necessity of looking at political economy, looking at structures of society more broadly and understanding gender and then addressing the structures of power. And then from that, the participation of women in peace as being fundamental to that peace.
We are not there yet but what has happened over the last few years, I think, because I have been doing it for so long it is interesting to see how it is manifesting, – a much better collaboration with academic research, practical implementation, real grass roots organisation and using the international system. WILPF can be proud of that because that is the WILPF history. That is what WILPF has always done and always said was important. Finally lots of other people are catching up with us. And doing it in a way which feeds totally into that process. I think that has been a success. I think we are getting there in terms of our understanding. What is tragic now, just as we are getting there, the funding is going to go, the political climate is really difficult and invidious. For me that means that we have to look to ourselves.
Just because they are moving in the wrong direction, it makes it even more important that we move in the right direction. We must not lose what we know. We must not give up on that because that is what will get us through. And it means building those alliances with other civil societies and organisations, helping them to work on the issues that we are all working on but to look up and see the bigger picture – so that they know that what they are doing feeds into what we are doing. So when I am talking to women’s organisations in South Africa, for example in Stellenbosch, who are protecting women farm workers – how the hell does that fit into what WILPF does? It does absolutely because what you are looking at is back to political economy, the rights of women to participate, to have a decent wage, to be protected, to be participant in government structures in your area, in your region, in the Trade Unions, so that you can have a say in what your governments are doing. And it is all of that that we are putting together, and not to lose sight of it. Much of it does not cost anything, what costs is for us to bring them into the narrative, to get their voices heard. That is the problem and we should be able to do this.