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Meryl Streep, Ava DuVernay, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and John Stewart. Photo by Sameer Khan
Meryl Streep, Ava DuVernay, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and John Stewart. Photo by Sameer Khan
Meryl Streep, Ava DuVernay, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and John Stewart. Photo by Sameer Khan
Meryl Streep, Ava DuVernay, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and John Stewart. Photo by Sameer Khan

NEW YORK: Seated next to Hollywood heavyweight Meryl Streep, America’s favorite comedian Jon Stewart and critically acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, Pakistan’s Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy drew great applause from a packed crowd in New York city's Lincoln Center this week.

Tina Brown’s sixth annual ‘Women in the World Summit’ kicked off on Wednesday, featuring some of the world’s most inspiring leaders in the fight for social change.

This particular panel, moderated by Stewart, represented the role of filmmakers — on both sides of the lens — in portraying extraordinary and powerful women.

“Often we view women from my part of the world as victims. We need to have heroes. We need to have strong, brave women,” said Obaid-Chinoy.

The Oscar-winning filmmaker referred to one such hero, Syeda Fatima, who is fighting bonded labour in rural Punjab, and is also the subject of her most recent documentary.

The discomfort felt by audiences back home, is a desired outcome for Obaid-Chinoy. “I love making men uncomfortable. It is only when you have difficult conversations that you may look in the mirror and not like your reflection.”

Another hit speaker of the night from this part of the world was Bollywood’s beloved Amir Khan, who spoke about his television show Satyamev Jayate, which is an investigative talk show that has garnered 600 million viewers — close to half of India's population.

How can a talk show that touches upon India’s most sensitive issues, such as caste, dowry, female foeticide and masculinity, resonate with such a wide audience?

"By communicating the issues with love,” Khan said.

In a country where most of the population is complicit in perpetuating the issue at hand, such as the case of oppressive dowry practices, Khan said it was better to appeal to the audiences’ emotions.

One of the most pressing issues raised by Khan was the importance of redefining masculinity in India. A topic tackled quite boldly on his show, Khan pointed to a deeply indoctrinated clause in the Indian man’s masculinity. ‘Boys and men do not cry.’

“When you teach a boy from a young age to remove himself from his emotions, how can you be surprised when he beats his wife?” said Khan.

Perhaps one of the most moving moments of the night was when the audience heard from the mother of a teenage girl who fled their home in Sweden to join ISIS in Syria.

Somali-born Muslim, Saida Munya demonstrated how mothers are the first line of defence against extremist recruiters that manipulate “Jihadi brides”. The latter point was raised by Edit Schlaffer, Founder of SAVE (Sisters Against Violent Extremism) who was also participating in the discussion on young women as weapons of war, Tragically, Munya’s activism has not brought her daughter Fatima home, yet. The courageous mother maintains hope.

“I can take her back. Whatever she believes…I will try and protect her from herself and the society that may label her ‘jihadi’.”

The summit, which is scheduled to run through Friday, has much more in store for audiences, including the participation of Hillary Clinton and legendary actress Helen Mirren.