The accomplishments of four leaders recognized this week at the Women in the World salon in Washington — a Tina Brown-sponsored platform for women on the front lines of change around the world — are awe-inspiring. The honorees’ compelling and inspirational stories put to shame, by comparison, the puerile behavior of the top Republicans seeking to occupy the world’s most powerful office.
When GOP presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Donald Trump are not extolling their own virtues, they are, for the world to see, indulging in locker-room gibes about genitalia. Said Rubio recently, joking about the size of Trump’s hands, “You know what they say about men with small hands.”
To which Trump responded in a nationally televised debate: “Look at those hands. Are they small hands?” raising them for viewers to see. “And, he referred to my hands, if they’re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.”
In her opening remarks at the Women in the World gathering, Brown attributed the two presidential contenders’ behavior to “toxic testosterone.”
Then there’s the passionately righteous Ted Cruz, who continues to fend off charges of questionable campaign ethics, hypocrisy and dishonesty from — be still my heart — his fellow Republicans.
Those morally distasteful GOP campaigns stand in sharp relief to the actions of Hafsat Abiola, a Nigerian sower of democratic seeds who was honored by Women in the World.
In 1993, Hafsat’s father, Moshood Abiola, was elected president in the first Nigerian election in 10 years. The military regime immediately annulled the election, called him a traitor and put him in detention, where he died in 1998.
Hafsat’s mother, Kudirat Abiola, didn’t shrivel up after her husband’s arrest. She led protest marches and strikes to attract international attention to the rape of democracy in Nigeria. The day before she was due to fly to the United States to see Hasfat graduate from Harvard University in 1996, Kudirat was assassinated by gunmen.
“Freedom” and “democracy” are easy words to throw around when you are under the protection of the law. Anyone who traveled to Nigeria when it was under military rule, as I did, knows that courageous deeds can lead to deep trouble.
And Hafsat Abiola is not all talk. She is fearlessly continuing her parents’ legacy, establishing a nonprofit organization named after her mother. The Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, or KIND, is a two-pronged effort to curb violence against women and strike down barriers to women’s participation in public affairs.
She doesn’t work behind closed doors. While others were wringing their hands, Hafsat went beyond “#BringBackOurGirls” and traveled to that menacing region in northeastern Nigeria where Boko Haram carries out its attacks on villages, turning women and girls into sex slaves, servants and fighters. Like her mother, she mobilized international attention to the carnage.
Unlike today’s U.S. political carnival barkers, Abiola’s commitment to civil society and democratic freedom is exercised beyond the campaign trail.
GOP front-runner Trump inherited a bunch of money, which he used to build a billion-dollar business empire.
Women in the World honorees Monica Gray and Annie Medaglia, University of Virginia graduates and media entrepreneurs, have also built a national enterprise. But their undertaking got started with a few dollars in seed money from a U-Va. incubator.
Their nonprofit venture is called DreamWakers , a novel business that, through video technology, links career professionals and dynamic speakers to students in urban and rural public school classrooms across the country. Gray and Medaglia are tackling an enormous problem. One in five ninth-graders drops out before receiving a diploma, according to their website. DreamWakers connects underserved students to real-live role models who share with them the world of possibilities. Helping low-income students to dream big, by providing sound advice and inspiration, does more to stimulate achievement than all the pompous, self-absorbed bragging that comes out of The Donald’s mouth.
Perhaps the greatest contrast between leaders who talk, and those who do, can be found in the work of another Women in the World honoree: Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.
Terrorism is the scourge of the planet. Trump has said he would target terrorists’ families. Cruz would “carpet bomb them into oblivion.” Rubio would halt the admission of refugees from Syria. All bluster.
Lynch, when she was U.S. attorney for New York’s Eastern District, prosecuted dozens of terrorists and made life a living hell for drug traffickers, child-sex predators and brutal police officers. As attorney general, Lynch is a vigorous prosecutor of hate crimes, which she dubs “the original domestic terrorism.’’
Unlike pandering vote-seekers who say anything and do little, Lynch is strong, independent and uncompromising when it comes to the pursuit of justice.
These Women in the World achievers put those presidential wannabes to shame.
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