Remember last Monday when Dallas looked more like London with the fog? The Dallas Women’s Foundation didn’t let a little thing like heavy mist slow them down for their 26th Annual Luncheon at the Hilton Anatole. But it came close. While many flew in that morning from the coasts, honoree Dodee Crockett was stuck in Austin encouraging the fog to lift and her plane to take off. Luckily, honoree Dr. Catalina E. Garcia was present to receive the “Philanthropist Award.”
When Dodee didn’t show and didn’t show, the show had to go on without her. Luncheon Co-chairs Dawna Richter and Shawna Wilson, Foundation Board of Directors Chair Diana Dutton and DWF President/CEO Rosalyn Dawson Thompson regretfully reported the situation and invited all to start lunching. Just as the gals picked up their forks, word went through the Chantilly Ballroom that Dodee was hustling down the main aisle.
Corporate types Chase’s Elaine Agather and AT&T’s Holly Reed thanked and congratulated DWF for their years of impacting women’s lives and pointed out that Dodee had arrived. Elaine dropped a tasty tidbit for the crowd — over 50% of the work force at Chase is comprised of women.
Then it was on with the main act — a conversation between activist Mavis Leno and Maria Ebrahimji, director and executive editorial producer for network booking at CNN Worldwide.
If Mavis’ last name sounds a bit familiar, it’s because her husband, Jay, has a night job of entertaining America on the Tonight Show. But she’s no botoxed doll in a low-cut outfit. She’s also not a celeb royal. Quite frankly, she blended into the crowd easily and within minutes she made everyone feel like they were at a huge coffee klatch. But she’s also a savvy lady.
First she “told” her husband they were going to give $100,000 to start a foundation to spread the word about the apartheid in Afghanistan. Alas, it wasn’t as easy as Mrs. Jay Leno thought it would be. Despite her husband’s publicists’ best efforts, the mainstream media was non-plussed about the subject. Then People picked up the story of women who were denied the basics of American women like education, human rights, communication, etc. Wham! Those “major news group” like the New York Times suddenly perked up and scampered to Mavis to learn about the subject. One of the first questions they asked was, “Why do you think this has gotten so little coverage in the main news?” Some of the reporters told her that their publishers told them the American people are:
- Not interested in human rights issues.
- Really not interested in human rights issues in Islamic countries.
- Absolutely not interested in human rights issues involving women in Islamic countries.
When asked about the effect of 9/11 on her effort, she shuddered at the thought of the possibilities. “I was in tears because I was terrified that our government would simply assume that Afghanistan was responsible. . . that they would not realize that the Taliban took control of governing. Very many Afghan men were angry at what had happened to the women.” She was scared that the Afghan people who had been victimized by the Taliban would be blamed for the event. According to Mavis, the Bush administration realized that there were innocent people in the country. “My nightmare didn’t happen.”
She pointed out that one source said that women are more at danger in Afghanistan than in any other country in the world. According to Mavis it is because more women die during pregnancy or in childbirth there than in any other country in the world.
Mavis said the major reasons for Middle East countries loosening their control on women are:
- They don’t want to look like “yokels” to the rest of the world with women living in such backward situations.
- Money. When a woman has rights and works, she brings more money into the household and becomes valuable to the community.
In summing up her experience in activism, Mavis said, “One of the biggest things I’ve learned in doing this is that we live in a democracy and democracy works. And It works because no matter how rich or how important or how connected a politician is, if you don’t vote for him, he’s not getting in again. . . or she, if the case may be. And if you have an issue that you’re angry about, this is the first task you should take: Start sending letters, emails, petitions to the part of the government that could address this problem. In our case it was the State Department. And you should start trying to harass your friends to do the same thing. After a while, the politician you’re trying to impact is going to say to himself or herself, ‘Whoa, I’d better look into this. I’d better do something about this because everybody is really mad.’”