As women from around the world gather in New York tomorrow for the Daily Beast’s three-day summit, Tina Brown describes how their individual stories of courage and resourcefulness gave her a new passion for making change.
The countdown to The Daily Beast’s Women in the World summit has been a wild ride.
Picture, if you can, the gathering Friday afternoon of 300 international lioness leaders. They include the Liberian powerhouse Leymah Gbowee, who led the 2003 sex strike to end her country’s civil war, and Kiran Bedi—the first female cop in India—who subdued the once-notorious Tihar Jail in Delhi. And then mix them in with news dynamos like ABC’s Diane Sawyer and Half the Sky co-author and former New York Times reporter Sheryl WuDunn, who will rub shoulders with big-time pragmatists like Bank of America’s Sallie Krawcheck and provocative Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, a withering critic of wasted foreign aid.
The rights of women are to the 21st century what civil rights were to the 20th.
Will the Hudson Theatre explode with so many female fire-eaters under one roof? You will have to watch the live-stream of the conference at www.thedailybeast.com to find out.
All I know is how proud I am that they will all be there—these impressive, brave, pioneering Women in the World. With our co-hosts Vital Voices Global Partnership, the U.N. Foundation, and Diane von Furstenberg, we’ve asked them to join us for a power-packed three-day summit to discuss the urgent challenges facing women and girls around the world, from sex slavery to child marriage to domestic violence. Most importantly, we’ll be highlighting concrete solutions—ways we all can support efforts to empower women in the face of horrific trends.
Why now? Because something is happening out there—something thrilling and important that we hope The Daily Beast’s involvement can help push forward. Call it a growing consensus that empowering women is the key to peace, prosperity, and progress, not just here in the United States, but also in countries where women have endured repression for centuries. Practices such as arranged marriages and restrictions on girls attending school have deep roots, and changing them is a gradual process. Sometimes these problems seem very far away from us here in the United States. But let’s remember that even into the 20th century, an American woman could not own property, or vote in national elections.
The rights of women are to the 21st century what civil rights were to the 20th. But now we have more ways than ever to seize opportunities. The viral power of online media has proven how fast creative ideas can be spread and adopted, using tools like cellphones, digital cameras, micro-credit, mobile banking, Facebook, and Twitter. A perfect example? The way the Green Movement in Iran caught fire thanks to social media.
I lay no claim myself to demonstrating a lifelong commitment to women’s issues, as have so many women at our summit. I haven’t spent years, like Alyse Nelson of Vital Voices, toiling for female economic empowerment on five continents. Or like that redheaded heroine Jacqueline Novogratz, who left her successful Wall Street career to head off to work with poor women in Rwanda, ultimately creating a fund that invests in locally owned companies in Africa, India, and Pakistan, lifting families out of poverty. Indeed, I will admit that in the past, phrases like “gender equality issues” had the same soporific effect on me as the phrase “quality affordable health care” has in our current national debate. That’s because dead abstractions have a way of blinding us to stories that should make our hair stand on end and impel us to act.
The issues we’re addressing at the Women in the World summit this weekend snuck up on me one woman at a time. I met women like Edna Adan Ismail, who used her own pension to build a maternity hospital in her native Somaliland, serving some of the poorest women in the world, who never before had access to modern reproductive medicine. Sunitha Krishnan survived gang rape and went on to work in the bleak netherworld of Hyderabad’s red-light district, rescuing Indian women and children from sex slavery and helping them fight the stigma to reclaim their lives. If you read any of the harrowing chapters in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s seminal Half the Sky, or watched one of Diane Sawyer’s vivid reports on the hardships women endure in Afghanistan, Iran, and even in the American Appalachians—then a term like “gender equality” is no longer an abstraction, the dry stuff of feminist wonkery. It summons up real-life women. Their faces and stories are unbearably human.
That’s why we called this summit Women in the World: Stories and Solutions. It’s a celebration of collaboration and achievement—of how women pushed on beyond base camp, advancing their rights in the face of profound cultural complexities, inert bureaucracies, and endemic corruption. Through our coverage at The Daily Beast, you’ll meet these heroines. So join us online this weekend, here at thedailybeast.com, to hear their stories and see the solutions they pursued with such courage and imagination.
At weekend’s end, it will be clearer than ever that it is women who hold the key to the future.
AT THE SUMMIT:
• What will Queen Rania say to Katie Couric, Madeleine Albright to Barbara Walters, and Valerie Jarrett to Lesley Stahl? What will activists tell Christiane Amanpour about how to eradicate the use of rape as a weapon of war? Watch it all on the live-stream here at thedailybeast.com.
• The Daily Beast thanks our founding sponsor, HP, for responding so quickly to the idea of the Women in the World summit.
Tina Brown is the founder and editor in chief of The Daily Beast. She is the author of the 2007 New York Times bestseller The Diana Chronicles. Brown is the former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines and host of CNBC's Topic A with Tina Brown .