Activists, celebrities, and entrepreneurs gathered in New York City for the 7th Annual summit on the global state of women in 2016.
The Women in the World Summit, hosted by founder Tina Brown in association with the New York Times, brought together over 100 speakers for its seventh annual conference. Held in the David H. Koch theatre in Lincoln Center, the event was co-hosted by a group of women that includes model Alek Wek, designer Diane von Furstenberg, and actress Meryl Streep. Though the summit sometimes draws criticism for attempting to cover too much ground, with content linked only by the fact that its subjects are women, the 2016 summit was impressive, inspiring, and timely.
One theme emerged over and over throughout the three-day summit: acknowledgement and appreciation for the strength of women around the world. Despite suffering, adversity can become opportunity, and these women prove that progress is possible. Diane von Furstenberg charmed the crowd with her assertion that even though “everyone feels like a loser” sometimes, “I’ve never met a woman who is not strong.”
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump came up more than a few times over the three-day event: Brown referenced his popularity in her opening address as proof that misogyny is still alive and well, former first lady Laura Bush hinted that she would rather vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton, and Fox News host Megyn Kelly (herself the direct target of his chauvinistic attacks) lamented the media’s role in the rise of Trump’s popularity.
1) “We are, whether we like it or not, massively interconnected,” stated Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, as she kicked off the summit’s second day of programming.
Indeed, in panel after panel at this year’s WITW Summit, the same sentiment kept arising: We’re all a lot less different than we think. “We all live in a world that is deeply patriarchal,” said Dr. Menaka Gruruswamy, an advocate on the Supreme Court of India. Journalist Barkha Dutt agreed: “This is the age of women, and we’re all a part of it together.”
2) But there’s still a lot to learn.
Nearly every panelist representing the Middle East chastised the western media for simplifying the difference between Islam and Sharia law while depicting women as helpless victims. First lady of Afghanistan Rula Ghani stood up for the women of her country while defending the nation’s reputation to the rest of the world, while journalist Masih Alinejad begged the crowd, “Don’t ignore Iranian women.”
3) It takes more than just women to work for equality.
Multiple speakers touched on the fact that, for as far as women’s rights has come, there’s still a lot of work to do. “Women can’t lean in more,“ said Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga, referencing Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book. “It’s time to start changing the minds of men,” he stated, rather than expecting women to do all the work in the fight for equal treatment in the workplace. Work by male executives such as Banga, who is committed to equal salaries across his company, actively recruits female engineers, and supports efforts to financially empower women in developing countries, is imperative in order to make real change.
4) Our generation is witness to a revolution in both tech and women’s rights, and the two aren’t unrelated.
Using biorhythmic identification, Banga and Mastercard are developing digital solutions for women across the world who live without a legal identity, which prevents them from opening bank accounts, voting, or owning property. A panel on women and the future of technology, featuring entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt (the highest-paid female executive in the United States) and tech genius Yoky Matsuoka, explored the influence of women on the tech industry, as well as technology’s potential to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Rothblatt cleverly described her self as a STEMinist, stating she believes female students have a special interest in biotechnology and healthcare, as “biology is inherent in who we are [as women].”
5) Media matters more than ever.
The more women who speak out about their experiences, the more support there will be for the generations who follow us. More women coming to power in Hollywood and the news media means there’s an opportunity to change narratives and open up new issues for discussion. Scandal’s Kerry Washington, who plays Anita Hill in the upcoming HBO biopic Confirmation, highlighted the importance of bringing Hill’s story of workplace sexual harassment back to the news, and emphasized the production’s ability to shape public opinion: “For many people [who don’t remember the 1991 case], this will be what happened.” Actress America Ferrera implored the media and politicians to adjust their depiction of immigrants Central American to the US, saying, “we have to demand that the conversations that we have in this country about these humanitarian issues don’t get completely taken over by politicians with agendas who refuse to acknowledge that there are people on the other side of this.”