- Associated Press - Monday, March 12, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - Meryl Streep is fresh off her Oscar win for playing Margaret Thatcher. But she had an entire theater at Lincoln Center wondering if an even better role for her would be a political icon closer to home: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The question arose as Streep paid a glowing and affectionate tribute to the secretary of state at the Women in the World summit, an annual gathering of prominent women leaders and unsung heroines from across the globe that closed over the weekend.

“This is what you get when you play a world leader,” Streep said Saturday, hoisting up her best-actress Oscar for “The Iron Lady.”

“But if you want a real world leader,” Streep continued, “THIS is what you get!” Clinton strolled onstage at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ David H. Koch Theater, and Streep enveloped her in a hug.

The three-day summit, now in its third year, is organized by Tina Brown, editor in chief of Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Besides Streep and Clinton, feminist icon Gloria Steinem and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Brown harnessed the star power of Angelina Jolie, who came to read the words of Dr. Hawa Abdi, a Somali humanitarian facing danger from Islamist rebels there.

Also given star treatment was International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, who delighted the delegates at dinner Thursday when she suggested that the financial crisis might have been averted, or at least been much less serious, if more women had been at the helm of financial institutions.

“If Lehman Brothers had been a bit more Lehman Sisters … we would not have had the degree of tragedy that we had as a result of what happened,” Lagarde said.

She added that recent studies have shown “what the level of testosterone in a given room can produce when you do trading.”

Many global problems were addressed by the dozens of panels attended by some 2,000 delegates each day. But a constant undercurrent was an issue at home: the debate in Washington over women’s reproductive health care.

Clinton and other speakers referred, obliquely and not, to conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh’s insulting remarks about law student Sandra Fluke, who came under attack after she testified to congressional Democrats in support of their national health care policy that would compel her Catholic college’s health insurance plan to cover birth control.

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, of Liberia, was the most blunt, saying women had been too passive: “Where are the angry American women?” she asked.

From Liberia to Egypt: Panelists discussed whether the Arab Spring risked becoming an Arab Winter for women, who were central to the popular uprising but now fear being marginalized.

“Tell people there is no spring without flowers and there is no Arab Spring without women,” said Dalia Ziada, Egypt director of the American Islamic Congress.

Other popular lines of the weekend included the definition of “glass ceiling,” from Jane Harman, the former California Democratic congresswoman: “It’s actually a thick layer of men.”

How do you puncture that layer? Kah Walla, a political leader from Cameroon, spoke of empowering women across Africa but added that in the United States, too, the level of female representation in politics was a serious issue.

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