Kathleen Parker: Fighting for women, girls is ‘core imperative’

04/09/2013 12:00 AM

04/08/2013 5:29 PM

The striking juxtaposition of the preternaturally perfect Angelina Jolie and the scrappy Pakistani schoolgirl Malala, her face cruelly misshapen by the effects of a Taliban bullet to the head, captured the confluence of feminine power assembled in New York City to “lean on” the world to save women and girls.

Not lean in , as you’ve heard incessantly the past few weeks, referring to Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s book about empowering already empowered women. Tina Brown, supernova of her own galaxy, wants the civilized world to lean on governments and corporations to scrape women and girls off the dirt floors of their man-made prisons.

Brown’s fourth-annual “Women in the World” summit at Lincoln Center was testament to what one woman can do to change the world.

This confab wasn’t about getting women into country clubs; it was about letting girls go to school without risking a bullet to the head. It was about letting women leave their homes to go to market. It was about changing cultures that treat women like animals (or worse) and saving them from honor killings and abuse.

Yes, there were celebrities: First-namers such as Angelina, Meryl, Oprah. Barbara Walters led a no-nonsense panel on why Americans should care about women in Syria.

Why should Americans care, indeed?

At dinner, I sat next to a tiny woman I recognized from Jody Hassett Sanchez’s human-trafficking documentary, “Sold.” Sunitha Krishnan is a former Hindu nun who rescues little girls and women from the sex-slave trade in India with little help. Though she has been beaten for her work, she perseveres for such beneficiaries as the 8-year-old girl who was locked in a room with a snake until she submitted to prostitution.

Our conversation circled around why more Americans don’t care about honor killings, systematic rape and human trafficking of women, girls and even little boys. Perhaps it is in part tragedy fatigue, I suggested. These stories are so overwhelmingly awful that emotional exhaustion sets in. Besides, we have our own challenges and, well, you can’t save everybody.

True, but when you save one woman, you save an entire family. Eventually, you save a village, and a society and finally a nation. More to our immediate interest, women’s security elsewhere corresponds directly to our own security.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton summed it up this way in remarks Friday at the summit: “It’s no coincidence that so many of the countries that threaten regional and global peace are the very places where women and girls are deprived of dignity and opportunity.”

Among the many inspirational speakers from around the world, two of the most captivating were young Pakistani women who became activists for girls’ education, creating schools of their own when they were just teenagers themselves. Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy showed clips of one of the young women, a mere slip of a girl at the time, facing down village men, explaining to them that they thwart girls’ education because they feel threatened by independent women.

For a woman or girl to even talk to such men is a revolutionary act requiring bravery of an incomprehensible order.

Fighting for women and girls isn’t “a nice thing to do. It isn’t some luxury that we get to when we have time on our hands,” Clinton said. “This is a core imperative for every human being and every society.”

Amen, sister. Lean on.

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