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'The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Rocks the World'

03/18/2013 04:47 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2013

As we mark St. Patrick's Day, turning attention to Ireland and the Irish it's good to recognize and learn from Mary Robinson, first woman President of Ireland, who was largely influential in bringing human rights to that country by challenging such social issues as divorce, contraception, homosexuality and women in the workforce against the firmly entrenched Catholic Church, under which Ireland was then a near-theocracy. Her first battle was the successful legislation to allow contraception for women, when the Church forbade it. This was probably Ireland's first move to separate Church from State.

Her influence is of particular value to us today because, after completing her term as President, in which her campaign slogan was "The hand that rocks the cradle, rocks the world,' she went on to serve a five-year term as U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights, during which she took on the U.S. government for human rights violations regarding torture and other abuse during the Bush era. She then turned to global human rights injustices resulting from lack of climate control which she continues today, heading the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice.

Throughout all her courageous undertakings, this Catholic-raised graduate of Protestant Trinity College in Dublin and Harvard Law School has focused on justice. Correcting injustice has been the theme of her life; she has pursued it with uncommon courage and, a still feisty 68-year-old grandmother, she continues to do so with her grandchildren's futures in mind.

Her courage, commitment and her demonstration that a woman can go against staunchly determined male bastions and win are the lessons we can learn from Mrs. Robinson.

Human rights violations continue to burden the United States. Spying on Muslim and other communities, drone attacks murdering civilians and such dominate our headlines, and decisions to resolutely solve climate control are just flopping around in discussions.

Although we have some wonderfully proactive male politicians, they do not seem to dominate stagnating issues of political justice. Perhaps it will take women to help intransigent male leaders to see the light.

Our Hillary Clinton also carried the beacon during her just-ended term as Secretary of State, nearly single-handedly restoring the good image of America throughout the world. Now close to the age of 68-year-young Mary Robinson, both powerful women are serving as leaders for correcting injustice.

In the United States, unwittingly reflecting the courage and vision of Mrs. Robinson, enough Americans recognize the lack of progress by men in correcting issues of social injustice, that they just elected a record number of women to Congress and other significant political offices. Women legislators, newly elected and already in office, reflect the diversity of America and thus, the diversity of her social issues, spanning religions, color, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Throughout Mary Robinson's career the fight for justice has driven her life-choices, and the enormity of her courageous decisions cannot be underestimated. Forty-three years later, she is still as driven; she describes her journey and the decisions she has made in her memoirs, Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice (Walker & Co., March 2013).

Yes, her shattering of male-protected barriers began when she ran as the first woman President of Ireland under the slogan, "The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world", and the strength of that statement is continuing in the United States today. As some 40 million Irish-Americans celebrate their heritage and the innumerable contributions they have made to American society, it is good to salute Mrs. Robinson, and to draw courage from her example because, as we well know, 'women's work is never done'.

My prayer is that, with such role models as Mary Robinson and Hillary Clinton, we Americans will all move forward, strongly united, to realize our own potential in correcting injustices we face today.