This week, we were honored to be among the 5,000 women and men who descended on Washington, D.C. for the first-ever, star-studded United State of Women Summit. With a focus on issues including ending violence against women, sexual and reproductive health and rights, economic empowerment, and leadership, every conversation pointed clearly to our work and the work of women’s movements around the world, and there were many connections between what’s happening in the United States and what’s happening globally around these issues.
For our sisters around the world who couldn’t be there and wonder what it was all about, here’s a rundown of our reflections and favorite moments.
1. Love and solidarity trumps hate.
Just days after the Orlando shooting that killed 49 people and injured dozens more in a gay nightclub, speakers throughout the day took a moment to reflect on what had happened and share in solidarity with the LGBTQI community in Orlando and around the world. It was a powerful reminder that love and solidarity trumps hate, and that we will not allow senseless violence to ever justify Islamophobia or homophobia.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch put it best: “This attack has brought us together in support, has brought us together in solidarity, has brought us together in love.”
2. Girls are changing the world.
11-year-old Marley Dias, founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks, and 11-year-old MIkaila Ulmer, founder and CEO of lemonade empire Me & the Bees Lemonade, stole the show with their poise, inspiration, and determination. Marley Dias made a powerful call to action: “Promote the idea of diversity—use what you have to make the world a better place in your own way.” Mikaila introduced President Obama and talked about why we all need to encourage girls to dream and why people of every age should dream the way girls do, saying, “Be fearless; believe in the impossible.”
3. Amani for President.
Like with Marley and Mikaila, we’re even more stoked for the #StateOfWomen because Amani Al-Khatahbeh, the 24-year-old Founder & Editor-in-chief of MuslimGirl.net, said she would consider running for President one day. Do it! In a conversation with two other bold trailblazers—tennis legend Billie Jean King and ShondaLand-owner and creator of hit TV shows like “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy”, Shonda Rhimes—Amani dropped empowering quotes left and right. One of our favorites: “Just like we support media that’s diverse, when you see wrongful depictions, speak out and don’t support it.”
4. VP Biden’s plea to end violence.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden brought down the house when he delivered an extremely powerful call to end violence against women and end rape culture. In the room of 5,000, his passion was palpable and he energized the audience to renew our shared commitment to ending violence. He pointed out something we well know and that our partners around the world incorporate into their work: “All of the progress that we have made…none of it matters if women cannot live free from violence.”
5. Stronger together.
The energy and diversity of the 5,000 people who gathered for the Summit truly was incredible: young girls as old as eight and women as old as eighty, people of every color and shape, trans* women and men, people from many sectors and backgrounds. We know we’re stronger together, and this gathering proved that yet again.
6. Rewriting narratives for justice.
Gracia Magdaleno—a queer young woman who said her mother, “a beautiful, Mexican-American, working-class, undocumented immigrant”, taught her about her reproductive system—joined Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, on stage and spoke boldly about sexual and reproductive health and rights in a way that women all around the world can relate to, saying: “We need to rewrite the narratives of shame into narratives of power.”
7. Oprah + Michelle Obama = fire.
First Lady Michelle Obama sat down with Oprah for what can only be called an epic conversation. The First Lady shared countless words of wisdom, as did Oprah, who talked about using her platform for service. At one point, Michelle Obama talked about the harassment she endures on social media and shared words of advice for other women: “People won’t remember what other people say about you, but they will remember what you do… It’s what I did, not what you called me. So the best revenge is success and good work.”
8. “We are not done!”
Brave female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage survivor and activist Jaha Durukeh put it simply when sharing her plans for the future of women and girls around the world, saying: “Until the birth of a daughter is celebrated as much as a son, we are not done!”
9. POTUS brings the crowd to their feet.
U.S. President Obama spoke powerfully about why he considers “advancing gender equality a foreign policy issue,” pointing to the need for better action around the world toward women’s human rights and highlighting issues like Boko Haram’s kidnapping of schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria and ISIS’s rape of women in Iraq as “national security issues”.
Two buzz-worthy moments in his speech stuck with us: “I may be a little grayer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like” and “Our country is not just about the Benjamins—its about the Tubmans, too.” Obama went on to talk about the “Tubmans” of today—American women trailblazers—naming Michelle, along with transgender actress Laverne Cox, Sonia Sotomayor, and several others.
10. Celebs we love using their star power for good.
And finally, there were countless celebrity activists who we’ve long respected, using their powerful voices for good. From Matt McGorry joking about mansplaining and calling himself a “gender equality advocate and feminist”, to Mariska Hargitay choking up while saying, “society continues to misplace blame and shame on survivors—no more” in her speech about the backlog of rape kits, there was no shortage of star power.
Sophia Bush gave a passionate call for girls’ education and ending child marriage globally, Connie Britton took a bold stand for women to have control over their own bodies, and Patricia Arquette demanded equal pay for equal work, highlighting the gaps for Native American, African American, and Latina women in particular. Kerry Washington made a critical point about intersectionality that we talk about often in her speech about financial abuse and domestic violence: “Until we understand how these things are connected and stand up for each other… we won’t be able to make change.”
And don’t forget Amy Poehler, whose comments on breaking gender norms and the power of her online community Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls were witty, summed up her thoughts on what the “State of Women” is based on the people who attended the summit: “It is fierce, it is diverse, it is constantly changing, and it is addicted to caffeine.”