Tina Brown's Must-Reads
1:06 am
Wed April 3, 2013

Tina Brown's Must Reads: Women Vs. The World

Originally published on Wed April 3, 2013 7:39 am

Tina Brown, editor of the Daily Beast and Newsweek, joins NPR's Steve Inskeep again for an occasional feature Morning Edition likes to call Word of Mouth. She talks about what she's been reading and offers recommendations.

This month, as Brown prepares for her annual Women in the World Summit in New York City, her reading suggestions address just that: the role of women in the developing world.

Malala And The Media

The first piece that Brown selected this month is from Marie Brenner in the April edition of Vanity Fair. It focuses on Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai, who was the target of a Taliban assassination attempt after she started a public campaign to demand school access for girls.

"This piece goes beyond actually what we already know about Malala," Brown says. "It really asks the question, 'Does the media have any blame to share in what happened to this incredibly brave and extraordinarily intellectually precocious young girl?' "

One Pakistani journalist blamed himself for the crime because of his reporting on her activism, Brenner writes. But Yousafzai's father, a mentor for the young woman, never thought his daughter was in danger because Islamic tradition calls for protection for children, Brown says.

"She was speaking publicly, she became a blogger under a pseudonym, but gradually that pseudonym became quite well-known within her area — [locals knew] that this in fact was her," Brown says. "All of these things obviously heightened her profile and enraged the Taliban, and in the end, of course, she suffered grievously for it."

Yousafzai is currently recovering from her injuries, and is set to be honored on the opening night of Brown's Women in the World Summit. But what ultimately happened as a result of her attack is astonishing, Brown says.

"At the end of the piece, frankly, you really feel that Malala herself was such an extraordinarily young leader," Brown says. "Her father was so passionate. They did want very much to bring this focus. They were speaking in groups and communities, they really were campaigners, and that is what is so extraordinary about Malala.

"She really took a knowing risk, and in the end what happened to her of course raised attention to the issue that she had been trying to talk about, in ways that they could never have expected, never have wished. But the outcome has been extraordinary."

A Violent Act Spurs Action In India

Brown's next read is from her own Newsweek — now, like the Daily Beast, an online-only publication. It provides an in-depth look at the horrendous gang rape of a young woman in New Delhi.

The piece, by New Delhi-based editor and writer Shoma Chaudhury, looks beyond the intimate details of the crime that ultimately killed the woman, now known internationally as Nirbhaya, or "The Fearless One."

"It describes not just the savage crime that afflicted this young girl, but also the cultural currents and conflicts that brought these savage young men together with her that night," Brown says.

The victim came from a poor, rural background and was studying to become a physiotherapist, Brown says. Her family had spent a large percentage of their income to put her through school, and she was excited to be moving on an upward path into the middle class.

Chaudhury delves deep into the backgrounds of the men who attacked Nirbhaya and discovers surprising parallels.

"In many ways their own backgrounds were very similar," Brown says. "The young men also came from very poor rural areas, but what Chaudhury describes is this boiling frustration as kids and young men; they come into the towns of Mumbai and Delhi, these glittering global metropolises, and they're so near and yet so far from of any of these great rewards that they see all around them.

"And a kind of boiling fury takes place at what she describes as the membrane between the two worlds: of rural backwoods India, if you like, and the global, exciting, money-moving India. The savagery of that collision creates a terrifying atmosphere."

Chaudhury also took the daring step of venturing into the communities and interviewing the families of the six young men at the center of this case. These interviews are what make the piece so fascinating, Brown says.

"Although they committed this terrible, savage crime, you also feel the pain and turmoil of these families who are being confronted with these fast-moving global currents and are not ready to deal with them," Brown says. "And also the parents, who are distraught at what their sons have done, and say, you know, 'Why did he have this evil in him? And where did it come from?' "

The case became famous around the world and spurred a kind of enraged social movement in India, Brown says.

"Every 22 minutes, a woman is raped in India," Brown says. The widespread belief that the justice system lacks concern for crimes against women adds to the anger.

"There's a lack of focus in that, a lack of care in the justice system — in the police reports and so on," Brown says.

