Today’s graduates must build global communities in which everyone, regardless of gender, origin or economic status, can make a full contribution, said leading lawyer and women’s rights advocate Cherie Blair.
Blair spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Social Science and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Tuesday, June 11 morning session of Western’s 301st Convocation.
Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon Blair in recognition of her commitment to women’s rights advocacy and work as a lawyer.
“I was someone whose future was transformed by the power of education,” said Blair, the first in her family to attend university. “In my generation, we saw this amazing opportunity for women to play a full role in society. You are the first members off a new generation, a truly global community.
“For you, the challenge is to work out, what does it mean to be true global citizens?”
Blair was called to the bar in 1976 after studying law at the London School of Economics. She was named Queen’s Counsel almost two decades later and went on to establish the British firm Matrix Chambers, where she continues to practice today.
Many efforts and funds showcase Blair’s commitment to campaigning for women’s rights. In 2008, she established the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, helping women build and grow small businesses in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. The goal of the foundation is to give women a voice in their communities while contributing to their economies.
What’s more, Blair is also the chancellor at the Asian University for Women, a school that aims to educate girls to become leaders who promote intercultural understanding while working toward sustainable developments throughout the world.
Maintaining close ties with other charities that focus on women and children in the world, Blair is a member of the International Center for Research on Women’s leadership council, ambassador for the GSMA Women Programme, honorary vice-president of Barnados, president of the Loomba Foundation, trustee of The Africa Justice Foundation, supporting a number of charities, including Breast Cancer Care and SolarAid. She is also vice-chair of the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Council for Women’s Business Leadership and honorary chair of the World Justice Project.
With various awards and accolades to her name, Blair was awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill medal in 2007 and was given the Trinity Justitia Omnibus Award for her commitment to human rights in 2012.
Blair continues to fight for human rights in her professional career and sits as a recorder (a part-time judge) and is an accredited mediator. She is also the chair of Omnia Strategy LLP, a legal consultancy that provides strategic legal and policy advice to governments, corporates and private clients. She is married to former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
She told the graduates they must think globally in the fight to build a better and more stable world.
“The future is yours to shape and create. The challenge is daunting; people will say to global problems of poverty, climate change are so big and complex that you can’t make a difference,” Blair said. “I tell you, don’t listen to them. I have been lucky to see around the world, what a difference just one individual can make.”
In his citation, Western President Amit Chakma praised Blair’s extraordinary leadership and global influence as a champion of women’s rights.
“As one of Asian University for Women’s founding patrons, Cherie helped to generate the political and philanthropic support that ultimately led to the granting of the university’s charter in 2008. This remarkable international institution is the first of its kind in a region of the world where liberal values are under constant threat … where the challenges of poverty, environmental degradation, and public health can seem insurmountable … and where the talents and potential of women are often severely constrained by discrimination,” he said.
“As home to 540 female students who speak more than 30 different languages and who come from more than a dozen countries-as varied as Afghanistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, China, Myanmar, India and, of course, Bangladesh-AUW is in fact a triumph of hope over despair. What its students have in common is that nearly all come from deprived backgrounds, and most are the first women from their family to attend university.”
Blair noted her dedication to the Asian University for Women and how its mission embodies a much needed revolution, allowing young women who otherwise would not have the chance to do so, to learn, contribute and build leadership skills.
“We need women to take their place not instead of the men, but alongside them, becoming leaders in business, politics, inside their own communities. When we achieve that full equality of men and women working together, the results can be incredible,” she added.
“Build a better and fairer world where everyone can make their full contribution.”
Also during the ceremony, the Hellmuth Prize for Achievement in Research was awarded to Adrian Owen, director of the Brain and Mind Institute at Western, while professor emeritus status was conferred upon Sociology professor Paul Whitehead. The status of librarian emeritus was conferred upon Joyce Garnett, University Librarian.