The power in the room at Women In The World Summit last night was palpable. The first London incarnation of Tina Brown’s popular women’s conference throbbed with energy and opportunity; the women there – leaders in business and the arts, supermodels, media moguls, charity campaigners – were ready for action.
After some high level mingling, where friend-of-ELLE and the comeback queen of fashion month Erin O Connor told us about raising her 15-month old son to be a feminist and pledged her further support to ELLE’s #MoreWomen campaign ('it’s a great thing for us to be unifying women from diverse walks of life'), we took our seats among an international crowd of women, including Princess Beatrice, Bianca Jagger, the Dagenham ladies and Nina Nesbitt for what would be a night of passionate speeches, fist pumping motivation and, at times, tears.
The Dutch National Ballet dancer Michaela DePrince, a former war orphan from Sierra Leone, kicked off the night with a short performance and a biographical film revealing her inspiring backstory. Her mother died of starvation and as a small girl, Michaela used to be referred to as a 'devil child' because she was highly intelligent and born with vitiligo. She endured a horrifying childhood by clutching onto a photo, torn from a magazine of a dancer. An American couple adopted her, and through their support she was able to realise her dream.
That set the tone for one moving story after the next. There was Queen Rania of Jordan making a plea for the Syrian refugees.‘When you think of the refuges, you have to remember they are not the extremists,’ she said. ‘No one chooses to be a refugee. A refugee is what you become when you have no more choices.’ She was followed by the Iraqi parliament’s only female Yazidi MP, Vian Dakheel, telling the world that 5,800 Yazidi women and children have been kidnapped by ISIS and few have done anything to help. Later, Germany’s Minister of Defence, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen inspired the room by sharing how she managed to juggle a high-powered career with a husband and seven kids before going on to introduce a two-month paternal leave period for fathers. ‘If you fight for women’s rights, you need modern men as your allies,’ she said.
The final talk was also the starriest: a panel discussion with Meryl Streep, Sarah Gavron, and Alison Owen, the star, director and producer of Suffragette respectively. Tying up the evening by commenting on the state of women’s progress, Meryl Streep said she thought Emmeline Pankhurst would be thrilled to see the gains women have made. ‘Half of the people in law school in America are women, more than half in medical school,’ she noted. But she also acknowledged we still have a long way to go. ‘We’re coming up from the bottom, it’s the upper echeleons we haven’t broken through. ...Women’s issues are men’s problems.’
The next day, Nicole Kidman talked about life after divorce, notably how her career changed after her split from Tom Cruise, and why it's so important for women to support movies about women. 'The argument is, people aren't going to pay to see [films about women]. Well, we have to change that, in the terms of we have to go out and pay, we all have to go. I'm going to buy a ticket to Suffragette to prove this story needs to be told.'
-additional reporting by Radhika Seth