My Executive


    Jun 12, 2013

    Celebs lend voices to women's cause

    SINCE the disaster in Bangladesh last month, when the crumbling of a faulty factory killed more than 1,000 seamstresses, fast fashion has developed a toxic reputation.

    The ugly side of pretty things was epitomised by the image of a sultry Beyonce wearing an inexpensive bikini on billboards across the world.

    Yet this same star was rocking it on June 1 at a concert in London as she sang a heartfelt duet of Crazy In Love with her husband, Jay-Z.

    The music event was called Sound Of Change Live, and it was organised by the Chime for Change women's campaign and underwritten by Gucci, which is now aiming to bring attention to women's rights to education, justice and health.

    "I am hoping this concert has inspired people to come together to support women - Chime is a sound of many bells vibrating, and through technology we can do it very easily," said Salma Hayek.

    The superstar list of celebrities - from Jennifer Lopez to Madonna, who "chimed" for education and came onstage with Pakistani education activist Humaira Bachal and the Academy Award-winning film director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy - guaranteed a large online audience, estimated at more than one billion.

    The Web viewers joined the 50,000 spectators seated at the concert in Twickenham Stadium in south-west London. The event raised more than £4 million (S$7.8 million).

    For Gucci designer Frida Giannini, the idea, more than a year in the planning, had been to reinterpret Bob Geldof's Live Aid from the 1980s by making celebrities the halo around an urgent cause.

    "But the difference is that Bob Geldof didn't have partners, you couldn't follow him directly on TV," said Ms Giannini, who had already used Gucci to focus on the female factor at a New York Unicef event in 2008.

    Fund-raising is at the heart of Chime for Change, but there is something awkward about weighing a US$2,000 (S$2,500) handbag against the Afghan Institute of Learning, which offers education and health care to women and children.

    Yet those who sniff at the idea of stars turning out for a charitable event should listen to Obaid-Chinoy, who has brought the reality of life in Pakistan to the big screen.

    "In places like Pakistan, grassroots activists need a boost and outside support is often critical," the film director said.

    "Catching the attention of youth isn't always easy, and engaging them is even more difficult. If a celebrity is able to further a cause just by lending his or her voice to it, I'm all for it."

    A similar view was expressed by Ms Susan Ann Davis, chairman of Vital Voices, a Washington-based organisation founded in 1997 by Mrs Hillary Clinton to focus on female empowerment, women's political participation and human rights.

    "It's challenging to catch the attention of media - much less the public - on important issues without the help of celebrities, VIPs, corporate titans and politicians," Ms Davis said.

    In the current music scene, women seem to have the most fire, from Lopez through Florence and The Machine to Rita Ora, who all showed up for the Gucci concert.

    So after the enormous impact on Internet sites like Facebook, supposedly equal in response to a football final, what has changed since the chimes have faded?

    "For me, the concert was an awareness tool," Obaid-Chinoy said. "People heard stories of women from as far away as Iran and Pakistan. They saw images that shook them, voices that inspired them, they learnt about today's frontline warriors around the world. It was a message of hope and strength that encouraged those attending to give back."