NEW YORK: Hollywood actor Emily Blunt was recently cited for her work with the Malala Fund, named after Pakistani activist Malala Yousafazi, in promoting education for girls around the world. She spoke of how education was helping her older daughter, who is only four, thrive.
Blunt was applauded at Variety’s annual Power of Women event which took place in New York. She praised the work of the Malala Fund, the nonprofit funded by Malala Yousafzai and her father, Ziauddin, in 2013 saying that Malala has “the most compassionate of hearts, but courage and will of steel.”
“When the bullets rained down on these girls, the world stopped in their tracks and they listened to Malala, but most importantly, so did millions of girls around the world put in the same position. This courageous, eloquent, and inspiring girl became their light,” Blunt said, referencing the young activist shot by the Taliban for pursuing an education.
Blunt urged lawmakers to take action to help young girls denied an education.
“There are over 130 million girls missing out on an education because they have to work or they are married by the age 12 or they lack access to school facilities or have to care for younger siblings,” she said.
When given a chance, Blunt said women can move mountains.
“If women are given a voice, they use it. When they are handed the purse strings, the communities thrive. When they are given a job, they flourish. They organise better. They galvanise more passionately and they are more likely to encourage peace where peace should be the priority,” she said.
Blunt, along with her husband John Krasinski, works to draw attention to and raise money for the Malala Fund. The fund hopes to give girls around the world the ability to have 12 years of education — schooling that is free, safe, and of quality.
Speaking to Variety, Malala said, “From the first time we met, I knew Emily would be a great friend to me and to all girls fighting for their education. I am so grateful for her ability to see the faces of millions of girls in her own daughters.”
Blunt and Krasinski have so far raised money for the fund by auctioning off a double date to the New York premiere of their recent film A Quiet Place. In the fall, the couple hopes to visit Colombia or India to see Malala Fund’s work firsthand. Those are new regions for the organisation. Until now, it has focused on supporting educators and educational champions in places where it is difficult for girls to attend school, such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and countries hosting Syrian refugees.
Yousafzai also sends reports to Blunt from the field.
“When Malala goes back to the communities it’s so exciting because women are at the front of the crowd,” says the actress. “They’re telling you how they’re organising. They’re telling you what’s happening. As we’re finding out in this climate that we’re living in, when women are given their voice they will use it.”
Longtime activist and MeToo founder Tarana Burke — a name unknown to most people until six months ago — however, got the biggest ovation at the event.
Burke, who founded the MeToo movement 12 years ago and runs it out of the Brooklyn, New York, offices of Girls for Gender Equity, said she wanted people to recognise its deeper purpose — working with survivors of sexual assault, and not simply bringing down powerful abusers.
“Folks think it’s about naming and shaming, about taking down powerful men. But they’re wrong,” Burke said. She noted that she was “desperate to change the narrative about the MeToo movement before it’s too late.”
Another misconception, according to Burke: that the current cultural reckoning is a “moment.”
“It is a mistake to think of this as a moment,” she said. “Movements are long, and they are built over time. Movements are made from moments.”
Burke added that the past six months have been “like something out of a movie,” and that she had never imagined that one day she would see the country involved in a sustained national dialogue about sexual violence.
In order to keep the momentum going, Burke explained, funds are needed. She said former tennis star Billie Jean King — who famously fought for equal pay for women on the tennis tour — had recently pledged to not only give $100,000 herself but to help find nine more people to do that.
Apart from Blunt and Burke, five other high-profile women were also honoured for their work with various charities.
Author Margaret Atwood, honored for her work with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, spoke of how much her famous 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, now a major TV series, had unexpected resonance in current times, and she jokingly invited Americans unhappy with the current political state of the country up to Canada, where she said they would find a hot cup of tea and a mattress to sleep on.
Singer Alicia Keys was honoured for her work with Keep A Child Alive, an AIDS charity, and spoke extensively about social justice and gender equality — even calling out the makers of the Netflix series The Crown for paying Claire Foy, who portrayed Queen Elizabeth, less than her co-star Matt Smith, who played Prince Philip.
Tina Fey was honoured for her work with a charity that promotes literacy, Reading is Fundamental. She spoke of her commitment to hiring and promoting women in her own career, and how she resolved, in early years as a writer when she was the only woman in the room, not “to be a cappuccino machine.” She also spoke fondly of childhood books like the Babar series, quipping that she still thinks elephants can drive cars.
TV host Padma Lakshmi was honoured for her work at the Endometriosis Foundation of America, telling the room how she suffered from the debilitating condition for years — spending up to a week every month confined to bed — and even had several operations before anyone told her what might be causing her pain.
Journalist Tamron Hall also spoke emotionally about her efforts to fight domestic violence after the murder of her sister, Renate, in Houston in 2004. Hall was honoured for her charity helping domestic violence victims, the Tamron (Heart) Renate Fund.