from Women Around the World and Women and Foreign Policy Program

Five Questions With Tina Brown

Tina Brown Streep New York

April 5, 2016

Tina Brown Streep New York
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The Five Questions Series is a forum for scholars, government officials, civil society leaders, and foreign policy practitioners to provide timely analysis of new developments related to the advancement of women and girls worldwide. This interview is with Tina Brown, journalist, editor, author, and founder and CEO of Tina Brown Live Media.

This year, the Women in the World Summit has a significant focus on the issue of women, peace, and security. The summit will feature a panel on women waging peace in Africa; a conversation with Afghan first lady Rula Ghani; and a session on escalating violence against women in Turkey. What connection do you see between women’s participation in peace and security processes and the resolution of the pressing global security threats we face today?

I see every connection—in the sense that a country that treats its women badly is bound to also be a national security risk. That is what has been proven again and again. And we keep seeing parts of the world explode in violence—and these are parts of the world where women are kept down, kept out of the economy, kept from political participation, kept uneducated, unable to play their part. So I see every connection between women’s status and peace and security.

I also see a connection between instability and the fact that women are constantly being left out of peace processes all over the world. When they are at the table, they can make a real difference. You can see that in Rwanda, for instance: last year, Women in the World hosted a panel made up of women who were in the Rwandan government, and they are really making Rwanda a very different place. When women are brought in to peace processes, they have different kinds of solutions. They tend not to escalate conflict in the way that a room full of men do. Last year we also had two amazing women speak, one Palestinian and one Israeli, both of whom had lost kids to snipers from the other side, and yet they joined forces to talk about peace. So we thought how interesting to have this focus on peace and security on this year’s African panel, because, of course, violence in Africa gets buried in the noise about the Middle East, but Boko Haram and al Shabaab have killed many more people than ISIS have.

The notion of bringing women into the process, cross-faith dialogue, reaching out in unofficial ways, and in outside channels is something that Women in the World is extremely focused on, and every year we bring these kinds of women together to offer their solutions. We call it women waging peace.

I want to ask about another issue you will highlight at this year’s summit that affects billions but garners little media attention: the fact that 2.5 billion people live without a legal form of identification. Tell us why this issue matters and how it affects the status of women.

I think it is incredibly important. I will be interviewing Ajaypal Banga, the CEO of MasterCard, because he is very, very strong on this issue. And, as you said, there are 2.5 billion people who live without a form of legal identification. Without identification, you are essentially living in a data dark world. The government can’t find you, healthcare can’t find you, aid organizations can’t find you. Without legal identity, how can people bridge those divides?

The second part is that a cashless society can be much less corrupt. For a woman to have an identity card, she can also have a way to have payments made, which is an extraordinarily powerful tool because she doesn’t then have to walk miles to a money exchange location, or have the money stolen, or perhaps taken by her husband at home. All of these issues make having an identity card a critical gamechanger for women, in particular. I think it is a very important thing to discuss—it may not be a sexy topic, but it’s an incredibly important topic, and one that can actually change lives.

This year marks the beginning of the implementation of the new 2030 framework, which elevates global ambition to achieve gender equality. For the first time, this agenda establishes time-bound targets related to a range of issues—from property rights, to political participation, to child marriage, to violence against women—that were overlooked in the prior development framework. What unique contributions can the private sector and the media offer to advance this agenda?  

New partnerships are absolutely critical. Take the independent midwives initiatives supported by Merck to train women as skilled midwives and increase women’s access to maternal health, for example. It is one of these gamechangers that is kind of a granular idea, but that is very effective. MasterCard I’ve talked about, and Toyota and Flex, who also support the summit, are focusing on small businesses and innovation fueled by women, as well. We are finding that there is real interest among large corporate entities now to reach out across the aisle to the public sector and empower women because they realize that they make up an enormous market segment that has been left on the table, quite frankly.

But this is also critical because, as we see again and again, when you educate a girl and you raise a woman up, you change the dynamics of a whole family, and therefore of a whole village, and therefore of a whole town. So it seems like a huge light bulb has gone off in the corporate sphere over the course of the last ten years and it’s making an enormous difference.

There has been a lot of discussion this year about women’s leadership, particularly with the potential for the first female Secretary-General of the United Nations. What difference does it make to have women in leadership roles?

It isn’t always as good as you hope it will be, to be honest. I was surprised, for example, after the hideous high-profile rape of a young woman in India in 2012, very few of the women leaders in Delhi actually spoke out. So, sometimes, you wonder why women don’t do more.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that women bring different kinds of issues to the table. In political leadership, especially, the more women you have participating, the more you will see those issues come to realization. In Pakistan, for example, it is the women in the government who are moving forward new bills on honor killings and domestic violence, because these are issues that they feel keenly about and might not be brought to the surface by male colleagues. So women do care about some different issues.

I also think that women are used to working somewhat outside the system, because they have to frequently, so they come up with more interesting, collaborative models of management that simply are created by the more ad hoc nature of the way women do things. If you have children and have periods where you aren’t working, or you drop out of the workforce and then come back, you learn to figure out ways to do things with resourcefulness. This makes people able to see new routes that are different from conventional routes. This is why I am a big champion of women managers, who show pretty creative thinking about new solutions to problems.

What comes after the Women in the World summit?  How can we ensure that the issues you highlight are considered not only “women’s” issues, but also economic issues, security issues, and political and social issues that affect prosperity and stability for all?

At Women in the World we now have a large global community, because our work is not just in New York, but now in India, in London, and elsewhere. But what is also interesting about what we do is the reverberation that the stories at the summit create. We often don’t even learn until quite long afterwards what happened due to our summit. For instance, in India, we featured a domestic worker who told a story of the horrors that many Indian domestic workers face when they work in the Middle East, where they often have their passports taken and suffer abuse. In this particular case, a mother had gone to the Middle East to work and was seriously abused by her employer. And Nita Ambani, a very wealthy businesswoman in India, was there and then funded the education of this woman’s six grandchildren. So, we feel extremely gratified by cases like this.

We have also launched a partnership with Toyota called the Mothers of Invention program and are now into our fifth year of it. This program allows us to find an unknown young social entrepreneur who is trying to elevate a social issue, to whom Toyota awards a $50,000 grant. We’ve had about fifteen of these young women and each has done incredibly well since appearing on our stage. So we feel that we are a fantastic amplifier of women who have good entrepreneurial ideas but who are unknown—and, on the other hand, also of women who are doing some very dangerous work, and who may need the spotlight and connections that we provide them in order to be safe in their countries and keep doing their work.

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