Davos view: The power of women

Just sometimes, you encounter somebody or something that shatters your preconceptions of Davos.

I attended a private dinner on Wednesday that had all the Davos elements: a star co-host (“theatrical journalist” Tina Brown), a big business backer (Credit Suisse), and a cast of A-listers – Matt Damon, this year’s World Economic Forum celebrity, came for cocktails, Sir Richard Branson and George Osborne stayed for dinner, Cherie Blair dropped by for dessert.

The theme was the annual celebration of powerful and important women, many of whom were present.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (c) Getty Images

But it was the women honoured who made the evening truly extraordinary. Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala recounted her effort to reform the African country’s economy (as she likes to point out “when you fight corruption, corruption fights back”).

But even she was outshone, in my view, by the campaigning 25-year-old Pakistani Khalida Brohi, and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the award-winning filmmaker who has documented Ms Brohi’s brave efforts to improve the lives of Pakistani women.

As a clip shown at the dinner demonstrated, the response to those efforts is death threats aimed at the women she is trying to empower and at Ms Brohi and her team (who narrowly escaped assassination when a bomber targeted their office).

Khalida Brohi (c) Getty Images

While Ms Brown’s annual event implicitly and explicitly underlines the fact that a mere one in seven of Forum delegates is female, despite its efforts to improve the balance, it also shows how much more intractable and dangerous are the threats to women who try to make a difference in countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria.

It is the opportunities to network, schmooze and do deals that bring the elite to the mountains every January, but if the forum and its fringe events also expose a few influential world leaders to this sort of message, something important will have been achieved.

Asked what the assembled worthies could do, Ms Obaid-Chinoy called for more investment in Ms Brohi’s organisation, but she also said: “It’s the positive affirmation that we get from people outside the country that helps us to do things.”

Consider their courage and ambition duly affirmed.