The Women in the World New York Summit came to a close on Friday afternoon and—if we may say so ourselves—it was a rollicking three days of evocative panels and inspiring speakers. You can find full coverage (and video!) of the event at WomenInTheWorld.com. For a preview, start here:
Rula Ghani, the first lady of Afghanistan, argued passionately that while the status of women’s rights in her country is far from optimal, the situation is not as dire as it may seem to foreigners. “Afghanistan is a normal country,” she said, “and like in any country, there are chauvinists and there are regular men.” Sparks flew during a panel discussion about the future of women in Islam—and particularly after Aayan Hirsi Ali, who lives under a fatwa, said this: “I embrace Muslims but I reject Islamic law because it’s totalitarian, because it’s bigoted and especially bigoted against women.”
Rock star of reproductive rights Cecile Richards was greeted with a standing ovation. The CEO of Planned Parenthood proclaimed on stage that she was “so sick of men telling us what to do with our bodies.” Kerry Washington spoke about playing Anita Hill, who blew the lid off of workplace harassment when she testified against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, in the HBO film Confirmation. The film, Washington said, is “about a woman who made a courageous act in coming up against a system of powerful people with agendas that didn’t include her.”
What does it take for a gal to make it in finance? “Skin as thick as an old crocodile,” according to International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde. CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi and Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of the New America Foundation, advocated for accommodating working mothers through daycare centers, tax breaks, and paid family leave. “I think we ought to lobby Washington like hell,” Nooyi said.
Tears were shed—several times—when the women of the Bush family got personal about their family life. Former first lady Laura Bush appeared on stage with her two daughters, Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, to discuss their activist work and their time in the White House. Megyn Kelly, Fox News anchor and thorn in the side of Donald Trump, spoke of her dissatisfaction with journalists who go soft on Trump—a veritable ratings magnet—to maintain access to him. “We have to worry about numbers to some extent,” she said. “But we also have to worry about our souls and journalism.”
Rocking a seriously epic ‘do, the Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad gave a spirited account of her incendiary campaign against laws that force women in Iran to wear hijabs. “I’m a master criminal because the government thinks I have too much hair, too much voice, and I am too much of a woman!” she cried. The equally-fiery Mary Beard, a distinguished professor of Classics at Cambridge University, discussed the ancient origins of modern misogyny, and revealed her approach to dealing with online trolls: “By and large, I’ve just stood up to the bastards.”
Duck testicles, anyone? Padma Lakshmi revealed the weirdest thing she has eaten during her tenure as Top Chef. And if that weren’t enough to convince us of her courage, Lakshmi also spoke about overcoming a decades-long struggle with endometriosis.
Actress America Ferrara joined former member of Mexican Congress Lilia Aguilar and kidnapping survivor Astrid Elias to speak about the wave of Central American women who are fleeing from gang violence. “There’s no wall you can build, there’s no amount of detention centers you can build, that are going to stop people from fleeing death,” Ferrara said.
We felt a whole lot better about our TV addiction after actresses Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Yara Shahidi, producer Misha Green, and entertainment lawyer Nina Shaw argued that television is a new frontier for black actresses—the antidote to #OscarsSoWhite. The ever-charming Mindy Kaling revealed that between writing, acting in, and producing her sitcom The Mindy Project, she doesn’t have much time for sleep. “I’ve said this before and it sounds so maudlin, but it’s true: I am literally living the dream” Kaling said. “When you have your life’s dream, you don’t want to sleep because living your life is so fun.”
To close the event, the incomparable Meryl Streep reminded us that hearing women’s voices, seeing women represented—if unevenly—as professionals, and activists, and entertainers is a relatively recent phenomenon. “There are people who are happy about this, and there are people who are not,” she said. “But we women who can, help those who can’t. We who are in the room have to make room. We who are at the table have to set a place for others. We’re here now. Women are in the world. And we will not be bullied.”