A distinct current of hope and change ran through Wednesday night’s Women in the World summit in Los Angeles, held at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. International activists described groundswell movements that are pushing women’s rights into the spotlight. Attendees stayed until well past the last presenter to rehash details. And social media blew up with the hashtag #WITW, immortalizing the night’s most inspiring moments.
In the evening’s first panel, Barhka Dutt, an Indian on-air journalist, spoke with India’s Daughter filmmaker Leslee Udwin. Dutt noted that the protests in her country following the incomprehensibly brutal gang rape and murder of JS are a sign that change is coming to India.
“We were marching on the streets to save our women,” she said of the rallies following the December 2012 attack. “The fact that this became a national conversation shows how much we care about this.”
Udwin’s film, which tells the story of Singh’s death, features interviews with Singh’s family as well as her murderers, and was ultimately banned by the Indian government. That ban provoked an international uproar; even more proof, said Dutt, that a seismic shift is afoot.
“The anger among people who either love or hate the film is an indication that something is changing in India,” she said. “This generation of Indians, they are wanting to center stage the gender conversation like never before…we have a long way to go, but something has shifted.”
Later in the evening, Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud explained during a panel that Saudi Arabia is now facing an internal mandate to improve the stations of the country’s women. It’s an indication, she said, that Saudi society is beginning to recognize the importance of utilizing the skills – and bolstering the self-esteem – of half of their adult population.
“We need to progress,” she said. “We need to evolve. Our evolution is what will keep us safe.”
Audience members seemed caught up in the momentum of Wednesday night’s summit as well. Actress Robin Wright, known most recently for her portrayal of the ruthless Claire Underwood on “House of Cards,” gestured emphatically in the lobby as the event came to a close.
“These are formidable women,” she said. “They have strong opinions that need to be heard. They are the game changers, and this will breed more of them.” There are correlations, she added, between her “House of Cards” character – often cited as one of the few strong, complex female characters on television – and the message delivered by panelists at the summit.
“It’s primarily not being ashamed of your power,” said Wright. “We are positioned and programmed to see women as ‘lesser than.’ But we can start a new regime, a new program. That’s a revolution.”
Before the event, Angelica Huston – dressed in a black blazer and black pants, with brick-red lipstick and her hair perfectly ironed – talked briefly about this particular moment in Hollywood, when it appears as though one of the world’s most influential cultural arbiters might also be facing a sea change.
“Patricia Arquette’s statement at the Academy Awards was very important,” said Huston. “It’s a huge time for women. We have to stand together.”
Before heading in to the event, where she would read the story of a woman who single-handedly pulled herself and her children out of poverty, Huston added a final thought.
“It’s a moment,” she said, “where our time has really come.”