Women in the World Summit NYC 2018: Day 3
I have many times heard African-Americans say that they were taught as children that they would have to work twice as hard as their white peers to have the same chances in life. They would have to be more polite, more law-abiding, more hardworking, more presentable than their white peers in order to succeed, or even survive. I have never heard a woman say she was taught this although it is unquestionably true. Women have to be more gentle, kinder, more understanding, more hardworking, more careful, Superwomen in order to have the same chances as men. Most of the women we heard from during the Women in the World Summit have had incredible luck, privileges including economic and educational privilege, and/or exceptional innate talent that allowed them to rise to the positions they are in. Our society isn’t set up for women to succeed on these levels unless they have one of these legs up. Hard work is not enough for women.
The first woman of our last day was one of the women with exceptional innate talent. Misty Copeland is the first African-American woman to be a principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. She’s written three books, Firebird, Life in Motion, and Ballerina Body. She talked about racism in the dance world. She said she had been told her body was too curvy to be a ballerina and then told us that was code for “you’re not welcome because of your skin tone.” She talked about a black dancer who she had looked up to saying “I know the power of representation.” She got choked up talking about being that role model for young girls now and how important it is for them to see her and think, “You’re real and you look like me.”
Next to take the stage was Dr. Astrid Cantor, a medical doctor working in Venezuela and columnist for the Caracas Chronicles and Federica Dávila, a medical student who founded Primeros Auxilios UCV (Green Cross). Despite being one of the richest countries in Latin America, Venezuela is in shambles. The government is not caring for its people who live without basic medical needs or even electricity and clean water. In 2017, 4 medical students bought what little medical and first aid supplies they could find and went into the streets to care for protesters who were being attacked by government forces. As the violence escalated through the year the medical student volunteers grew to 200. Dr. Cantor talked about the maternal mortality rates which are the highest in Latin America—mothers are so malnourished that they can’t nurse. Mothers are crossing over the border into Columbia to get their children the vaccinations that aren’t available in Venezuela. Federica tells us that people are dying of malaria—a disease that can be cured for $2.05. How much is a life worth? I sent Green Cross a donation as we listened in horror these women tell of conditions we can’t fathom.
After the heart-wrenching stories about Venezuela we were given a pallet cleanser in Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, a Canadian Gender Equality Advocate. She spoke about a controversy that she encountered on International Women’s Day when she posted a picture of her husband and gave a shout-out to men and boys who are allies to women and girls. She said “gender equality and feminism can’t evolve in this society unless we bring our boys and men on board.” While I agree with this, women get one day and men get 364. Maybe let’s bring them along on one of their days and have just one day that isn’t about them.
Sex: The New Rules of Engagement was the next panel with Joanna Coles, Chief Content Officer of Hearst Magazines and Author Love Rules, Lauren Duca, journalist from Teen Vogue, and Terry Crews, actor and activist. I was frustrated with Joanna’s position which seemed to be that we’re having trouble with consent because of the hook-up culture that dating apps have created—as if consent is a new issue and not a major struggle for women since the beginning of recorded history. Lauren told a story that resonated so strongly with me that I’ve retold it half a dozen times in the last two weeks. She was on a date and attracted to him so went to his home, hoping he would kiss her. When he did, it didn’t feel right and she no longer wanted to continue. She walked us through her “calculation to extract myself safely” so she “wouldn’t insight a male rage spiral.” She decided it was safest to pretend to be too drunk than it was to say “I’m not interested in sex with you anymore.” I have had this experience many times but was never able to articulate it as clearly as she did. Terry spoke some truth that has gotten more media attention than anything else that happened at this summit—maybe because he’s an actor, probably because he’s a man.
The next panel was on aging which I have to admit I wasn’t much interested it. But one of the panelists, Michaela Angela Davis, the only black woman on stage, reminded us that “I couldn’t be here if I didn’t know a lot about white culture… you don’t have to know about black culture to be here.” There was an ad for Olay highlighting the beauty of older women that we all clapped for but it’s still an ad—its only purpose is to get us to buy something. All ads are essentially saying “you are missing something in your life or there is something wrong with you that will be fixed if you buy our product.” Why are we clapping for that?
The first job I had when I returned to the United States from London last year was to assist with the City of Philadelphia’s plan to manage the opioid epidemic. The statistics of overdose deaths and increased rates of heroin users have been in my head so long that their impact has weakened. This is not the case for Karine who audibly gasped when the next panelist said that there are 100 deaths a day from opioids. She was Janis McGrory, a mother who had lost her daughter to a heroin overdose and used her grief to become an advocate. The opioid epidemic is too complicated to sum up in a paragraph—it involves corporate deceit, racism, homelessness, mental health policy failings, and the deaths of so many people.
After a heavy morning I took a break, missing the Dietland panel and another Toyota infomercial. When I returned Madeleine Habib, Ship’s Captain and Humanitarian Worker on the SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) was speaking about her work. I admire this woman so much that I was anxious about hearing her speak. She floats around the Mediterranean rescuing refugees as their dinky boats fall victim to the unforgiving sea. She tells us that Maritime law says that if you see a boat in distress you have to rescue the people and take them somewhere safe. She has refused to take those she rescues back to places like Lybia where it is not safe—the going rate to buy a human being is $400.
By the next panel I was feeling emotionally raw again and desperate for some relief. Instead we heard the story of three young Muslim adults, Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan, who were executed in their home in 2015 by a bigoted neighbor. The hardest part of this story—it was told by the sister of one of the victims, Dr. Suzanne Barakat. As a sister, this panel was almost unbearable for me. She told us that the number of anti-Muslim hate groups have tripled since 2015. She said “fear is one of the most intense feelings you can insight in someone.”
The last panel was the most humbling. Eva Maria Lewis, Founder, The I Project and Co-Founder Youth for Black Lives, Delaney Tarr, Student Activist at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and Naomi Wadler, 11-Year-Old Student Activist at George Mason Elementary School. All three of these young people were unbelievably well spoken. Naomi, who we had met briefly the day before, talked about the organizing that happens at recess and I blushed with shame that we have allowed this world to become a place where children spend their recess planning anti-gun protests. Naomi said with wisdom beyond her years, “there shouldn’t be an age limit on being aware.”
The summit ended with a call to action and soulful music but I was already checked out. I feel things deeply, perhaps too deeply at times, and I felt as though my armor had been stripped. I was emotionally exposed. I know that it is important to vulnerable at times and I was glad to have done it in the safety of this event with my warrior women at my side. After a good night’s sleep I would be ready to start making plans but walking out the doors of Lincoln Center that day I felt laid open.
If you would love to see more interviews from the Women In the World Summit, please check out their Youtube Channel.
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist