America’s seventh largest city was the site of the latest meeting of Women in the World. A sold-out crowd of 800 (mostly) women packed the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre in San Antonio to take part in the event. “Your hearts are big, your wits are sharp,” Tina Brown told the crowd at day’s end. The event, with Toyota as presenting sponsor, was co-hosted by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, journalist Marie Brenner, Aaronetta Hamilton Pierce, Ambassador Karen Hughes, Sonya Medina Williams, Guillermo Nicolas, Toyota’s Sandra Phillips, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Gloria Steinem, San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor and designer Diane von Furstenberg.
The program began with a performance by singer, songwriter, activist Omntia Hegazy and percussionist Natalia Perlaza, followed by San Antonio Mayor Ivy R. Taylor. #WomeninWorldTX became a trending topic on Twitter just moments after the day began.
Women in the World launched in 2009 in New York. Since then, thousands of people have attended summits to hear from international voices including Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton and actors Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie. Corporate sponsors have played a critical role in bringing the events to life. In Texas, in addition to Toyota, those included leadership sponsors, the City of San Antonio and Credit Suisse; and supporting sponsors Liz Claiborne, the CE Group, Mokara Hotels and Spas and Omni Hotels & Resorts.
Jehmu Greene, Ambassador Karen Hughes, Liz Chadderdon, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
On moderator Mark McKinnon’s right was a powerhouse of Texas politics—including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The senator said she got into politics as a journalist, when her local party chairman invited her to run for an open seat in the Texas legislature. “I ran and won,” she recounted. “It’s so important that our experiences are brought to the table.” Political consultant Liz Chadderdon lamented voter apathy. “When I sit out an election, that says I don’t care,” she said. “In two weeks, please go vote.” Karen Hughes, a former advisor to President George W. Bush, said she became attracted to the political process after realizing as a journalist how much effect policy decisions have on people. “We need more women on every level of office,” said Hughes. “Women are practical and women are problem solvers.” More women in office could lead to political compromise, said Jehmu Greene, founding board member of Vote Run Lead. “We are about unleashing technology and each other as peers to encourage 500,000 women to run by 2016.” Women must “not just run, but win,” said Chadderdon. “And winning takes guts.” What about Hillary Clinton, McKinnon asked the panel. “She was a very good senator,” said Republican Hutchison. “I respect her very much. I think she’s very solid, and she does have the experience.” Clinton needs to remember that campaigns are about voters, not candidates, said Chadderdon. “I hope she has learned she needs to speak to her audience.” On Barack Obama’s presidency, Hughes urged compromise between the White House and the GOP. “We desperately need that.”
Most programs that teach English to adults have a major problem: they compete with the adult’s work schedule, offer transportation difficulties or lack childcare. Maile Molin has tried to address that by bringing English-language classes to workplaces themselves as founder and director of English@Work. After Molin described her program, Sandra Phillips, vice president and deputy general council of Toyota Motor Sales, took the stage. Molin has been chosen by Toyota as a Mother of Invention. “In recognition of the remarkable work you have accomplished, and the inspiring things you know you will do in the future,” Phillips said, “we are delighted to award you our Toyota Driving Solutions award in the amount of $50,000.” Molin was thrilled—and the audience rose to its feet.
Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe and Florence Modo Arukude
Moderator Alyse Nelson, CEO of the Vital Voices Global partnership introduced her as “a saint who lives among us.” Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe is a nun of the Sacred Heart who rescues young girls from sexual slavery and rebel attacks in Uganda. That country has suffered 25 years of terror by Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Working at St. Monica’s Girls Tailoring Center, Sister Rosemary offers girls and young women and their babies refuge and skills training—including young women who have given birth to children of Kony. Today all of “these girls are living their lives in dignity, using needles and sewing machines,” said Sister Rosemary. “They are winners.” Florence Modo Arukude lives with Sister Rosemary. At four years old, she was struck with polio. During a rebel attack, she left her family after being unable to keep up. Today, she creates purses with the other women at St. Monica’s that are sold to support the mission. (http://sewinghope.com/supporters) Of the girls she helps, Sister Rosemary said, “the journey is not one day or two days. It is a long journey.”
Diane von Furstenberg
The iconic designer began her remarks with a remembrance of Oscar de la Renta, who died earlier in the week. “He was an extraordinary man, an American man who loved his Latin roots and his European training,” she said. ““He had the best of everything. He adored women and made them beautiful. He loved flowers and he made women feel like flowers.” Von Furstenberg is set to release her memoir, “The Woman I Wanted to Be.” And who was that? “I wanted to be a little bit of a man in a woman’s body.” She described the influence of her mother, a concentration camp survivor. “My mother said I was her flag of freedom, the child who never should have been born.” Moderator Alicia Menendez, an anchor on the Fusion network, asked about the influence of her children. “Do you have children?” “No,” answered Menendez. “Well hurry up! Every woman should have children.” Aging doesn’t intimidate her, von Furstenberg said. “I realized early on that the most important relationship you have is with yourself. You have to be your own best friend.” Her motto: “Fake it, make it, do it.”
