In the January 2011 issue of Impact Magazine, former president of Ireland and human rights activist Mary Robinson is interviewed by Heather Kitt, a medical student and Global Changemaker. Below is an excerpt of the interview.
The Elders are committed to the realization of equality and empowerment of women and girls. What do you feel is the most pressing issue affecting the health and well-being of girls and women?
MR: A pressing issue that has received comparatively less attention is that of child marriage. It is for this reason that my fellow Elders and I are currently trying to increase awareness about the harm that it poses to millions of girls every year. The impact of this practice is enormous – one in three girls in the developing world is married before she turns 18. Not only is child marriage a clear human rights violation, but girls who are married before the age of 18 face a myriad of risks: they are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS, to die in child birth, and to experience domestic violence and sexual abuse. By raising the average age of marriage above 18 and keeping girls in school, whole communities will benefit.
Some Elders have recruited their grandchildren to help in their efforts. What is the role of the younger generations in carrying on the work of the Elders?
MR: Engaging with young people has been one of the highlights of my work with the Elders. I am always impressed not just with the freshness of their ideas, but with their commitment to playing a role in the improvement of their communities. My hope is not really for the younger generations to carry on our work as such; they are fully capable of setting their own agenda based on their own experiences and ideas. What I do hope they carry forward from the Elders are the values that our mission represents, as well as the conviction that we can all change the world for the better.