That perception and the awesome power of social-media conversations about hot-button issues meshed together to create a huge and ongoing conversation around women and violence in India.

"All of these things really turned this thing into a massive movement in India, which has brought a kind of boiling tipping point about violence against women, which has been long overdue," Brown says.

A Heroine Who Fought Her Own Series Of Small Battles

Brown's final offering this month is an excerpt from a book telling the story of Molly Melching, an American foreign-service worker who moved to Senegal and fell in love with the West African country.

Brown describes Melching, who has become a fierce activist in the battle to prevent female genital mutilation in Senegal, as a personal heroine.

"[Melching] devoted herself first off to NGOs [that specialized in] education, but then became more and more aware of the absolutely horrific, barbaric practice of female genital cutting," Brown says. "[She] decided that she was going to take on that issue, in terms of trying to educate women as to why it was such a harmful pursuit, and at the same time sort of co-opt the imams and the male villagers into realizing that they didn't have to go through this very barbaric and unhealthy practice."

Melching's campaign took the form of a slow, simple process of small-group education. She taught groups of women about human rights, personal choice and basic health education, Brown says.

"She went from village to village, co-opting the imams, getting the imams themselves to spread this word," Brown says. "After a period of 20 years, she has pretty much ended genital cutting in that region.

"It's really an extraordinary story of quiet medical-missionary zeal, in which she has co-opted a culture into understanding that progress is better for all concerned," Brown says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tina Brown is with us once again. She is the editor of The Daily Beast and of Newsweek. She is also a regular guest on this program. She has a feature called Word of Mouth. We hear from her about things she's been reading. We get reading recommendations for ourselves. Hello, Tina, once again.

TINA BROWN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And you, of course, are preparing for the Women in the World Summit, an annual event that you have sponsored. It's at Lincoln Center in New York City, focusing on just what the title suggests and that seems to have influenced your reading selections this week because you've sent us three articles about women in the developing world.

BROWN: Yeah. The first piece I've chosen is a fascinating piece in Vanity Fair this month, by Marie Brenner, about Malala Yousafzai, who is the 14-year-old girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban in the Swat Valley in Pakistan last year simply because she stood up for the right to go to school. And as we all know, that galvanized the world.

But this piece goes much beyond actually what we already know about Malala and it really asks the question, does the media have any blame to share in what happened to this incredibly brave and extraordinarily intellectually precocious young girl? Marie Brenner, she reports how a Pakistani journalist (unintelligible) wrote an agonized column in the Dawn newspaper blaming himself for the crime because he saw the face of Malala and heard about her and decided that he wanted to make her the focus of the stories of the awful tribulations that people were going through when the Taliban was occupying the Swat Valley and harassing and blowing up schools.

INSKEEP: Sure.

BROWN: Malala's father, of course, was an educator himself and a passionate opponent of Taliban hostility and was Malala's mentor in every way. They went everywhere together. He was fiercely protective of her and he never thought that his daughter was in danger because in Islamic tradition, people don't harm children. But as we see, because Malala developed such a profile, in the end she was targeted by the Taliban and she was shot on a bus as she went to school.

INSKEEP: Let's remember that she was famous in that part of the world. Before the shooting she was a blogger, if I'm not mistaken, for the BBC. She had a variety of ways that she was getting publicity.

BROWN: She had a variety of ways. She was speaking publicly, she became a blogger under a pseudonym, but gradually that pseudonym became quite well-known within her area that this in fact was her. All of these things obviously heightened her profile and enraged the Taliban, and in the end, of course, she suffered grievously for it.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember here, we're not saying in any way that this young woman asked for the attack on her. But the question that's being asked by some in the media is, did the media take advantage of this young woman to put a human face on this great story and in the end endanger her?

BROWN: Well, that is the question he asked. But at the end of the piece, frankly, you really feel that Malala herself was such an extraordinarily young leader herself. Her father was so passionate. They did want very much to bring this focus. And that is what's so extraordinary about Malala. She really took a knowing risk and, you know, in the end what happened to her, of course, raised the attention to the issue that she had been trying to talk about in ways that they could never have expected, never have wished. But the outcome has been extraordinary.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about another article you've sent us about a woman whose voice, sadly, has been silenced. The title of the article is "The Girl Who Fired An Outcry In India."

