Samantha Power: ‘Being the only woman in the UN made me a feminist’
Women’s Podcast: Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations speaks to Kathy Sheridan
Samantha Power addresses the United Nations Security Council. Photograph: Manuel Elias/The United Nations via AP
“I’d never spent a long time thinking about symbols before I was in my UN role,” says former US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, on why she did not identify as a feminist until recent years.
“When you are the only woman on the security council and you hear men talk about sexual violence in war with great authority and dogmatism, about how certain events couldn’t have happened because the men who were accused of rape would have had their wives to go home to, so why would they? Certainly now I’m focused on that set of issues,” she tells Kathy Sheridan, on the latest episode of the Women’s Podcast.
Born in London to Irish parents, Power lived in Ireland until she was nine years old, when her parent’s marriage broke down and she moved with her mother and brother to America.
A keen basketballer, Power’s career began in sports journalism until television images of the Tiananmen Square protests in China in 1989 inspired her to move into foreign affairs. As a 22-year-old, she packed her bags and headed to the Balkans, where she covered the Bosnian war as a stringer for publications including the Washington Post.
Her time in Bosnia and subsequent law studies at Yale University, prompted her to write what would become a Pulitzer Prize winning book on genocide – A Problem From Hell – gaining the attention of a then-young senator Barack Obama, whom she began to work with.
Power’s involvement in the subsequent Obama presidential campaign was brought to an abrupt halt however, when she vented to a journalist about his rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, calling her a monster. She had hoped the comments would be treated as off-the-record, but the journalist felt they had a scoop and ran with the story.
The aftermath was a “pretty crushing period” during which she had to resign from the campaign and was “basically catatonic for the next month”. She also became obsessed with letting Clinton know that this was not an accurate description for how she felt about her.
The late Richard Holbrooke, who also served as a diplomat in the Obama administration, brokered a meeting between the women as a wedding gift to Power, and she got her chance to apologise in person.
“I was so adamant that she know that she’s this iconic woman in my life, who did these amazing things and blazed a trail for so many of us, so I just wanted to have a chance to convey this,” she says.
Also on the podcast, Power talks about why she is not completely despairing of the Trump administration because she sees “the checks and balances kicking in”, in how the courts have blocked some of his policies and how young people – particularly women – are becoming politically engaged, “triggered by his [Trump's] vulgarity and cruelty”.
She speaks too about Ireland’s abortion laws, saying she has “cousins and family members who are very involved in the [Repeal the 8th] campaign.”
Does she support the repealing the Eighth Amendment herself? “Yeah, absolutely.”
You can listen to the full conversation between Kathy Sheridan and Samantha Power here: