By Annie Plotkin (Brazil ’12, University of Virginia)
Women in the World D.C. (WITW) was not my first foray into female empowerment, but novelty can sometimes be overrated. WITW was an event hosted by Tina Brown Media on International Women’s Day 2016 that brought women together from every region of the world to discuss critical issues of media representation, violence, rights, and dialogue. Through themed panels, participants learned about diverse perspectives on the conflicts in Afghanistan, the legal battles against human trafficking in the United States, and global tech security. When tackling the both profoundly local and global issues of gender equality and its many entanglements with economic, environmental, and racial justice, sometimes we need continued reminders of the important work women continue to do under almost unimaginably difficult circumstances. Speakers included journalists and community leaders from Afghanistan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch; participants ranged from international students to investment bankers. Like my time with GCY, I was challenged on my ideas of appropriate action on global crises as I heard about the stunning successes local women achieved almost entirely through their own efforts and the incredible obstacles they face without the support of global solidarity networks.
WITW brought to mind the challenges of enacting solidarity without idealizing our partners, over simplifying the issue, and smoothing over conflict. In a room full of smart women, we were asked to consider what we could and should do in addition to appreciating what women had done on their own, with the benefit of local knowledge, experience, and passion. Here is where the boundaries between apathy intrusion matter; inclusive discussions about what we can offer, where we should pull back, and whose voices we are hearing. Attorney General Lynch spoke to the history of sexism she’s interacted with over her career, including dismissive attitudes and overt oppression. Following a discussion of community building in Afghanistan, one imagined that her discussion of gender oppression would be relatively benign. However, she was quick to point out that levels of sexual violence and trafficking remain high in the U.S., even if they go unseen. The point, though, is not to make comparisons, but to understand that the roots of inequality still remain even in countries where we assume a general gender privilege. WITW, all told, was a reminder that gender justice is not a state we achieve, but something we have to keep working for constantly.