2015 Summit

Moments that moved me at Women in the World

And the courageous women who shared our stage

Marc Bryan-Brown/Women in the World

After every year’s Women in the World summit, I’m left to ponder the extraordinary courage of the women who have joined us. There were many, and they and their stories will live on in our hearts.

This year there was Saida, the Somali mother who had lost her daughter to jihad.

There were the Yazidi sisters from Erbil, in Iraq, whose bewilderment at the world’s indifference to the savage rape and enslavement inflicted on women and girls in the refugee camps was heartbreaking.

There was the shimmeringly delicate—and indomitable—Yeonmi Park, who fled North Korea at the age of 15, walking across the Gobi desert with her mother to escape a regime so cruel that when they hang you for watching foreign videos, they stuff your mouth with stones so there can be no last words.

There were Robi Damelin and Bushra Awad—two mothers, one Israeli, the other Palestinian—who have both lost sons in the conflict and now have joined together to ask, simply, for peace. As Robi told us, “The tears on the pillow are the same color.” Bushra, Robi’s friend and sister in grief, must cope with the humiliations and restrictions of life in the Occupied Territories. She got on a plane for the first time in her life to come to New York and be with us. Bushra has borne great pain with great dignity. (I will wear with pride a beautiful shawl she made for me.)

One of the unsettling themes of this summit was this: how quickly we forget.

Obi Ezekwesili, from Nigeria, wept as she begged us to see Bring Back our Girls not just as a hashtag but as a tragically ongoing horror that must be resolved.

The world was briefly transfixed by the ISIS siege at Mount Sinjar, in Iraq. But once the military moved in, the media moved on. Yet the story is not over for the Yazidis trying to cope with the horrors of what is happening to them still. Delan Dakheel Saeed, one of two sisters who joined us, works in the camps and has adopted a 15-year old girl whose mother has been kidnapped. As she told us, there isn’t even a trauma center there to treat the girls who manage to escape from Isis.

The inspiring Ugandan Catholic nun Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, who provides just such a center for girls who have been brutalized by Joseph Kony’s so-called Lord’s Resistance Army, asked why, in the same week that the Charlie Hebdo slaughters happened in Paris, no world leaders showed up to march arm in arm in Baga, Nigeria, where Boko Haram had slaughtered more than a hundred times as many people.

After Hillary Clinton came offstage after her rousing address—and later, after Angelina Jolie closed the summit with her call to action on behalf of Syrian refugees—they weren’t quite done. They lingered in the green room to spend time with the amazing activists who had preceded them—to have their pictures taken with them, to share a quiet word with them. These two world-famous women, women who can command the spotlight at will, engaged with their sisters in struggle as if they had all the time in the world. That was touching. But even more touching was how the activists, who had come so far, so earnestly used these minutes to emphasize the gravity of the causes that had brought them to New York.

Many other things were said at this year’s Women in the World that I won’t forget. Here are some of them:

Dr. Edit Schlaffer, founder and chairwoman of SAVE (Sisters Against Violent Extremism): “As hardened as your children seem to be on the outside, never ever give up on them.”

Saida Munye, Somali-born Swedish mother whose impressionable daughter ran off with a man who turned out to be an ISIS terrorist: “I want her to become the Swedish Muslim girl she was before…She has my ticket to get to paradise.”

Aamir Khan, leading Bollywood star and creator and host of the Indian weekly television show Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails): “You cannot raise a boy telling him not to cry. You are in effect distancing him from emotion—and then you are surprised when he grows up and beats his wife?”

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, CEO of SOC Films, Pakistan: “I like to make men uncomfortable. I enjoy making men uncomfortable… It’s only when you make someone uncomfortable that they’re forced to tweet about you.”

Ava DuVernay, film director (“Selma”) and founder of AFFRM (the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement): “A woman that makes a film is a radical act in and of itself”

Meryl Streep, actor: “I wanted to be Tom Sawyer, not Becky!”

Sheila Lirio Marcelo, founder, chairwoman, and CEO, Care.com: “In this country nail salons are audited more than child care centers.”

Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, Director, St. Monica’s Girls Tailoring Centre, Uganda: “I am a dreamer and having a dream is sometimes challenging, but I never look at a situation as too difficult.”

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland; president and founder, Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice: “The real picture of climate change is a woman’s face.”

Helen Mirren, actor: “Change the roles for women in life… and you will find great roles for women in drama.”

Marquesha Babers, poet, Get Lit Words Ignite: “Have faith in yourself when nobody else has faith in you. When times get hard, that’s when your faith should be strongest.”

Barbra Streisand, singer; co-founder, Women’s Heart Alliance: “How can you do research on male mice about women?!”

Kamala D. Harris, California Attorney General: “A harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us. A crime against any one of us is a crime against all of us.”

Yeonmi Park, 21-year-old defector, North Korean human rights activist: “The girls of 14 and 15 years old are being sold for two hundred dollars. They fear what you fear.”

Hillary Clinton, Former U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and First Lady: “When women are strong, families are strong. When families are strong, countries are strong.”

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: “I’ve never met a woman who likes to be gang-raped by men, and who does so consensually.”

Elif Shafak, Bestselling Author: “Extremist ideologies need each other.”

Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist: “I think I would be more effective if I had Claire Underwood’s wardrobe​ and she had my husband.”


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