The Week in Women: Highlights from the India Summit

© Women in the World

Greetings from India! The Women in the World Summit landed in New Delhi this Friday, and (in our not-so-humble opinion) it was a smashing day filled with fascinating speakers and riveting panels. You can find full coverage—and video!—of the event at our homepage, or take a look back at the following highlights:

Bollywood megastar Madhuri Dixit discussed her activist work with UNICEF, and revealed her greatest pet peeve: journalists’ questions about work-life balance, which she says are rarely directed at her male co-stars. “Men too should be asked how they feel leaving family and kids back home,” Dixit said. “After all men too may be leaning in!” Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, was a little more candid about the challenges of being a working mother. After tackling such hefty topics as the rise of extremism and India’s contribution to peacekeeping forces, Power joked that “balancing kids is harder than negotiating with Russia.”

 A schoolgirl named Bitiya, whose rape was filmed by the perpetrators and sold to a local video store, participated in a panel about the cycle of sexual violence against women in India. “We don’t care what happens to us anymore,” Bitya’s mother said. “I will not let this happen to any more daughters again.” Moderator Barkha Dutt posited that “growing up in India, there isn’t one of us who hasn’t had our breasts pinched, or our bottoms pinched, or been leered at.”

 Smirti Zubin Irani, the youngest woman to ever be nominated to India’s upper house of Parliament, sparked protest from the audience when she asserted that women in India are not “dictated to” when it comes to their attire and behavior. Presumably, Minister Irani took the pushback in stride; when asked about fears of censorship in the country, she said that “dissent is the essence of democracy.” Deepa Mehta, whose film Fire was pulled from theaters in India because it depicted a lesbian relationship, discussed how censorship has evolved—or devolved—in the 20 years since Fire premiered. “Censorship being worse now is the understatement of the year,” she said. “There is a growing culture of intolerance.”

 Actress Cate Blanchett—who, incidentally, was rocking a very smooth pair of pink glasses—discussed the gender pay gap in Hollywood and other industries. “Media has enormous responsibility in how we tackle this,” she said. “By next November … we should have moved forward.” Blanchett also put on her moderator’s hat, speaking to three women who have worked closely with refugees across the globe: journalist Zainab Salbi, photojournalist Lynsey Addario, and the UNHCR’s Melissa Fleming. When the conversation turned to fears over extremist threats, Salbi noted: We must not forget that the same Muslims who are refugees are running away from ISIS. People in the East are as scared of ISIS as in the West.”

 Laleh Seddigh described her experience as Iran’s first-ever female champion race car driver. But despite being a power woman of the highest caliber, Seddigh distanced herself from the feminist label. “Don’t be a pure feminist,” she said. “If you act like a lady, and learn to manage men, you will get what you need and be able to sit back while men do all the work.” Indian media giant Zarina Screwvala opened up about the lack of purpose she felt once she sold her hugely successful television company to Disney. She found herself again through her philanthropic work, which seeks to help millions of Indians out of poverty.  “Treat those you help as equal partners,” Screwvala advised. “Only if you learn to collaborate, will you actually move forward.”

The Women in the World Summit will be coming to San Antonio, Texas on December 8th. Purchase tickets here.

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