Ali Larter, the luminous star of TV shows such as "Heroes" and films including "Legally Blonde" and "Obsessed" is also a newly minted advocate for reproductive rights for women and girls. At the Women Deliver conference taking place in Washington DC this week, women in native African garb pass Parliamentarians and scientists, while First Ladies from Ghana and Zanzibar mingle with Arianna Huffington and UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon. And wandering among the thousands of delegates from over 140 countries is Ali Larter. If she weren't accompanied by a small retinue and the occasional camera, she would likely be overlooked. So why has the successful young actress with a lingering cold flown all the way to Washington for a policy-wonkish conference spanning three days? Because the United Nations Foundation asked.
Of course it's more complicated than that. Ms. Larter has long had an interest in helping girls "create the lives they dream of," she explains. She's been active with the Girl Scouts and other organizations that build self-esteem in girls, but mostly domestically. Until the call came about Women Deliver, she says she hadn't really thought about such issues as maternal deaths, child brides and Millennium Development Goals. But she has discovered an issue that clearly strikes a chord. "How can you create the life of your dreams if you can't plan your own family?" she asks in disbelief. "Hundreds of thousands of women don't have access to contraceptives," she marvels, "and the issue is so very complex."
She tells a story that she heard in one session, about how so many girls in Egypt drop out of school by the age of 13. But recently some communities have begun offering incentives to fathers and brothers of a goat for girls who are allowed to continue their educations. "I'm in favor of economic incentives, especially when they get male family members to understand the value of girls' education," she says with a smile.
"I feel moved to act," Ali says forcefully. "I don't exactly know what to do, but I know these issues matter to me." She talks about wanting to travel to Kenya, Guatemala and other developing countries to work toward universal access to contraceptives. She recalls living in India while making a film and says, "My heart swells when I think of that country. There's so much more to see and do." Her a-ha moment at Women Deliver came during one of the early plenary sessions when Secretary General Ban ki-Moon said, "Every woman has a right to give life without losing her own." Ali briefly closes her eyes as she recites the line, as though it's her new mantra.
Women in Hollywood are advocates, she points out, referring to such stars as Reese Witherspoon and Angelina Jolie. She's comfortable assuming the mantle of women's rights champion, asserting, "Women's rights are human rights." And the beautiful blonde who - the night Women Deliver began - won a 2010 MTV Movie Award for Best Fight (with Beyonce in "Obsessed) is gearing up for the global fight of the decade - to prevent as many newborn and maternal deaths as possible. Given her steely determination, Ali Larter is up to the fight.
Follow Tamar Abrams on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Tamarabrams