Personality: A SMALL GIRL’S BIG, BIG VOICE (Suma Tharu)
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on March 13, 2012
From Hillary Clinton and Meryl Streep to IMF chief Christine Lagarde and Nobel winner Leymah Gbowee, complete coverage of our 2012 summit.
From top girl crush Christine Lagarde on ‘Lehman Sisters’ to Meryl Streep riveted backstage and Hillary Clinton’s embrace of Burmese activist Zin Mar Aung, Tina Brown shares her favorite moments from the third Women in the World summit.
Something wonderful happened at this year’s third Women in the World Summit. It really was not just a summit, but a happening that brought out the very best in everyone on stage and off, at the Lincoln Center and at the United Nations, where my summit cohost Diane von Furstenberg presented the DVF awards to such women of courage as Jaycee Dugard.
So many mothers brought their daughters to the summit. So many daughters brought their mothers. Has Christine Lagarde, our guest at the opening night dinner, ever been more convincing or more captivating, with the sheen of her white satin jabot blouse matching her hank of silver hair? (For girl crushes in the dinner audience, Lagarde took the prize.) “If Lehman Brothers had been a bit more Lehman Sisters…we would not have had the degree of tragedy that we had as a result of what happened,” she told Niall Ferguson archly.
Let’s hope Lagarde is the next president of France.
Angelina Jolie was gravely authentic as she took the stage and summoned up the words of Dr. Hawa Abdi, facing terrible peril in Somalia from Islamist rebels menacing the hundred thousand refugees in her camp. Then, from the darkness, as Jolie slipped into the wings, we heard Abdi’s own voice, taped the day before by our executive producer Kyle Gibson, on how buoyed she was in adversity by the news she’d been just been nominated for the Nobel Prize.
The only snag with being the onstage host was that I missed the excitement of seeing much of it unfold as the audience did, many of them attending every panel for two-and-a-half solid days. But sometimes backstage was a potent place to be, asMeryl Streep hung out in the wings in her playful Sergeant Pepper scarlet frock coat, riveted by the monitor just as much as little Suma Tharu. The 16-year-old former slave from Nepal, now a star student thanks to Room to Read, was waiting to go on stage and sing in her clear, poignant voice the lyrics she wrote of her life being tormented by a landlord: “Selfish were my mother and father / They gave birth to a daughter / Did you want to see me suffer, mother? / Did you want to see me suffer, father?”
Preparing for her own entrance, Hillary Clinton hung out back there, too, watching daughter Chelsea’s panel on the digital lives of girls, so relaxed, so content she seemed to be among the women she’s helped for so many unsung years. She had her arm wrapped affectionately around the small, intensely modest Zin Mar Aung, the 36-year-old who’d been imprisoned for 11 years in Burma for the crime of distributing pro-democracy leaflets on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi. Clinton knew Zin Mar Aung, of course, and had cared about her when no one else did. On Thursday at the State Department, she bestowed on her an International Women of Courage Award. As Streep said in her masterful introduction of our soon-to-be-gone secretary of State, efforts on behalf of women have really constituted the “secret life of Hillary” all the way through her long career in public life.
(Could it be that Clinton’s mistake during her presidential campaign was to turn her talking points over to Mark Penn instead of letting her real constituency, the women who knew her story, tell the world who she really was?)
Suma takes her bow after singing at Women in the World. Photo by Elizabeth Nichols, 10×10.
10×10 helped close the 2012 Women in the World Summit in New York City today at the Lincoln Center. After bravely opening the conference on Thursday evening, Suma Tharu, our stellar girl from Nepal, once again took the stage to sing her personal story of six years of indentured servitude.
With a composure you wouldn’t expect from her diminutive stature and poor, rural background, Suma sang to thousands of some of the most influential women (and a few men) in the world. We learned this week a bit more about the source of this strength.
Before departing Nepal, a couple of her friends instilled in her a sense of great moral responsibility; as in, ‘you are speaking on behalf of all of us, so go and be strong.’ People from surrounding villages also met with Suma before she left Nepal, each one presenting her with a different piece of jewelry to wear for the performance. They were asking that she travel on behalf of her entire region. Suma knew she had a great opportunity here and she did not take it lightly.
After her song, ABC News’ Juju Chang interviewed Suma on stage. When asked where she sees herself in a few years, Suma quickly shared that she wants to work for an organization that works for the rights of women. This former Kamlari wants to fight for the rights of women.
That’s the multiplying effect of an empowered girl. That’s the power of girls’ education to change the world.
See for yourself in the video of Suma’s song and interview:
Suma was immediately followed by two women she had likely never heard of until today: Academy Award winner Meryl Streep and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton recounted Suma’s story, praising the effective work of our partner Room to Read in providing girls like Suma an education – important work that is supported by the US State Department.
10×10 Director Richard Robbins also spoke at the summit, explaining the power of telling stories about inspiring girls to effect action. Of the girls in the 10×10 film, Richard said, “These girls are revolutionaries who have a vision for the world that goes beyond themselves; they are determined to create change.” Hear more from Richard here:
Suma prepares for her performance backstage. Photo by Martha Adams, 10×10.
The Koch Theater stacks high – two, three, four levels. During the technical rehearsal, the director coached her to sing to the people in the last row on the last tier. And she did just that! A wee little thing she is (maybe five feet tall, no more than 90 lbs), she stood center stage and shared her story of Kamlari, or indentured servitude, through this song.
Selfish were my mother and father.