BROWN: Yes, well, this is a piece that we published this week in digital Newsweek by Shoma Chaudhury, who is a brilliant journalist who works for Tehelka magazine in Delhi. And this piece goes behind and into the really intimate details, if you like, of that tragic story of the young girl who was raped by six men on a bus when she boarded it with her boyfriend after a completely innocuous night out.

And it describes not just the savage crime that afflicted this young woman, but also the cultural currents and conflicts that brought these savage young men together with her that night. The victim herself was an aspiring young woman. She came from a very poor family who had put everything into her education and yet she fell victim that night to six savage young men.

And yet in many ways their own backgrounds were kind of very similar. The young men also came from very poor families. But what Chaudhury describes really is this boiling frustration as kids and young men in impoverished rural villages, they come into the towns of Mumbai and Delhi, these glittering global metropolises, and they're so near and yet so far from of any of these great rewards that they see all around them.

INSKEEP: Shoma Chaudhury, the writer of this piece, got at that angle somewhat because she took the rather bold step of going to interview the families of the attackers.

BROWN: Yes, she did. And that's what makes the piece so interesting because although they committed this terrible, savage crime, you also feel the pain and turmoil of these families who are being confronted with these fast-moving global currents and are not ready to deal with them. And also, you know, the parents who are distraught at what their sons have done and say, you know, why did he have this evil in him? Where did it come from?

INSKEEP: You also wonder in a case like this why it is that one particular victim gets elevated to such attention when we're told that it's a widespread social problem. And we're not saying the young woman's name, by the way, because as a rape victim her name was kept anonymous. But this case became so famous. Why did it become so famous?

BROWN: Well, for a start, it ignited a passionate response for many reasons, I think. You know, you saw a kind of rage that every 22 minutes a woman is raped in India. And the fact that she lived for 13 days afterwards was so brave and so tragic and then shockingly died of her wounds in hospital - all of these things really turned this thing into a massive, you know, movement in a way in India, which has brought a kind of tipping point about violence against women.

INSKEEP: The third article you have sent us also involves violence against women.

BROWN: It does. This is a very different kind of case. This is a very different kind of a heroine, actually. I mean Molly Melching is one of my particular heroines. This is an American woman who went off to Senegal as a young woman exchange student, fell in love with the country, learned Wolof, the Senegalese dialect, but then became more and more aware of the absolutely horrific practice of female genital cutting and decided that she was going to take on that issue in terms of trying to educate women as to why it was such a harmful pursuit and at the same time co-opt the imams and the male villages into realizing that they did not have to make their women go through this very barbaric and unhealthy practice. How did she do it? First way she began was simply by gradually, carefully creating small groups of educational classes where she would, first of all, teach the women about their human rights, and secondly by actually giving them health education to make them understand that genital cutting can actually lead(ph) to awful infections which will affect childbirth, which will create problems in health for the rest of your life.

And it was only as her classes began to augment, gradually she went from village to village, co-opting the imams, getting the imams themselves to spread this word. After a period of 20 years, she has pretty much ended genital cutting in that region. It's really an extraordinary story of quiet medical-missionary zeal, in which she has co-opted a culture into understanding that progress is better for all concerned.

INSKEEP: The most important phrase that I think you just said there was after a period of 20 years. You've published this article, the title of the article is "Taking On the Ancestors." We're talking about practices that may be centuries old in many cases and not things you're going to change in a day or a week or even a year.

BROWN: No. And that is where she's such a heroine. Here's Molly Melching who just stuck with it and she's become a beacon, in a sense, to so many people in the NGO world about what one woman can achieve by patience and by cultural understanding and by respecting how long it will take and not being deterred and involving men.

I mean one of her big messages is you have to engage men.

INSKEEP: Tina Brown, have a great Women Of The World Summit this week.

BROWN: Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: The feature is Word of Mouth. Tina Brown is the editor of The Daily Beast and of Newsweek. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.