County Meath campaigner Mpho Mokotso joined President Higgins at the Áras on Thursday last (June 23rd) at an event calling for a culture change in more actively engaging men in gender equality issues nationally and globally. Speaking in the context of the UN’s ‘HeforShe’ campaign, President Higgins stressed how important he felt it was to use his office to convey a simple but vital message: that men must stand in solidarity with women if women’s rights are to be fully achieved. As a global ambassador for the HeforShe campaign, he called on people around the world to stand together as equal partners to craft a shared vision of a gender-equal world and to specifically undertake the challenge of engaging men and boys to promote gender equality and to combat gender-based violence (GBV)

Mpho Mokotso is a former Direct Provision resident, Gender-Based Violence Activist, scholar, writer and member of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI). Speaking about her trip to the Áras, Mpho says the President’s call to action puts a timely spotlight on issues that need greater attention.

“It was a great honour for me to be invited to the Áras an Uachtaráin. It will remain an experience of a lifetime. I enjoyed every minute of being there, from a grand tour of the Presidential House, walking around the breathtaking gardens, delectable food and spectacular live music performances that had everybody dancing. Every person looked beautiful and happy. The ones I had the privilege of chatting with were just as excited as I was. I made a number of connections with amazing people from different backgrounds who share the same goal of creating a world free of Gender-Based Violence. I hope the connections will lead to meaningful collaborations in the near future because every time people unite for a common purpose, it is a move towards achieving it. My colleague Cynthia Dee Lebuli was also an invited guest and we got to shed light on the plight of people seeking international protection in Ireland and to talk about the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and the importance of Ending Direct Provision because it is also another violation of human rights”.

“What I like about the HeforShe Campaign is that it puts men as key players in influencing change. Therefore it is important to see men taking a lead in this fight because like President Michael D. Higgins who is the UN Champion for HeforShe Campaign indicated, men must stand in solidarity with women if women’s rights are to be fully achieved.  All the speakers gave insightful messages and having this kind of conversation is what will bring about change not only in this beautiful Island and across the world”.

 

“As a refugee and a black woman in Ireland who is a survivor of GBV from my country Lesotho, which is among countries with highest statistics of femicide and GBV in the world, I always notice the presence of men around me and become cautious of their words and actions. Being in a space where men have the same ideology on issues of gender equality and GBV is liberating. I was raised in a patriarchal society, I recall being taught from a tender age how to be a good girl, behave, treat and serve my brothers or any of my male counterparts. I cannot recall being present when my brothers were taught how to be good boys or treat me or girls in general.

“Instead, I remember that they were told to protect me. A fundamental question is why do women/girls need protection? It is important to recreate spaces where we do not need to be protected. I know for sure that I do not need to be protected. Instead, I need to be free and not to worry about my safety or that of my daughter. I would like to believe that it is a wish of every human being whether male or female to be free, safe and to be treated with respect at all times. It is for this reason that I thank President Michael D. Higgins and his lovely wife Sabina Higgins for spearheading this campaign, creating spaces for dialogue and bringing diverse groups to the table. Go raibh maith agat”.

Speaking after the event, author, campaigner and former member of the Council of State, Ruairí McKiernan, praised Mpho for her leadership of change.

“Mpho is doing incredible work and has been on a remarkable and courageous journey. She is an inspiration. I’m hopeful that perhaps someday Mpho will write a book about her experiences and insights. It is great to see people like her and Cynthia being recognised by the President. We need to hear voices like hers and to heed the call to action for more men to become active and vocal in this area”.