“The price of hurting the womb of humanity – girls and women – is a high price to pay for everybody,” said Madame Sophie Gregoire Trudeau on Monday, September 11 in Toronto.
She joined her husband – our self-proclaimed proud feminist leader, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – and activists, artists, change-makers and one of the world’s biggest celebrities for Canada’s inaugural Women in the World Summit.
With a loud and clear agenda to make an impact on a better life for women around the world, the hot-ticket event (which was invite-only), drew an assortment of females – and males – from all professions, who hit the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) for an inspiring and resonating afternoon of conversations about feminist issues and the future for females.
In addition to the Trudeaus, host Tina Brown – celebrated journalist and magazine editor and the summit’s founder – welcomed guests like Angelina Jolie, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland and Women’s March co-chair Tamika Mallory, among others.
These were the biggest takeaways.
Just because you’re polite doesn’t mean you can’t be strong.
In discussing negotiations to bring a chapter on gender rights to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland reminded the crowd that it is possible to be polite – as Canadians are when it comes to international relations – but still be strong. “We’ve done our homework, and our trade negotiators are the best in the world,” said Freeland. “We’re being polite, but being polite doesn’t mean you can’t be strong. We’re standing up for our national interest.” Of course, the concept isn’t reserved for foreign affairs.
Art raises awareness.
Angelina Jolie’s new powerful film, First They Killed My Father, is a memoir based on the life of human rights activist Loung Ung, who escaped Cambodia’s murderous Khmer Rouge regime as a young child when most of her family was killed or displaced. The film will undoubtedly educate countless viewers who may ignorant to Cambodia’s bloody history, as Jolie admitted she was when she first visited the country 16 years ago while filming Tomb Raider. Her connection with Cambodia resulted in the adoption of her now teenaged son Maddox, who is listed as the film’s executive producer and who influenced her decision to make the movie. Jolie, however, said she “wouldn’t have touched” the film if the people of Cambodia didn’t want their story told.
Trauma fuels strength.
The strength and resilience of the human spirit was an impossible-to-ignore theme throughout the afternoon. It seems unimaginable to fathom what Loung Ung had to endure – from escaping the bloody regime and never seeing most of her family again, to adapting to life in America – to ending up a bestselling author, lecturer and overall change-making woman that she is today. Ung said the toughest part about watching the film was seeing her family in happier times sitting around the dinner table together – a luxury many of us take for granted in the western world. Turning trauma into strength was also glaringly apparent when Britta B took the stage. The spoken word poet presented her award-winning poem on overcoming the trauma of domestic violence to find a place of healing.
Empathy breaks down barriers.
Another resonating display of strength – and one that sticks with you long after the summit wraps up – is the unlikely bond between two women and their ability to turn tragedy into a positive. Bushra Awad and Robi Damelin – a Palestinian and Israeli mother – both lost sons in the conflict in the Middle East. Though Awad admitted there was a time she “hated” all Palestinians, the pair united in their shared grief and work alongside one another with The Parents Circle to break barriers between the two regions. The two women continue to travel the world, speaking out to spread this message that barriers can be broken and you don’t have to choose sides when it comes to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The glass can be half-full.
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland acknowledged that there is a journalistic tendency to see the state of things as half-empty “’Everything was ok again today’ doesn’t make for clickable headlines,” she joked and said that the centre is holding more than people would think. She acknowledged positives, like Trudeau’s gender-balanced cabinet and how smoothly it now functions, being half female. Later, the “Flipping the Switch” panel highlighted that the once negative phrase “like a girl” is now widely seen as a positive.
We need to change the way women are portrayed in the media.
While we have undoubtedly come a long way from the completely misogynistic beer, cigarette and car ads of the 50s and 60s, as highlighted with the summit’s “Flipping the Script” panel, women are still very much objectified in advertising. For example, New York City ad exec Madonna Badger pointed to the blatant, unapologetic objectification in a 2015 Stuart Weitzman ad that features naked (aside from their heels) and provocatively embracing supermodels Gigi Hadid, Lily Aldridge and Joan Smalls, saying it represents “laziness in selling shoes.” The good news is that this is counter-balanced my powerful campaigns like the award-winning “Like a Girl” campaign by Always and Badger’s own viral #womennotobjects campaign.
We must battle “bro culture.”
“Bro culture,” it’s still very much a thing; but that doesn’t mean we’re not pushing back. A “Woman Busting Up the Bro Culture” panel examined the blatant sexism experienced by women thanks to this feeble, frat boy-like mentality. Guided by the initiatives of people like Tamika Mallory, co-chair of the Women’s March in Washington, the good news is females have collectively had enough. “We had men calling us, saying, ‘You can’t do this, you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re not capable of pulling off something of this magnitude, and so you should bring us on board’… so yeah, bro culture is a real thing,” said Mallory of organizing the march. The first thing we said was; ‘we’re qualified, and second of all, we’re just going to show you. So you sit down and wait, and we’ll show you.’ And then 5 million people marched across the world.”(Goosebumps).
Living in fear stifles creativity.
Sophie Trudeau once again proved that she is right up there with her husband when it comes to powerful public speaking. She expressed the importance of both having a mentor and not dropping out of sports for young girls. She also addressed the sad reality that the majority of those creative types who wanted to be artists when they were children rarely ended up as artists (when she asked the artists in the room to raise there hands, there were four out of a crowd of at least a couple hundred) as a result of fear. “We’ve learned not to trust our instincts,” said Trudeau. All this does, she says, is take away individual creativity. She said this reluctance to risk is especially true in females.
Sophie and Justin are #couplegoals.
The only thing better than Justin Trudeau is Justin Trudeau with his lovely wife Sophie. The prime minister praised his wife – who made the decision to stay at home with their three young children and who he views as “not a wife, but a partner” – for being “strong” and “passionate” and said he felt “uplifted by the opportunity to work alongside her as we work for a better world.” In discussing the importance of fathers being involved like never before, Trudeau said reminded us that when kids are showered with love, they’re on track to then out right.
There’s still a lot of work to do.
We may have a gender-balanced cabinet and a feminist prime minister, but there is still a lot of work to do in Canada and around the world when it comes to female rights and gender equality (not that that’s a shocker). This means everything from better educating males, to highlighting the success of businesses with gender parity. “We can’t stop for a second to say ‘we’ve done enough,’ said Prime Minister Trudeau. This is the case both in our own country and when it comes to others around the world. “To have progress and peace, you just can’t just look away. You have to fight,” said Jolie about her continued work in Cambodia. “We all need to do more than we’ve ever done because we’re at a very dark time,” said Jolie on her overall activism.