NEW YORK, N.Y. – There’s been plenty of star power already at the Women in the World summit in New York: Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep both were part of the opening night program.
But a different sort of star is sure to get a rapturous reception Friday at the annual two-day conference, which focuses on global women’s issues: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
It is her second high-profile speech this week, following one at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards in Washington, and it coincides with the announcement Thursday of her new memoir about her years as secretary of state. She’s addressed this forum before, but now there’s the added excitement of all the speculation: What’s next for her?
The main focus of the women’s conference, though, is the plight of women across the globe, and Jolie had the most emotional moment Thursday, introducing — via video from Britain — Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education.
“Today I’m going to announce the happiest moment of my life,” the 15-year-old said in the brief video, wearing a bright red headscarf and at one point shyly covering her face with her hands. She said that thanks to the new “Malala’s Fund,” which she will administer, a new school in her homeland would be built for 40 girls. “Let us turn the education of 40 girls into 40 million girls,” she said.
Malala has garnered huge global attention since she was shot in the head in October by Taliban attackers angered by her activism. She was brought to Britain for treatment and surgery, including skull reconstruction. She’s now started attending school there. She recently signed a deal to write her memoir, and she was also shortlisted for Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 2012.
Jolie gave a poignant rendition of her story. “Here’s what they accomplished,” she said of Malala’s attackers. “They shot her point blank range in the head — and made her stronger. The brutal attempt to silence her voice made it stronger.”
After Jolie’s introduction, Tina Brown, the Newsweek/Daily Beast editor who created the Women in the World summit, now in its fourth year, told the audience that Jolie had just committed $200,000 personally to the fund, which was established by Vital Voices, with a donation from the Women in the World Foundation.
Jolie was not the only Hollywood star on the stage of Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater Thursday. Streep was there to honour another activist, Inez McCormack of Northern Ireland, who died in January of cancer. At the first summit in 2010, Streep had played McCormack in a short play, called “Seven,” with McCormack herself watching from the audience. Streep spoke some lines from the play on Thursday evening — in a flawless Irish accent.
The evening began with a dance performance by Michaela DePrince, who grew up as an orphan in war-torn Sierra Leone, where her father was killed and her mother starved to death, as she explained in an accompanying film. She was adopted by an American family and now dances with the Dance Theater of Harlem.
Barbara Walters moderated a panel on Syria, Charlie Rose interviewed South African political activist Mamphela Ramphele, and Christiane Amanpour led a panel on “The Next Generation of Malalas,” featuring two other young women fighting for girls’ rights in Pakistan.
Jolie, who is a special envoy for the U.N. refugee agency, told an anecdote about Malala that had the audience smiling. She said the girl’s father had shown his daughter, in the hospital, a poll that said she was the sixth most influential person in the world, and that President Barack Obama was seventh. But the girl, according to the story, said she wasn’t so happy — she didn’t think human beings should be categorized like that.
“So there’s a lot we can learn from this little girl,” Jolie said with a grin.