Tina Brown On What Feminism Means To Her
What is the inspiration behind these summits organised by Tina Brown Live Media, of which you are the founder and CEO?
Women in the World began in 2009 after I attended a retreat for emerging women leaders hosted by the NGO Vital Voices, where I am a board member. I was blown away by the courage, vitality and fiery conviction of the brilliant women I met from Africa and Asia, most of whom no one had heard of in the United States. I decided to create a platform where their voices and stories could reach a wider audience, and launched the first Women in the World Summit in a small Manhattan theatre. Two years later, we moved to New York’s 2,500-seater Lincoln Center. Hillary Clinton has come every year since we began, as has one of my co-hosts, Meryl Streep. Angelina Jolie, Christine Lagarde and Condoleezza Rice have all returned many times, because of the power of the stories they hear.
How do you curate your mix of stories for the Summits?
We have an extraordinary team of journalists and producers who work all year. They find the most compelling narratives from news reports and our internal intelligence network. Or they may identify an explosive issue that requires the most authoritative voice to speak to.
How would you define feminism, especially in today’s world?
Feminism has gone through many iterations, but I’ve always felt it is most clearly defined by a woman’s right to personal choice — the right to education, the right to marry the person she wants to, the right to work or the right to stay home full-time with her children, with either decision equally respected, and the right to legally redress violence. There is heretic regression in so many countries as extremism is depriving women of their rights and pushing back gains that have been made, reminding us that there has to be constant vigilance in defending hard-won freedoms.
Globally, has the situation for women really changed?
In the 21st century we’ve seen tremendous gains for women — surging into arenas they never were in before, in corporate life, in the military, in political leadership. But we’ve also seen some of the worst regression and most intractable mindsets that nothing seems to alter. I’m haunted by the picture a few weeks ago of the 19-year-old girl being stoned to death in Afghanistan for eloping with a man she loved.
In the Asian scenario, would you say that women still face hurdles in the way they are perceived?
There is no doubt that the push-pull of modernity versus traditionalism is an ongoing cultural battlefield. But women cannot be kept from progressing. There are areas where India is ahead of the West. You have a number of brilliant women at the top of banks and financial organisations which is definitely not true in the US where Wall Street is still a testosterone club.
Is crusading feminism necessary as a solution to issues that women still face?
Women in the World has repeatedly proved to us how important it is to hear the stories and struggles of women — especially of those women who have conquered unbelievable cultural, economic and political challenges to gain a seat at the table in their country. And they remind us how the struggle is far from over.
Have men’s attitudes towards women changed?
There are many great guys out there who are championing women. We brought Aamir Khan to our stage in New York at Women in the World in April 2015 because he has been such a great champion of women’s rights on his television show. And, in Delhi, you will have seen enlightened and courageous men bringing their perspectives to our panels, but I do believe there is still rampant misogyny out there that is just below the surface and can be expressed in acts of tremendous violence, social media attacks and ultimately exclusion for women in multiple arenas that’s hard to crack.
How can women help reduce the spread of terrorism?
I think they play an enormous role and at the Women in the World Summits, we have addressed that theme. For example, Dr Edit Schlaffer, the founder of Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE), has created what she calls her Mother’s School where mothers of terrorists share what they have learned about the radicalisation of their children and offer support and insight to other mothers regarding how to fight it. In Delhi, we brought the magnificent Nigerian campaigner, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, who has kept up relentless pressure to find the 270 schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram, and who have been missing since April 2014.
Who are the women who have inspired you?
I’m inspired by Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, the Ugandan nun who rescues girls from the Lord’s Resistance Army, because of her selfless, optimistic persistence. In a different way, I’m inspired by Meryl Streep for her perfectionism, seriousness of purpose and adherence to quality over her long career.
Any Indian woman who has left a lasting impact on your sensibility?
I’m enormously impressed by Sunitha Krishnan, the powerhouse who founded Prajwala that rescues girls who’ve been trafficked. She has endured personal violence, abuse and multiple attempts to close her NGO down, but she continues. Her courage and integrity are inspiring.
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