Tina Brown was too busy leaving her signature on journalism — editing Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Newsweek and writing a bestselling biography of Princess Diana, The Diana Chronicles — to be bothered about feminism. A series of stories by women from developing countries, in 2009, forced her thoughts towards a new direction. The result was “Women in the World”, a global summit that addresses structures and realities that affect women’s lives. “Women in the World” comes to Delhi for the first time on November 20, with leaders such as Naina Lal Kidwai and Ipsita Dasgupta talking about the challenges of retaining women in the workforce. The director of Fire Deepa Mehta and actors Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das discuss their concerns on the 20th anniversary of the film, while Blue Jasmine star Cate Blanchett talks about her work in the field. Excerpts from a telephone conversation with Brown:
What brings you to India now, and Delhi in particular?
For a start, I have always wanted to bring “Women in the World” to India because I’ve been coming to India for seven or eight years regularly and am fascinated by the ‘complexness’ of the country. The reason we are bringing it now is that, at this moment, India is one of the most exciting places in the world having the gender debate. There are more Indian female success stories than ever before — professional women soaring to the top of banking, legal, tech and biotech, and media — but there’s also roiling debate about women’s safety, the need to address inequities, the tussle between traditionalism and modernism and the issue of retaining women in the workforce so that they can raise families and also surge ahead.
What is your definition of feminism or women equality?
It’s all about freedom to choose — whether it’s who you marry, if you marry at all, whether you have children, whether you work and are a mother, whether you are a mother and don’t work. It’s a choice that makes for women’s equality.
How was “Women in the World” born?
My interest in the global women’s movement began in 2009. I have been involved for years with an NGO called Vital Voices, which mentors women in emerging countries and I used to go to these retreats and hear these extraordinary women from Africa, Egypt, India and all over the world. They were confronting issues and challenges that are often inconceivable in the West — cultural repression and conflict zones and war — and yet they managed to have resilience and improve the lives of other women. I wanted to put them on the stage. In the US media, there is little interest in overseas stories and even less on women. I thought, how great it would be to create a summit where I could bring all these women to the stage and tell their stories. At “Women in the World”, we tell stories and illuminate issues, so that you learn about the world through the eyes of women. We started in 2010 in a small theater in New York and it took off immediately.
How specific is the conference to India, where feminism has a different definition from the West’s?
There are things that are very different about India, but there are also things that are similar about India. We’re hosting a discussion called “Will the Violence Ever End?” and it tries to get into the mindset in order to change whole cultures and ways of thinking about women. We are actually bringing Bitiya — there was a story in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof, where he talks about a young girl from a village in UP who was gangraped in 2012 when she was 13 or 14. They videoed her during the course of this rape to try and keep her quiet but, she raised a case against these men and is trying to get justice. She’s coming to the summit with Madhavi Kuckreja, Founder, Vanangana, a rural, women’s community-based organisation focused on building leadership among Dalit women. We are going to continue with a powerful discussion with Dr Menaka Guruswamy, Vibha Bakshi, the filmmaker of Daughters of Mother India, Govind Singh Rathore, who founded Sambhali Trust after witnessing violence against his own mother, to talk about how we can change this situation. It will be a powerful discussion and I think one that needs to happen.
“Women in the World” will be held on November 20 at Taj Mahal Hotel