Greetings from the 2017 Women in the World Summit! If we may say so ourselves, it has been an extraordinary three days of evocative panels, moving performances, and inspiring speakers hailing from all walks of life. Let’s take a look back at some highlights.
Throughout the Summit, trailblazing women in politics opened up on stage, expressing insight, vulnerability, and resolve. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, said that while she’s happy to see women leading all three political parties in Scotland, it is “not enough just to be a woman in a leadership position, it’s important that you do the right things with it.” Hillary Clinton got real about the “devastation” of her defeat in the 2016 election. “As a person, I’m OK,” she said. “As an American, I’m pretty worried.” Justin Trudeau, who is not a woman but who is a ray of human sunshine, stressed the importance of including women in positions of power. “It isn’t just the nice thing to do, it’s the smartest thing to do,” he said.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley got a bit of a rough reception from some members of the audience, particularly when she noted that the Russians are hard to deal with because “they just make stuff up” (Haley is, of course, an employee of an administration that promoted the idea of “alternative facts”). But Haley soldiered through the heckling, forcefully condemning Russia for its lackluster response to this week’s devastating gas attack in Syria’s Idlib province. She also expressed her admiration for medical professionals working in the area: “It is truly a thankless job but it’s one I’m so thankful that they do.” Two such doctors — Dr. Rola Hallam and Dr. Annie Sparrow — detailed the horrors they have observed while working on the Syrian front lines. “What keeps me going are the Syrian doctors, nurses, and aid workers,” Hallam said. “They get up, massacre after massacre, dust themselves off, and go and do their lifesaving work.”
Four fearless journalists took to the stage to discuss the “warning posts” of repression of the press. Gretchen Carlson, the Fox News presenter who tore through the company’s veil of silence when she accused CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment, gave sage (but sort of sad) advice to women who might be dealing with a similarly abusive employer. “Gathering evidence is crucial,” she said. “We still live in a ‘he said she said’ culture unfortunately and they aren’t going to believe you.”
The modern workplace isn’t doing much for women … or men … or polar bears, according to Arianna Huffington, who joined a panel of female business leaders to speak about cracking the corporate glass ceiling. Today’s workplaces “are not sustainable,” she said. “Men built workplaces based on the false science that in order to succeed, to achieve, to get to the top, you have to burn out in the process. And all the science proves otherwise.”
Still, some women have been disrupting the workplace for years, like Diane von Furstenberg, who changed the game with her wrap dress. She joined three other women to discuss designing for women, as well as the role that age plays in their worlds. From the CEO of AARP, Jo Ann Jenkins to the the editor of Teen Vogue, Elaine Welteroth, these women agreed that age plays an oversized role in the perception of women. “At what age do you stop being proud of getting older?” asked Von Furstenberg
The Summit audience heard from a slew of women who have had unimaginably harrowing experiences, but they survived and went on to make sure other women don’t share the same fate. Shireen Ibrahim Ibrahim, a Yazidi woman, shared her horrific experience as an ISIS slave. Donna Hubbard, once a human trafficking victim, spoke about her mission to teach airline staff to spot traffickers in the act. “What has happened now is that the internet has become the biggest pimp,” said Juju Chang in a conversation with Melanne Verveer, who responded “It’s modern day slavery.” Poet Iasia Sweeting described her ordeal as a kidnapping victim—and how poetry has saved her. “Writing gives me the chance to freeze-frame everything and sort it out on the paper,” she said. “I get to slow down the fast pace that is life.”
The Summit got a little sprinkle of star power in the form of Queen Latifah (Queen Latifah!), who spoke about the importance of her stint as a CoverGirl. “Never had you seen a CoverGirl look like me,” she said. “And I know that a lot of people in my neighborhood, where I grew up, would relate to that.” Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy discussed her Oscar-winning documentary A Girl in the River, which explores honor killings in Pakistan. Tracee Ellis Ross reminded us of the difference between fact and fiction. “We have to remember television is a fantasy version of what a mother is.” John Leguizamo and Sarah Jones wrapped up star power and political consciousness into one powerhouse conversation in which they went in and out of cultures and accents typically found in the New York melting pot. Scarlett Johansson revealed the forces that drive her to take up activist causes. “I come from a very politically vocal family,” she said. “I believe change happens at home.”
And speaking of activism … Rock star of reproductive rights Cecile Richards joined acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to share their insights on the new wave of feminism. “Women’s rights are under assault,” Richards said. “But women are ‘woke’ and engaged in a way I’ve never seen in my lifetime.” Yes, you read that correctly. Cecile Richards said “woke.”
Tamika D. Mallory and Linda Sarsour, co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, joined Becca Heller, director of International Refugee Assistance Project and the woman who spearheaded airport protests, to close the conference. They shared stories of organizing, being arrested and personal histories that led them to activism. All three emphasized the importance of keeping women of color and the marginalized inside the movement. “We have to challenge each other and have these difficult conversations,” said Sarsour. “The reason we’re in the situation we’re in is because we don’t want to talk about race, we don’t want to talk about class, we don’t want to talk about the exclusivity of feminism.” Mallory drove the point home that there are communities who, for a very long time, have felt the fear and oppression that many now feel with the election of Donald J. Trump. “We welcome you to the movement, but don’t leave us when that anxiety goes away,” said Sarsour. Heller followed up with an even simpler call: “Don’t let them distract you.”
More from the 2017 Summit