Imagine a summit of women achievers. Of women icons. Role models. Activists. Change-makers. Survivors. An audience of over 2,000 women, and some men, at the Lincoln Center in New York, and you have just described the Women in the World (WITW) Summit hosted by the legendary Tina Brown (of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Daily Beast fame) in association with The New York Times.
The sixth edition of WITW this year was once again a three-day celebration of incredible women power from around the globe.
The subjects discussed and showcased included heart-wrenching narratives. There was a passionate plea of a Muslim mother living in Sweden whose daughter had gone off to Syria and was taken in by the ISIS. Despite desperate attempts to search for her, she remains unsure about her fate. The last communication from her was a brief Viber text message. There was the Nigerian former Education Minister, trying to keep alive the attention of the world to the kidnapping by the Boko Haram of 219 school girls whose fate still remains uncertain.
There was a fervent appeal by a female Yazidi Parliamentary Member from Iraq pleading for the lives of 5,000 of her Yazidi men and women captured by the ISIS and facing certain death. And the dramatic escape of a young girl and her mother from North Korea who were smuggled into China and then trekked in the cold winter nights through the Gobi desert to freedom from the clutches of the North Korean dictator. There was a heated debate on the documentary film, India’s Daughter.
The summit had its share of stars like Meryl Streep, who was interviewed about women and the politics of cinema, and Ashley Judd, who was in a panel discussing online trolls and cyber exploitation. And there was Helen Mirren who spoke about her remarkable career, topped by her performance as Queen Elizabeth in the Oscar winning role in The Queen. Barbara Streisand underlined the danger of heart attacks among women, being a lethal silent killer. Bollywood’s Aamir Khan was also present, as was Freida Pinto.
Then there was Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady, Secretary of State of the USA and now running for the President of the United States.
There were inspirational stories as well, including my session with Bunker Roy, in conversation with Alyse Nelson, president of Vital Voices. I spoke about using technology to transform lives. About my work in providing clean drinking water and sanitation to the rural poor. The model I showcased was the one for which I had won the Google Impact Challenge in 2013 and which my NGO, SANA, is implementing in 20 sites in Visakhapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh. The summit had its share of uplifting narratives and for me an opportunity to meet and exchange notes with women from around the world.
The evenings were glamorous networking dinners with the who’s who from Hollywood and our very own Aamir Khan. The second night was an elegant sitdown dinner by Dove, for the change-makers.
The finalé was a call to arms as women from around the world reaffirmed their commitment to bring dignity to those oppressed, to name and shame the rapists, to pledge for the battle against climate change. It was preceded by an emotional pitch from Angelina Jolie on the humanitarian crisis of women refugees created in Syria and the Middle East by the recent turmoil in the region.
The WITW Summit remains a unique platform which brings together a diverse set of ideas, stories and causes from across the globe, within the framework of engaging conversations and audio visual experiences. Unlike other conferences, WITW has a follow-up mechanism, which ensures that those who participate take forward the dialogue. It can be in the form of help by the WITW, to amplify the voices or simply to help raise funds for their causes. The network is formidable and the efforts sincere.
The summit is now going global with an edition to be held in London in October and in New Delhi on November 20. It is undoubtedly Tina Brown’s latest triumph in a remarkable career as a media personality and a champion of women’s causes.