“I discovered that I am not a victim,” Robi Damelin, international spokesperson for The Parents Circle told moderator Tina Brown in a discussion about Breaking the Cycle of Revenge. They discussed Israel, Palestine, and other places in the world where people can be trapped in generational cycles of violence and revenge. The Parents Circle is a group of 600 Israelis and Palestinians who have all lost an immediate family member in the ongoing conflict. Damelin’s son, David, was killed by a Palestinian sniper while serving in the Israeli army. “We believe our mission is to create a framework for a reconciliation process to be a part of any future agreement,” Damelin told the rapt audience.” Members of the group go to Israeli schools and Palestinian clubs to preach a message of reconciliation—and are often met with hatred from both sides. At one meeting, a girl told Damelin that her son deserved to die—only to reveal that she was coping with her own grief after a relative died in the conflict. Damelin also described how she came to meet a Palestinian woman she now travels with to share their stories. Damelin had gone to speak to Palestinians and when she arrived the crowd initially was hostile “They came to shout at me,” She said. The woman "was sitting with her back to me, more or less, which is really rather rude. And I started to ask her, ‘Who have you lost?' And she said, 'My son.’ And I said, ‘what was his name?’ And she told me. Suddenly, I said, ‘Do you want to see a picture of David?’ and she said, ‘Ok.' She looked and she said, ‘Haraam,’ which means what a pity. It was the first time she recognize her pain and my pain is the same pain.” The Parents Circle is “not affiliated with any political party. But we are political.” To those who view the cycles as unbreakable—and peace as impossible—Damelin had a message: “Maybe you have the luxury of giving up, but I do not.”
Rosie Castro, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Dolores Huerta, and Eva Longoria
The title of the next panel aptly described the group onstage: Latino Power on the Rise. Rosie Castro, the San Antonio political activist and mother of Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Julian Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, exhorted the audience to take action. “When it comes to change, you have to do the work. No one will do it for you.” Moderator Jan Jarboe Russell, an author and writer for Texas Monthly, asked Rep. Castro whether politics was in his blood. “We resisted it for a while,” he said of his brother and himself. “We were ambivalent about it growing up. We were going to marches and campaign rallies and handing out flyers from the age of three on. But we also developed a real civic conscience.”
Sarah Crowe and Bishop Nathan S. Kortu
“The terrible loneliness of Ebola,” intoned moderator Tina Brown as she opened the forum’s panel on the disease. Sarah Crowe, chief of crisis communication for UNICEF in New York, said Ebola has “eroded every aspect of life in Liberia,” a country that had just begun to recover from civil war. “It has changed the way people live, the way people die and the way mothers give birth,” Crowe said. Bishop Kortu, pastor at the New Life Fellowship Church, described the challenge for communities where families have lost nearly all their members and have no professional counseling to help. The country needs ambulances, bleach, hand sanitizer, medical supplies. “What we are asking for is just basic supplies,” Kortu said. “Here, we need education so Liberians are not discriminated against.” Ebola “is the defining crisis of our time,” Crowe said. “It’s a test of our compassion and our humanity.” At the end of the panel, Thomas Eric Duncan’s fiancé, Louise Troh, spoke. He was the first to die of Ebola in the United States. Ebola “took my love away, my whole life is gone,” Troh said. It’s a whole worldwide fight.”
Dr. Jill Biden
America’s “second lady” urged the Women in the World audience to continue the fight against breast cancer. And she discussed the challenges faced by women in the military and military wives at home. Biden showed a brief film detailing the story of female marines working with women in Afghanistan. “Women service members love to serve their country,” she said. “But as moms, it’s hard for them to miss the milestones in their children’s lives.” Biden is a co-founder, with Michelle Obama, of Joining Forces, which supports returning service members with employment and other assistance. Biden returned repeatedly to the challenges of families at home. Military children attend six to nine schools before they graduate from high school, she said. “Think of how much we are asking of our military families.” And she asked the audience to help support them in turn. When her son Beau Biden was deployed to Iraq, granddaughter Natalie’s teacher, for instance, hung a photo of her father’s unit in the classroom. “And every child in the room was reminded every day that her daddy was at war.”
Two military spouses took the stage after Biden. They described the challenges of finding work and of dealing with the military bureaucracy. “Employers see that you’re a military spouse and say, “you’re only going to be here two years,” said Janet Sanchez, founder and president of Esposas Militares Hispanas. “I’m encouraged every day,” said Betty Easley, Foundation Fellow at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.
Marie Brenner with Deeyah Khan and Xoel Pamos
Journalist Marie Brenner moderated a panel on “honor” killings with documentary film makers Deeyah Khan and Xoel Pamos. “They could be, amazingly enough, the girl next door,” Brenner said of victims of such killings. Khan discussed her Emmy award-winning film “Banaz A Love Story,” about an Iraqi girl killed by her family in London because she was seeking to leave her arranged marriage to a violent man. Banaz appealed five times to the London police. “Authorities don’t want to touch [such cases] because they’re afraid they’ll be labeled racist,” Khan said. “When you’re talking about honor crimes, I don’t care about those sensitivities.”
Pamos discussed his documentary “Price of Honor,” about the murders of Amina and Sarah Said, two sisters who were allegedly killed by their Egyptian father, Yaser Said, in Irving Texas. The case has never been solved, and the father has never been found by law-enforcement. Pamos was threatened with death as he investigated the crime.
Gloria Steinem with Eva Longoria
America’s seventh largest city is the site of the latest meeting of Women in the World. First up: activist Gloria Steinem with actress Eva Longoria. The two were greeted with a standing ovation from the audience in the sold-out Empire Theatre. Now 80 (and still fabulous), Steinem recalled the roots of the feminist movement. Today “it’s a majority movement, but that means there is a backlash,” she said. “And nowhere is it written the backlash may not win.” The two talked about reproductive freedom (with a dig at recent efforts in Texas to highly regulate abortion clinics). “To say our bodies belong to ourselves is revolutionary,” Steinem said. They also discussed violence against women. “I think of these crimes as supremacy crimes,” Steinem said. “There’s nothing to gain but the idea of supremacy.”