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Women in the World: Toronto

This past September I attended Canada’s inaugural Women in the World Summit. Women in the World was started by journalist Tina Brown and has an annual summit in New York City that aims to explore the various roles women play in the world. Past guests have included a wide range of powerful women from CEOs and activists to politicians and actors. Since beginning in 2015 there have been Women in the World Summits in various other cities around the world, including London, New Delhi, Los Angeles and D.C.

The Toronto Summit had some big name guests, which proved to be quite the draw. It also happened to coincide with the Toronto International Film Festival, which was in full swing at the time of the summit. With the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario serving as a backdrop it was an interesting event that opened my eyes to a multitude of layered issues faced by women and ultimately society as a whole.

The first guest was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who sat down with Tina Brown to discuss gender equality. After their talk, Trudeau descended the stairs into the audience to shake the hands of an adoring crowd, which Brown noted was a first at a Women in the World summit. Next, a panel, including Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland and historian Margaret MacMillan discussed how women can and are shaping the world in government settings. Following their talk, Robi Damelin, an Israeli mother who lost her son as a result of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, and Bushra Awad, a Palestinian who also lost a son to the conflict shared their stories and reflected on how their pain has bound them to each other despite the fact that they speak different languages and live on opposite sides of a war.

Closing out the first half of the summit Angelina Jolie and Loung Ung joined Tina Brown to discuss their film, First They Killed My Father, which is based on Ung’s memoir recounting her experiences as a child during the Cambodian genocide. Both were clearly very proud of the film they’ve created and discussed how this painful period in Cambodian history continues to shape the country’s identity, so much so that during filming the Cambodian cast and crew often found themselves haunted by memories of that difficult time.

After a short break, Britta B, a poet and arts educator gave a moving spoken word performance, which was followed by a panel discussing the portrayal of women in the media, including Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and actress/activist Roseanne Supernault along with two marketing and advertising specialists. Next survivors from two recent shootings in the United States shared their experiences and explored the ways they’re fighting back against these horrific acts of violence. Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad then discussed her work and experiences in her fight against the mandatory hijab. And finally a panel including lawyer Lisa Bloom, Women’s March co-chair Tamika D. Mallory and Recode editor Kara Swisher explored the ways they’re attempting to “bust up the bro culture” that has become so prevalent in our workplaces.

It was definitely a lot to take in, especially in just a few hours, but overall it was an amazing experience. Each of the guests had an interesting take on the issues they were discussing and everyone spoke so honestly. It was refreshing to see people being so raw and genuine about the difficulties they’ve encountered and how they’re facing those challenges head on.

The event was packed, every seat was filled and there even seemed to be some people standing at the back. I know so many people who would have loved to attend this event, which leaves me wondering why they didn’t choose a larger venue and a more accessible time slot, especially in light of the fact that a good chunk of the seating was blocked out for their sponsors. An event like this definitely needs funding, but with such a small space it was a little jarring to see.

On top of that the demographic seemed to skew decidedly older and into a higher income bracket. Perhaps since the event took place on a weekday there were a lot of people who simply couldn’t get the time off work, but considering the guests and topics being discussed and the greater message they were trying to convey, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between who these issues are really affecting and who has the opportunity to engage with an event like this.

The issues the summit tackled were powerful and meaningful, especially in light of the current political climate of our world. The topics were discussed thoughtfully and with a fearless determination to make the world a safer and better place for everyone. It was absolutely inspiring; I just wish that more people could have had the opportunity to attend.

Learn more about Women in the World here.

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