Earlier this month, Tina Brown, Newsweek & The Daily Beast hosted the third annual Women In The World Summit. The agenda was fully packed -- Tina doesn't fool around. This was about sharing as much critical information with the summit attendees from the stellar group of speakers and moderators she'd gathered, in as short a period of time as was possible -- a mere three days, and not full days at that. No playtime. It was a lot to take in, but I was very glad I was there, and tried hard to absorb every bit of it.
Tina Brown, who is the editor-in-chief of Newsweek & The Daily BEAST, gathered an impressive group of women leaders as speakers, to moderate panels and to introduce some of the "story-tellers."
There were many strong women present, as attendees and as presenters. The summit was livestreaming online, and most of us in the audience were tweeting about the sessions too, so I won't highlight all of the stellar presenters here, but just to give a short list. Among them were 2011 Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist, whose bravery and leadership brought Christian and Muslim women together to launch a nonviolent movement that played a pivotal role in bringing about the end to Liberia's civil war. Madeleine Albright, Former U.S. Secretary of State, was interviewed by Charlie Rose. Among her many insights, she reiterated one of her famous comments about women: "There's a special place in Hell for women who don't help each other!" Jane Harman, former member of the U.S. Congress who served nine terms -- talk about commitment -- was also present. Among her other duties, she served on all of the major security committees, received the Defense Department Medal for Distinguished Service and the CIA Seal Medal, and is now Director and President of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. Jane is an expert on security, and shared some of her thoughts with us. We also heard from Congresswoman and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who talked about the New Threat to Women's Rights. Chelsea Clinton, Board Member of the Clinton Foundation, was knowledgeable and engaging as she moderated a panel on the Digital lives of Girls.
Those of us present for the very first night of the summit were privy to a private dinner conversation with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund, who told us that things were getting better, but that we're not out of the woods yet. I have to say, that we've got some pretty impressive role models these days.
And at the end of the Summit, there was a cheeky, loving tribute and introduction of our U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, by the brilliant actor Meryl Streep. Clinton was strong, intelligent, straight-shooting and supportive of women at home and globally, concerned about our future and brilliant. As we knew she would be.
The back-to-back sessions were substantive, provocative, heart-wrenching. The subject matter was often difficult -- the women who shared their personal stories on stage were remarkably courageous on multiple levels. First, of course for surviving their respective ordeals, whether it was hunger, torture, rape, slavery, abuse -- or often a combination of the above. But it also took great courage to stand on stage in front of all of us and recount their stories. There were tears in the audience. There was shock and there was repugnance at what these women had been subjected to, mostly at the hands of men, but sometimes at the hands of other women -- at times their own mothers. There was a feeling of awe at what all of them had endured. One of them in particular had to keep her identity hidden, as she was still in mortal danger from those who had tried to kill her.
This summit about Women In The World dealt with issues like forced marriage, sexual slavery, genocide and rape, including,= rape in the military. This is 2012, and women in the world are still being ravaged all over the world. While it's true that many of the women and the stories at this particular summit came to us from Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, we can't sit here and feel above it all, or think "we've come a long way, baby." The women who shared stories of assault and rape in the military are from our own beloved U S of A. How do we stop this? If God is listening, I hope He/She will help us purge all of this inhumane behavior out of the current human behavior. But perhaps hope is not enough. Maybe it will take more voices -- and not just women's voices to complain about this -- to force the devil back to hell. We need more of our men to stand up for women, too.
So that I don't leave you with the impression that the Summit was all gloom, because it was not -- I must share a couple of incredible stories. One is of a 17-year-old girl; Talia Leman, CEO and Founder of RandomKid.org. She created a grassroots organization that has grown like wildfire. It supports and mentors kids worldwide who want to help others. She's a young dynamo, and she could be President one day. The other story I want to share is about Asenath Andrews, the Principal of the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women in Detroit, Michigan. Ms. Andrews is the founding Principal of a school for pregnant girls. Asenath Andrews saw a need -- pregnant girls were dropping out of school, and when the babies were born, had no way to care for their children. With no education, and no way to make a living, these girls had few options. Ms. Andrews championed this school for them, making sure they fulfill their requirements. There is child care for the babies and toddlers, and mentoring all along the way. This is a strong-willed Principal who sees to it that these girls not only make it through high school, but 90 percent of them make it through college as well. She is one of my new heroes.
Thanks, Tina Brown, and Newsweek and The Daily Beast for making sure Women In The World have a voice. Keep doing this. The choir is growing, and the song is beautiful.