I was lucky enough to receive the gift of a ticket to the inaugural Women in the World Summit in London. Although I have been battling a seemingly endless cold, I got out of my sick bed, downed a cup of Lemsip and put on a pair of stilettos.
Women in the World is intended as a platform for women to share their stories; Tina Brown, who obviously hasn’t lost any of her journalistic flair, described it as ‘Telling the Secret History of Women in Real Time’. The history that unfolded on the stage was inspiring and often heart wrenching– for every revelation of women as victims suffering mercilessly and unjustly, stories emerged of women as advocates, bravely championing for change.
The speakers -- including Queen Rania of Jordan, Zhanna Nemtsova, daughter of murdered Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Vian Dahkeel Saeed, the Yazidi representative from the Iraqi Parliament, Ursula von der Layden, the German Minister of Defence and Meryl Streep, introduction not necessary – represented a diverse array of issues and geographies. Listening to the causes that they championed and the suffering they had seen, I felt an immense sense of responsibility – an accountability to do something, although throughout the evening, I struggled with what exactly this was. What was I expected to do after seeing these women and hearing their stories? What was being asked of me as a woman in the world today?
While the speakers were diverse, they shared one thing in common -- they were all women of action, a sisterhood united through activism. If I am to take anything from the evening, it’s that sometimes just listening, talking, tweeting and yes, even blogging, simply isn’t enough, my responsibility is to act. So, based on what I heard at the Summit, how does a Woman in the Wold today act?
ACT with respect for the past: consider the contributions and sacrifices that women made for many things today that we have the luxury to take for granted. The discussion around Meryl Streep’s latest film, Suffragette, which tells the story of Emmeline Pankhurst, an activist who was critical in securing British women the right to vote, was a potent reminder of the extraordinary struggles and successes of the women before us.
ACT with a vision towards the future: while acknowledging the past is important, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be complacent with the present. Part of being a woman in the world today requires awareness of the battles that are being waged to ensure equal representation and compensation – and an understanding of the struggles of women around the world who are seeking far more basic rights, such as equal status or in some cases, freedom. We should act with the intent to make the inequalities that linger today seem unfathomable to the next generation.
ACT in partnership: Meryl Streep memorably said, ‘Women’s issues are men’s problems’ –a powerful reminder that women don’t need to act alone to achieve change. At one point in her conversation with Ursula von der Layden, Tina Brown suggested that the increase in ‘testosterone fueled terror’ creates a case for more women leaders. Instead of comparing male and female leaders, the Minister of Defence brilliantly responded about the need for diverse perspectives and the necessity of collaboration. As an example, she explained that she never would have been able to pass a maternity leave law without the support of her male colleagues in Parliament. Von der Layden also spoke of the importance of partnership at home – she shared how as her career progressed she simply didn’t have time to write an endless supply of instructive Post It notes, so instead she came to expect more of her husband (luckily for her and her seven children, he complied).
ACT with authenticity: women are typically more comfortable defining themselves beyond a single role or responsibility, which in turn invites the public to see beyond a polished professional persona. While the women on stage self-identified as activists, advocates and world leaders, they also spoke freely about themselves as sisters, mothers, daughters and wives. Queen Rania explained how she is able to create connection with Jordanians and people around the world, because of her willingness to share a ‘real’ view into her family life through social media.
ACT like everyone’s watching: I would suggest that to be inspired to act we shouldn’t haven’t to attend a ticketed event in central London. The responsibility of being Women in the World today is to recognize our own personal potential to create change and to act in a way that represents, supports and empowers women and girls everywhere.
Now I like the Spice Girls as much as anyone else who came of age in the 90’s, but I would never use the term Girl Power to describe this event. Women in the World was very ‘grown up’, it was about taking action and creating meaningful change -- this summit was about Woman Power.
Avra Lorrimer, Senior Associate Director, H+K Strategies London