Women Summit I: Politics and Wars
By Erica and Karen
We attended the Eighth Annual 2017 Women in the World Summit last week--our third. You can see parts of it here. It was an engrossing three days, not only because of the fascinating ideas we heard from any number of accomplished people. But also because of the way those ideas and the related visual images were presented, seamlessly one after another, making seemingly diverse subjects feel like part of a much greater, more important whole. By putting voices, faces and images in front of some of the most complex issues of the day, the Summit made them real and gave them urgency. We only wish Tina Brown, Kyle Gibson and their crew could have run every conference we ever attended.
We break down the three days into two categories: politics and war, on the one hand, and image and words on the other. Our impressions of the first are described in this post. Our impressions of the second are described in Thursday’s.
There has been much reporting about the comments on world events of the highest profile speakers, like Hillary Clinton and Justin Trudeau, Nicola Sturgeon (including mention of the absurd Daily Mail photo comparing the legs of Sturgeon and Theresa May) and Nikki Haley (we were uncomfortable with the heckling, and agreed with Tina about listening and showing respect for Haley’s office and for the fact that she showed up). We won’t repeat those here. Instead, we do want to highlight and memorialize some of the messages and comments that struck a chord, or prompted rethinking of some of our own understanding of the world.
Watching parts of the documentaries of Academy Award winning Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy was unnerving. Song of Lahore, the story of the resilience of a group of Pakistani jazz musicians, and Saving Face, about acid attacks on Pakistani women, made our hearts ache. Our sex is still the target of widespread violent attacks, on our bodies and our souls. This documentarian shows us in living color how much work there is still to do.
We hadn’t really known much about Kristalina Georgieva, the CEO of the World Bank. But we were impressed with how articulate, and funny, she is, and particularly with the partnership she has established with private sector folks like Ajay Banga, CEO of Mastercard. Together they are using technology to provide an identity--a simple card with identifying information--to millions of people who don’t have one. And, by doing that one simple thing, they have given these people access to capital, and to social benefits and education that would otherwise be beyond their reach. They talked about the lack of trust as the predominant barrier to doing new and wonderful things, and how they overcame it by regular personal communications. These busy people make the time to meet in person once a month. An impressive commitment.
Two doctors on the front lines in Syria made us weep, as did the mother of a son murdered in the Emanuel AME church massacre while he protected others who survived. She explained her forgiveness by saying she did it for herself, not for her son's murderer. A young poet who was kidnapped and held by a maniac for four years, who talked about how being able to write poetry kept her alive. Muslims in Paris, targets of attack, disagreed about whether part of the problem is Paris itself. The husband of Jo Cox, an anti-Brexit Member of Parliament, who himself became an activist after his wife was murdered just because she was doing her job.
Others who humbled us were the activists taking great risks to try to force Australia to close horrific refugee camps in Nauru. They urged us to tweet #noaustralia against Australia’s bid to become a member of the UN’s Human Rights Council. We were in awe of Hafsat Abiola-Costell, the daughter of a democratically elected, jailed Nigerian President and a murdered Nigerian activist mother, now a member of the Nigerian government and an activist herself. @HafsatKIND. We saluted Gretchen Carlson, the first of many women to take on Fox for sexual harassment, who spoke of the insidious nature of arbitration clauses in employment contracts which keep harassment stories hidden from public view.
Of course, the real point of conferences such as this is to inspire action--to be open and generous with those in need, to think creatively, to combat hate, to be inclusive, to care. We are inspired to move forward. We are not powerful because we are women. But we are powerful.