FLARE Was There: Canada's First-Ever Women in the World Summit

We condensed the five-hour event into a five-minute summary of everything you need to know

(left to right) Tina Brown, Angelina Jolie and Loung Ung participate in a panel discussion during the Women in the World Canada Summit in Toronto. Jolie and Luong worked together to adapt Luong's memoir, First they Killed my Father, into a film premiering at TIFF. (Photograph by Della Rollins)

(left to right) Tina Brown, Angelina Jolie and Loung Ung participate in a panel discussion during the Women in the World Canada Summit in Toronto. (Photo: Della Rollins)

On Monday this week, amid iconic paintings and sculpture displays in Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario something just as awe-inspiring took place: Canada’s first-ever Women in the World Summit. The one-day event, headlined by prime minister Justin Trudeau, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and filmmaker/activist Angelina Jolie, brought out a crowd of more than 400 people, largely comprised of women—and trust, there has never been a better source for #MondayMotivation.

Hosted by Women in the World creator Tina Brown, a former journalist and founder of The Daily Beast, the summit was like an afternoon-long battle cry, starting out with a montage of (wonder) women from Hillary Clinton to Amal Clooney taking a stand against the patriarchy, set to increasingly rapid drumming. That beat synched with my beating heart as the panels on panels of incredibly inspiring, heartbreaking and motivating speakers hit the stage.

If you weren’t one of the lucky few in attendance, we’ve condensed the five-hour event into five minutes of must-read highlights, because, as Brown put it in her opening speech, we are living in “a global horror show of toxic testosterone” and it’s up to us to fight.

The heavy hitters:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in conversation with Tina Brown, Founder and CEO, Tina Brown Live Media/Women in the World, during the Women in the World Canada Summit in Toronto.

(Photo: Della Rollins)

The proud and frequently self-proclaimed feminist leader took the stage during the opening panel in a one-on-one discussion with Brown to discuss everything from women in leadership and Canada’s inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls to Sophie, and how he considers her to be more of a “partner” than a wife. In speaking about his cabinet, which includes Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland who spoke later at the event, Trudeau said: “When there are more women in positions of leadership you are improving businesses and economies.” Positioning gender equality as an economic issue, Trudeau went on to say that protections for women must be included in the renegotiated North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

He also spoke about being a He For She champion and the importance of men helping to lift up women. “Men have an essential role to play in feminism and equality because like it or not, we have power that is unjustly given to us that we need to use and put in service of levelling the playing field.”

While Brown seemed to see Canada as an example of what is possible, Trudeau cautioned that we still have a ways to go. “The big challenge of changing attitudes is still there. Everything I can do and everything we can do to shift the world in the right direction continues to be something I’m going to work on in the next two years, but spoiler alert, I’m not going to fix everything, I guarantee. We have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said, before exiting the stage through the crowd, shaking hands on his way out.

Angelina Jolie

The ever-angelic Angelina Jolie took the stage later in the day alongside long-time friend, author and American-Cambodian activist Loung Ung, and by the time these ladies were done, I’m not sure there was a dry eye in the house. Ung authored the memoir First They Killed My Father about growing up in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge genocide—an incredible story of survival which Jolie then produced into a Netflix film that premiered at TIFF that same night. Jolie spoke about her special connection to Cambodia. She adopted her eldest son Maddox from Cambodia in 2002, and the now 16-year-old was heavily involved with the making of the film, earning an executive producer credit.

“I am raised by my children,” said Jolie. “They teach me everything, every day.”

Jolie brought the star power, but Ung stole the show, talking candidly about watching this horrifying period of her life replayed on set and later on screen. Ung said she had mentally psyched herself up to see some of her most violent memories brought back to life, but it was the quiet scenes, the ones where the actors playing her family were sitting together over a meal, that broke her. “To see it on the screen, I almost felt as if my family was alive again, that we were once again at the dinner table,” she said.

After everything she’s been through, Ung—who now co-owns restaurants in Ohio with her husband—had a message for the women in the audience. “We have more strength, worth and value than we ever give ourselves credit for.”

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau

Grégoire Trudeau sat front and centre, flanked by women who epitomize #goals, on a panel about “flipping the script” when it comes to how women are portrayed in advertisements. Grégoire Trudeau spoke about her experience with eating disorders and the pressure that girls face today. She referred to the barrage of comments, videos and images available online as a form of “subtle violence” and her concern that this harmful content has become normalized. “Normal is the hardest thing to change in a society,” she said. “Well I say, let’s redefine what normal is.”

The panel highlighted the damaging portrayal we often see of women in ads and the language we use to speak about women. Madonna Badger, founder of the #WomenNotObjects campaign, noted that she initially was part of the problem, working on advertising that included making Kate Moss skinnier. “In other words, I was a culprit, for many years. And I didn’t understand the harm I was causing,” said Badger.

Best quotes:

TBH, this entire afternoon was quotable. Every panelist and speaker brought their own message of strength and resilience, but here are just some of the standout messages from WITW 2017:

Most moving moment? The mothers

One of the standout speakers of the afternoon was Felicia Sanders, who witnessed her son, Tywanza Sanders, shot to death when a gunman opened fire on their Charleston, South Carolina Bible study group in 2015. Felicia told the crowd how the gunman sat with them for an hour, but as they bowed their heads to pray, he began to shoot. Tywanza, 26, reportedly stepped out to protect his aunt from the shooter and Felicia recalled that he looked at the shooter and asked, Why are you doing this?

“My son’s last words were: We mean you no harm,” she told the WITW crowd. “That’s when [the shooter] emptied the gun on my son.”

Felicia was one of three women at the summit who spoke about losing children to senseless violence. Robi Damelin and Bushra Awad both lost sons on opposite sides of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and in their grief, the two mothers were brought together. They now share their stories to help spread a message of peace. We all cry the same tears, Damelin said, and Awad added that she hopes that no mother will ever have to go through what they did.

With the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the clip of a a woman hurling racist accusations at NDP candidate Jagmeet Singh, Felicia’s message was simple: “There’s no race, there’s only the human race.”

Most notable absentee:

Lilian Tintori, a human rights activist, athlete and wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, was originally on the agenda for the WITW summit, but her passport was seized by the immigration officials when she attempted to leave Venezuela. In her absence, Tintori sent the following message:

Left WITW feeling like:

Scene from Wonder Woman where she gets hit in the shield by a bullet and then peers over it

(Credit: GIPHY)


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