Superstars Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep, and Helen Mirren all showed up. Presidential-hopeful Hillary Clinton did too. The reason: to address women empowerment issues at the Women in the World Summit that took place from April 22 to the 24rth in New York City.
But the summit hosted by Tina Brown Live Media in association with the New York Times also showcased ordinary women who have experienced the extraordinary, and in many cases what is a harsh reality for women in certain parts of the world. Among them was 21-year-old Yeonmi Park, who escaped North Korea at the age of 13 and who told a tearful story about her survival and Vian Dakheel Saeed, a Yazidi Member of the Iraqi Parliament who is thought to be the woman most wanted by ISIS, who talked about the horror of women kidnapped by the Islamic group.
“I think those are horrendous stories that we hear. We sort of know about it, but when you hear it, it’s very moving. I think that people will come out of this with new thoughts to do something,” said Jaana Rehnstrom, originally from Finland, who attended the summit and is organizing a conference about women’s empowerment in New York.
The summit was a two-day affair filled with panel speeches by some of the world’s most vocal female leaders and discussions on women’s inequality in different parts of the world. Although most of the sessions focused on women internationally, some of the panels addressed women in certain fields and professions, such as film, or pop culture.
“There has never been better time in history to be born female, think about that,” said Hillary Clinton during her address to the audience. “When women are strong, families are strong, when families are strong, countries are strong.”
One of the most emotional discussions addressed a gang rape of a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern, Jyoti Singh Pandey in India. The woman was returning home by bus after watching the film, “Life of Pi,” with her male friend in December 2012. She was severely beaten and raped by six men and then dumped off the bus. She died from her injuries approximately two weeks after the assault. Filmmaker Leslee Udwin, in a BBC documentary “India’s Daughter,” reconstructed the crime and Indian society’s reaction to it.
The director of the controversial documentary had a lively discussion with Barhka Dutt, an Indian television journalist and columnist. Dutt questioned some of the methods used by Udwin for the documentary, such as giving one of the rapists a right to speak. The rapist, in his interview, blamed the dead Indian girl for being raped. In the documentary that was banned in India, the director also set the words of the heart-broken mother of the raped girl along side statements of one of the rapists, describing the rape in detail. “First, we learned a shock and shock is a really important aspect,” answered the filmmaker. The audience loudly cheered.
The discussions moved those in attendance. “I think the most important thing I am taking away, is that – it’s not only about seeing a conference, where we’re all sitting in a nice air-conditioned room, thinking about those topics, but we need to find the ways to take action and make change in our societies,” said 28-year-old Seethl Kumar.
Some summit attendees traveled from long distances. A mother and a daughter, Shaloma Smith and Allesandra Rella, for example, drove in from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They agreed that the event had interesting speakers and hope more people would have access and reflect on such events, even by watching the summit online.
Although the event was opened to the public, the tickets varied from $250 to $600 for the three-day summit. The videos from the event can be watched at Women in the World official website.