Food For Thought

04.05.14

From Jon Stewart to Pussy Riot: Day Two at Women In the World

The Women in the World Summit offered plenty of controversial ideas and opinions. Barbie Latza Nadeau reports from the New York gathering

From Daily Show host Jon Stewart leaning in and taking on the serious topic of the role of women in the aftermath of the Arab Spring to Pussy Riot band members describing their ordeal in a Russian prison to Jimmy Carter lamenting the absence of toilets and how the Catholic Church won’t ordain women priests, the second day of the 5th Annual Women in the World Summit offered plenty of food for thought.

There were tearful moments, like when a young Peruvian poet named Senna who grew up in extreme poverty and who is the protagonist of the film Girl Rising was met on stage by Marquesha Babers who was homeless for seven years but still found the determination to earn a high-school diploma with honors.  Senna, whose illiterate father named her after Xena the warrior princess without knowing her name started with an X, could not contain her emotion as Babers spoke. “There is a little piece of Senna in all of us – the unbreakable Warrior Princess. Our daily workout consists of… the workout of every girl I know and wish I knew – the workout of every girl rising. Who takes two steps forward, three steps back, gather herself and jumps six steps ahead, this is for every girl rising.”

There were poignant moments, too, like when Vicky Ibrahim told the audience what she went through when she found out her son was a suspected Islamic terrorist.  “I still accept some responsibility,” she said through tears. “I feel in a way, I failed in some way and I have to live with that every day."

There was astounding inspiration, as when Rwanda native Eugenie Mukeshimana described hiding under the bed at eight months pregnant, aged 23, when the genocide in her country began, now 20 years ago. When her labor began, she delivered her first child alone.  “I didn't know what to do. I knew I had to cut the umbilical cord. I didn't have any help. I actually used a rusty old knife. That's all I could do,” she said. Now women of Rwanda make up 64 percent of the country’s new parliament, compared with just 24 percent of American women in legislative roles

The day’s events also included a number of domestic policy panels, including a lively bi-partisan exchange between U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Susan M. Collins (R-ME) who concluded that the only way to fix Washington is “to elect more women.”  The women focused much of their discussion on the disturbing rise in sexual violence on American campuses where, at the moment, every young woman entering an American university has a one in five chance of being raped. They also focused on another disturbing trend, this time in the American military where, according to Gillibrand, “26,000 women have been subject to unwanted sexual contact over the last 12 months. Only just over 3,000 were reported, only 238 convictions, only 176 perpetrators served time, concluding that literally only 1 in 100 perpetrators are convicted, less go to jail." 

Jimmy Carter, at 89, was able to rouse applause from the crowd almost a dozen times as he told Yahoo News Anchor Katie Couric how he intended to dedicate “a good bit” of the rest of his life to women’s issues especially those relating to sex trafficking.  He said every year around the world, 800,000 girls are sold against their will into sexual slavery—100,000 of them in the United States. “In Atlanta, Georgia, 200 to 300 girls are sold into sexual slavery every month.”

Additional panels were dedicated to fighting maternal mortality, raising smart kids, and the importance of the United Nation’s first all-female, all-Muslim security force which is working to diminish rape as a weapon of war. The crowd was also entertained by a little bit of serious comic relief by Sarah Silverman and her sister Susan, a Jewish Rabbi making a difference in Israel.

The fifth annual summit concludes on Saturday with another round of thought-provoking panels dealing with issues facing Muslim women in America, the persecution of gays and another appearance by Pussy Riot.