September 17, SEVEN will bring the curtains down on the four-day regional women’s leadership and training summit in Delhi. Sponsored by the Avon Foundation for Women, it is a collaboration by seven playwrights. The documentary play is based on interviews with seven emerging women leaders in the Vital Voices Global Leadership Network who have triumphed over personal trials to bring about sweeping changes in their home countries.
Vital Voices Global Partnership, a leading non-governmental organisation based in New York that works with feminist issues and women's rights, has found a pro-active partner in actor-activist Shabana Azmi for its India premiere.
Azmi will recreate the story of Inez McCormack who was raised as a Protestant in Northern Ireland, married a Catholic and became a longtime activist for women's human rights, labour and social justice. She’s also a supporter of the Good Friday Peace Accords.
"The role was earlier performed by Meryl Streep in the New York performance. I remember reading about it and wondering why I hadn't been approached. And as the thought flitted through my mind, the phone rang with this offer. It was a happy coincidence," says Azmi, who has often been referred to as the Indian Meryl Streep.
She has got five other actors on board, including Urmila Matondkar, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Tanvi Azmi, Jayanti Bhatia and Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal. "Only Mahira Kakkar who plays Mukhtar Mai from Pakistan at every performance will be coming down from New York with the director. As we wait for them, we've already had a couple of rehearsals and I'm enthused by the positive energy amongst my co-actors. I see the play as a feminist tool and am doing it for free," she informs.
Azmi admits that Seven is not an entertaining play but is a deeply moving one. "You'll hear the voices of seven extraordinary, very real women. Every single word we speak is theirs and has empowered many among the over 1 billion women in the world whose lives are restricted, threatened and too often lost to violence."
Six more women of substance
1 Urmila Matondkar plays Farida Azzizi, who’s had a tough time with the Taliban in her home country. She even went undercover to bring healthcare to Afghan women. One of the founding members of the Cooperation for Peace and Unity and also a member of the Afghan Women's Network based in Peshawar, Azizi has completed a certificate course in Peace Building at the Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She has also advocated for Afghan women's rights in various international conferences and meetings in Bangladesh, India, and the United Kingdom.
2Tannishtha Chatterjee is Hafsat Abiola. The Nigerian enjoyed a relatively privileged life as a Harvard student and daughter of a democratically elected president. But then life took a tragic turn when her parents were murdered as the military junta took over the Nigerian government. Hafsat founded the Kundirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), an NGO that annually trains 1,000 young Nigerian women to create and run local radio stations.
3Tanvi Azmi Recreates the life of Marina Pisklakova-Parker. The Russian was studying aeronautical engineering in Moscow and while conducting research at the Russian Academy of Sciences, discovered that family violence had reached epidemic proportions. In July 1993, she founded the first domestic violence crisis hotline in Russia. Today, ANNA (Association No to Violence) has over 40 crisis centers. She has also become involved in the issue of trafficking of Russian women and children.
4Mahira Kakkar brings to the stage Mukhtar Mai who sounded the international alarm on 'honour crimes' against women in rural Pakistan. She was gang-raped by four men from a rival tribe in her remote village but instead of committing suicide, she brought her rapists to justice. Then, built schools for boys and girls in her village with money awarded to her by a trial court.
5Anabella de Leonplease from Gautemala is enacted by Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal A Congress-woman since 1998, she's been an outspoken critic on corruption despite threats to her life and alienation. In Gautemala 26 women are killed everyday and the numbers are increasing. But a culture of fear and the threat of retaliation prevents many from coming out while corruption closes the door on education and justice.
6Mu Sochua of Cambodia voices her concerns through Jayati Bhatia. Sochua returned to Cambodia in 1991 after fleeing the country in 1972 to escape Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot. She's been a minister of Women's and Veterans' Affairs since 1998. She stepped down from the post in 2004 and joined the Sam Rainsy Party.
She was insulted by Prime Minister, Hun Sen, in 2008, after one of his generals assaulted her when she was protesting against CPP during the campaigning. She sued him for defamation, he countersued. Sochua's case was dismissed, and landed her with a 16.5 million Riel ($4,000) fine. Sen revoked her diplomatic immunity, she may be arrested and jailed. Despite her uncertain future, Sochua continues to push for changes.