We Are The Leaders Of The Women’s Movement - WITW 2019 Day 3
The first two days of Women in the World (WITW) were filled with speculation about the “mystery guest.” The guesses were one of the Obamas, Anita Hill (that was my guess/hope), RBG, Jacinda Ardern, AOC, Beyoncé, or even Angelina Jolie. While many were thrilled, I was disappointed to hear that it was Hillary Rodham Clinton coming to speak to us. She is the past and in my mind, irrelevant. The women I was with were fans of hers when she ran for office but still recognized that this wasn’t a particularly exciting guest as she had attended WITW the last two years and hasn’t done anything significant since last year’s event. Nevertheless, she was now on the program and would wrap up our three day summit.
Our group’s resident fashion guru, Sue Dray was horrified the day before to learn that I didn’t know who Anna Wintour was. She said to me, “You don’t know much about fashion, do you?” I looked down at my jeans and t-shirt… no, I do not know anything about fashion. Despite my lack of knowledge about this field I enjoyed Tine Brown interviewing Vogue editor-in-chief and fashion legend, Anna Wintour. Oddly, she was quick to praise her father and his influence on her life but brushed over her mother and her work in social services. Anna won me over though when she said there was nothing our current president could do to get an invite to the Met Gala.
The next panel was more my speed, focusing on two women who had been exiled from their home countries for their women’s rights activism. Masih Alinejad form Iran said that their government was trying “to write their own ideology on our bodies.” She described a childhood in which she couldn’t jump in the river, show her hair, or paly outside like her brother could. Moudi AlJohani from Saudi Arabia told us that “Being a Suadi woman is an ongoing trial.” She felt she constantly has to prove herself. Saudi women have to obtain permission from their male guardian to travel and although she had permission to study in the United States, when she returned on break the permission was revoked and she was kept prisoner in her own home for 8 months. She was finally able to escape and return to the U.S. but now faces the struggles of seeking asylum. Masih said that she is often attacked for her activism by being told she is ruining the image of Iran. Her response: “I am not ruining the image of Iran. I am ruining the image of oppressors.”
The next panel was a mixed bag. Although the speakers were racially and culturally diverse, they represented the most economically advantaged as evidenced by opening with stories about flying first class. The point that Bozoma Saint John, CMO of Endeavor was making 9and I think it’s an important one) is that even with her wealth and status, as a Black Woman she still faces discrimination—people often suggest that she’s in the wrong place when she’s queuing for first class. Ibtihaj Muhammad agreed, saying that airports are particularly hard for her because TSA targets her because she wears a headscarf. We were reminded on this panel that women hold 85% of the purse strings—gotta do a plug here for Buy From A Black Woman—so why aren’t we moving our money away from businesses that aren’t owned and operated by women? Carolyn Tastad from P&G said she has a sexism test for ads. If you replace “she” with “he” would you still run the ad? When she looks her best, her work is the best. Try it: When he looks his best, his work is the best. No one would run the second ad so no one should run the first.
The next panel covered the slavery in the United States, reminding us labor trafficking is more prevalent than sex trafficking both worldwide and here in the U.S. They also differentiated between prostitution which is consensual work and trafficking in which there is third party control—however, many women who now work in prostitution were brought into the field through trafficking when they were too young to consent. My favorite part of this panel was the discussion of shifting our response from the people being trafficked to the people who are buying them. Other than fines or jails time, some areas are taking men’s cars away (explain that to your partners or employers) and posting their names on billboards. Finally, we were asked to change our language when discussing sexual images of children. This is not “child pornography” because pornography is consensual and children can’t consent. These are sexual abuse or rape images of children.
After such a heavy topic I had to take a break and was in and out of the next several sessions which included New Frontiers in Brain Health, Adwoa Aboah, and Glenda Jackson. The brain health session looked at the advances in Alzheimer’s and had me re-writing my diet plan to cut back my salt (high salt diet can increase risk of stroke which can contribute to dementia). Adwoa talked about the work with Gurls Talk which reminded me of Verve Think Tanks for girls. Glenda Jackson, actress and former British MP was interviewed by Tina Brown. She raised an interesting question about the will of the people when she addressed Brexit—if the people voted for Brexit and Brexit doesn’t happen are we setting a dangerous precedent? Do we want to be able to keep bringing something back for a vote until the loudest and most active members of society get their way? Imagine that the issue was something else—like racially segregating schools. If the UK had a vote on that and people voted not to racially segregate schools, would we want it to keep coming back to a vote because the people who were in favor didn’t like the outcome of the original vote? Just something to think about.
Finally Hillary Rodham Clinton took the stage. She was given a standing ovation and I was reminded of how hungry women were for a female president. HRC has been a candidate for so long that I’m not sure she knows how to turn it off. Her answers were candidate answers—a reminder of what she had done on the issue before and how she would handle it in the future. For all my criticisms of her, she was important to a lot of women and had a resume that should have made her the first choice for those who care about such things.
As last year, the best part of the summit for me was the time with the women of Verve. The lunches and dinners and drinks debriefing everything we had seen was the most valuable to me. Hearing about the art projects and campaigns and education of these women inspired me. As Tine Brown reminded us on the first day, the leaders of the women’s movement are not just the names we all know or the women who took the stage. We are the leaders of the women’s movement.
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist