NEW YORK The striking juxtaposition of the preternaturally perfect Angelina Jolie, waifish and wispy in a ghostly gown, and the scrappy Pakistani schoolgirl Malala, her face cruelly misshapen by the effects of a Taliban bullet to the head, captures the confluence of feminine power assembled here to “lean on” the world to save women and girls.
Not lean in, as you’ve heard incessantly the past few weeks, referring to Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s book about empowering already empowered women. While Sandberg wants to help women crash through glass ceilings, Tina Brown, supernova of her own galaxy, wants the civilized world to lean on governments and corporations to scrape women and girls off the dirt floors of their manmade prisons.
Brown’s fourth annual “Women in the World” summit at Lincoln Center is testament to what one woman can do to change the world.
This confab isn’t about getting women into country clubs; it’s about letting girls go to school without risking a bullet to the head. It’s about changing cultures that treat women like animals and saving them from honor killings and abuse.
Yes, there are celebrities: First-namers such as Angelina, Meryl, Oprah. “Homeland’s” Claire Danes made an appearance. Barbara Walters led a no-nonsense panel on why Americans should care about women in Syria. But these particular stars lend their high profiles to a cause greater than themselves.
Why should Americans care?
At dinner, I sat next to a tiny woman I recognized from Jody Hassett Sanchez’s human trafficking documentary, “Sold.” Sunitha Krishnan is a former Hindu nun who rescues little girls and women from the sex slave trade in India with little help and dangerous recognition. Though she has been beaten for her work, she perseveres for such beneficiaries as the 8-year-old girl who was locked in a room with a snake until she submitted to prostitution.
Our conversation circled around why more Americans don’t care about honor killings, systematic rape and human trafficking of women, girls and even little boys. Perhaps it is in part tragedy fatigue, I suggested. These stories are so overwhelmingly awful that emotional exhaustion sets in. Besides, we have our own challenges and, well, you can’t save everybody.
True, but when you save one woman, you save an entire family. Eventually, you save a village, and a society and finally a nation. More to our immediate interest, women’s security elsewhere corresponds directly to our own security.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton summed it up this way in remarks Friday at the summit: “It’s no coincidence that so many of the countries that threaten regional and global peace are the very places where women and girls are deprived of dignity and opportunity.”
Among the inspirational speakers from around the world, two of the most captivating were young Pakistani women who became activists for girls’ education, creating schools when they were just teenagers themselves.
Why should we care?
We should care because we may have no choice. But more important because, as Clinton stated in 1995 at the Women’s Conference in Beijing, we should care because women are human beings, too. Yet even now, Clinton said Friday, “too many otherwise thoughtful people continue to see the fortunes of women and girls as somehow separate from society at large.”
Fighting for women and girls isn’t “a nice thing to do. It isn’t some luxury that we get to when we have time on our hands,” said Clinton. “This is a core imperative for every human being and every society.”
Amen, sister. Lean on.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less