Women in the World summit: Justin Trudeau and Angelina Jolie were great, but it was real-life wonder women who stole the show

The Inaugural Women in the World Canada Summit held at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Monday was an extraordinary afternoon. And not just because I saw Andre Leon Talley sitting in the audience. 

The day started with Justin Trudeau speaking frankly about feminism and family and ended with a panel discussion—which included the lawyer who brought down Bill O’Reilly—on how to stand up to “bro culture.” And in between there was everyone from Angelina Jolie, along with author Loung Ung, detailing their emotional journey making their Cambodian-set film Not Without My Father, four women revealing what lengths they’ve taken to help end the objectification of women in media and advertising, and a discussion with two mothers—one Israeli and one Palestinian—who both violently lost their sons.

Here are the highlights.

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In a conversation with former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor Tina Brown, who founded Women in the World (WITW) in 2009, Justin Trudeau spoke about the importance of a gender-balanced cabinet and his efforts to support feminist issues at home, and around the world. 

He also got personal. When Brown asked him where his father got his feminism from, Trudeau laughed. Although, his father did stand up for rights, “regardless of who you were…I don’t know if we could call him a feminist,” he said. “He was born in 1919…he was a product of his time.” 

He also admitted that his wife, Sophie GrĂ©goire Trudeau, “does a little more at home than I do. OK, a helluva lot more than I do,” and that she not only put her journalism career on hold to raise their family but also their collective dream of raising their kids in an unconventional way: homeschooling them while travelling the world, like we recently saw Viggo Mortensen do in the film Captain Fantastic, and the Goodwin family in the documentary Given

This has proven difficult to execute, being, you know, a world leader. 

Would he ever trade places with Sophie, and give up his job to let her pursue career interests? “Probably not this job,” he said. But “yes, in another step of my life, I’d life to stay home and raise the kids.”

Watch Brown and Trudeau’s full conversation:



Up next was “World on Fire: How Women Can Shape the World,” with Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and Oxford historian Margaret MacMillan who spoke about the rise of xenophobia in the west today, some 70 years after World War II, and how we can not afford to become complacent. 

When asked whether having more women in power would lead to a better world, MacMillan, who sited several female dictators, noted, “It depends on the woman.” 

Freeland spoke about Canada’s NAFTA negotiations, and how some of our best trade negotiators have done their homework and are approaching the table with good will in hopes of modernizing the 23-year-old agreement by adding gender, indigenous, labour, and environmental chapters. Canadians “are alway very polite,” she said. “But at the end of the day, polite doesn’t mean you can’t be strong.”

(Trudeau also commented on Canada’s push for a gender chapter. He said push back hadn’t been coming from south of the border, but rather from Canadian conservatives, which highlighted to him—and the audience—how much work there is still to do here.)

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Seventeen years ago, when Angelina Jolie was in Cambodia filming Tomb Raider she picked up a book on a corner for a couple of dollars. The seemingly inconspicuous moment would change her life. The book, First They Killed My Father, would inspire her to track down its author, Loung Ung, who lost her parents, sisters and 20 other relatives during the Communist Kmher Rouge regime in the mid-‘70s, and eventually adapt the book into a film together. 

Jolie also told the audience that when she was considering adopting a Cambodian orphan, she turned for council to Ung, who gave her approval. Fast forward today, and Maddox Jolie-Pitt helped produce First They Killed My Father

“My children teach me. I am raised by my children,” Jolie said. “They teach me everything everyday. I look at the world through their eyes, and I am better for it. And so this film is very much through a child’s eyes.”

Specifically the eyes of a young Ung, played by Sareum Srey Moch, who Jolie referred to on set as “Little Meryl” on account of her superb acting chops—although, the 9-year-old didn’t understand the reference. 

After a scene from the film in which a young Ung sees other children being blown up by land mines was shown to the audience, Ung, now 47, recounted in gruelling detail what happened if they survived and underwent amputations (although 90 per cent died from blood loss before they got help.) “I watch something like that,” she said, “and my feet and toes continue to tingle with anxiety and fear.” 

“We had therapists on set to help talk people through it,” Jolie said. “It wasn’t just making a film. It was recreating a horror on the land with the people it really happened to.”

Watch their entire conversation, with Tina Brown, here.



A panel titled “Flipping the Script” moderated by the CBC’s Wendy Mesley saw four women, including Sophie GrĂ©goire Trudeau, discuss their efforts in trying to change the way women are portrayed in the media.

It was a little rambling at times, so if you’re not inclined to watch the whole thing, please do yourself a favour and scroll ahead to the 19:50 mark, when Madonna Badger, my new hero, speaks. Badger’s an advertising maven who helmed those famous Marky Mark and Kate Moss campaigns. ”I made Kate Moss skinnier, in other words,” she said. “I was a culprit for many years and I didn’t understand the harm I was causing.” She talks about what she’s done since to help end the objectification of women in advertising. 



The most moving, and the most memorable, discussion of the day was dedicated to "Fighting Hate in the U.S."

Felicia Sanders survived the June 2015 Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston. Her son, Tywanza, and aunt Susie did not. She spoke, with more grace and poise than I can articulate, with the editor in chief of the Globe and Mail, David Walmsley about the attack, Dylann Roof's trial, and how she is moving on. 

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“As soon as we started praying, he opened fire,” Sanders said. She held her granddaughter so close that she feared she may have suffocated her. Her son’s last words, spoken to Roof, were: “We mean you no harm.”

“And that’s when he emptied the gun on my son,” she said. 

Sanders was a witness at Roof’s trial—he was found guilty of all 33 charges and faces the death penalty. Walmsley asked her if, as a mother, she has any sense of what it must be like for Roof’s family. “I try not to think too much about his family,” she said. “I’m consumed in trying to keep my granddaughter, 11 years old, sane.”

She eventually switched churches. Her new congregation is three blocks away from the historical Emanuel AME Church, and is mostly white. They’ve welcomed her with opens arms. She made the move because: “I refuse to be afraid of 20-year-old white boys.” 

Sanders was eventually joined on stage by an extraordinary panel that included Pardeep Singh Kaleka, who lost his father in the 2012 mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, to discuss “Fighting Hate in the U.S.”

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The last word of the panel went to Sanders, who commented on Donald Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville coming from “many sides”.

“You have to realize, I’ve laid under 77 gun shots. I’ve seen my aunt die. I’ve seen my son die right in front of me,” Sanders said. “Every time I see this and hear the president — I respect the president because his is the president. But I think in God’s own time, he’s going to be dealt with.”

The applause almost drowned out the last three words of the discussion: “Let’s erase racism,” Sanders said.

If you watch anything today, please make it this: 



 
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