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Summit Co-Hosts Give Voice to Brave Women

Diane von Furstenberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Lauren Bush Lauren, Jane Harman, Judith Rodin, Nizan Guanaes, Maya L. Harris and Mellody Hobson pay tribute to a woman unable to attend the summit.

03.09.12 12:30 AM ET

Following her enthusiastic welcome, Brown introduced those whom she calls "eight of the great," her vibrant co-hosts for the weekend. Each of the hosts—Diane von Furstenberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Judith Rodin, Nizan Guanaes, Mellody Hobson, Lauren Bush Lauren, Jane Harman, and Maya L. Harris—took to the stage one by one to give voice to a brave woman who was unable to attend the summit. Brown also celebrated Leymah Gbowee and Meryl Streep, fellow co-hosts who will join the summit this weekend.

Leading the co-host introductions was fashion icon von Furstenberg, who assumed the voice of Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan woman who was the target of an attempted assassination by the Taliban and who's now running for president of her country. "They've tried to kill me on several previous occasions for the sole reason that I am a woman that speaks out for human rights," she read.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg followed, choosing to give voice to Marjoy, a woman from Zambia whose mother could not afford to send her to school when she was young. When she finally joined her classmates, Marjoy was one of 93 girls handpicked by Room to Read, an educational organization that promotes literacy throughout Asian and African communities; she dreams of becoming a lawyer to help protect communities in need. "It will also be a way to show Room to Read and to show the world that they did not waste their resources on me."

Next Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, honored Constance Okallet. Rodin recounted how Okallet and her family took refuge during eastern Uganda's floods, returning to find their homes, farms, and food washed away. Following deaths from mosquito-related malaria, cholera, and other diseases, her family and community finally were able to access seeds to plant food. "But we were struck by a drought we'd never seen before. It was so hot and all of the wells ran dry," she read. "The cycle of hunger and thirst and sickness remained." 

Brazilian communications entrepreneur Nizan Guanaes paid tribute to his country's female president Dilma Rousseff. "Women are expected to be fragile and weak, and when a woman rises to a powerful position with authority, it seems to be far from her traditional role," he said. "The most important thing about being president is that all young girls are going to aspire to become president."

Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, took on the role of Vo Thi Yen, a Vietnamese mother who hopes to educate her children about the sacrifices she and her family made during her country's war with the United States. "We overcame so that they too could overcome difficulty and study well to develop their character, so that they can help other people help the society, help the family."

Women in the World Conference 2012

Marc Bryan-Brown

Lauren Bush Lauren honored Samira Ibrahim Mahmud, who was arrested during the Tahrir Square protests and subjected to a virginity test. "I felt like I had been raped," she said. "All my energy and my thought  is now focused on violations that could happen against women. We need to break that fear." 

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Maya L. Harris, vice president for peace and social justice at the Ford Foundation, represented Lamees Dhaif from Bahrain, "a country where a mother burned herself because her son was repeatedly tortured." Where she is from, "if you protest, you're called a prostitute," she said. "They can stop some now from telling stories but they can't stop us forever."

Former congresswoman Jane Harman spoke for Omezzine Khelifa, one of the many female candidates who ran for Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly in October. But first she paid tribute to her late husband, Sidney Harman, who purchased Newsweek two years ago. "So many here tonight have succeeded in breaking glass ceilings only to discover that they were really a thick layer of men," she says. "But some of us have also benefited from enlightened men in our lives." Harman asks the audience to "salute those many men, Sidney Harman among them."

At the end of the presentation, Brown returned to give voice to the late Marie Colvin, "a fierce and fearless journalist" who was killed last month in Syria. "Marie once said that she often asked herself of her dangerous profession, 'is it worth the cost in lives, heartbreak, loss—can we really make a difference?'" Colvin's response, Brown recounted: "My answer then and now is that it was worth it."