On May 4, at a dinner event in Los Angeles, the Feminist Majority Foundation gave its sixth annual Eleanor Roosevelt awards to three women and one man who have distinguished themselves in service of global women’s rights.
The awardees were novelist/activist Khaled Hosseini, feminist and labor organizer Dolores Huerta, formerly imprisoned Iranian graduate student activist Esha Momeni and Ms. co-founder/feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
Afghanistan-born Hosseini, author of the bestselling books The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has illustrated through fiction the bitter reality of life for Afghan women under Taliban rule. He continues to fight for women’s rights in his homeland and serves as a U.N. goodwill envoy for refugees.
Huerta has not just marched for decades on behalf of the rights of women and of all farmworkers in the U.S., but has extended her attention to the plight of immigrants and exploited women workers along the U.S.-Mexico border. She’s given particular attention in recent years to the brutal killings of young women in Juarez, Mexico.
Momeni was arrested in Tehran in 2008 while there to videotape women activists for her master’s thesis. She was held in the notorious Evin prison for nearly a month and kept in detention for almost a year; since her return to the U.S., she continues to speak out for women’s rights in Iran.
And Steinem, known for her key role in the U.S. feminist movement since the early 1970s, has always been a powerful voice against global injustice to women, making sure that such issues as sex trafficking, “honor” killings, female genital cutting and international family planning stay high on the feminist agenda.
In a panel discussion following the presentation of the awards, each honoree assessed some of the crucial concerns of women in the world, from those of rural Afghan women – who Hosseini pointed out have an average life span of just 44 years – to those fearless Iranian women activists who come out of prison only to begin protesting again, to U.S. women fighting the draconian new Arizona immigration law. Asked by event host Katherine Spillar (executive vice president of the Feminist Majority and executive editor of Ms.) if she still maintains hope for these situations to improve, Steinem answered yes, but with her patented activist twist.
“Hope is a form of planning,” she said.