United State of Women Summit 2016

I was excited to be invited to attend the United State of Women Summit as a member of the AAUW delegation. The summit was organized by the White House and focused on women from all walks of life working towards gender equality and fighting for women’s rights. The day consisted of plenary sessions which featured high-profile speakers like President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Joe Biden, Valerie Jarrett, Loretta Lynch, Mariska Hargitay, and Kerry Washington (!!!), as well as less known but equally, or even more, impressive speakers such as Jaha Dukureh and Joanne N. Smith.

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Violence Against Women breakout session

In between plenary sessions, attendees signed up for three breakout sessions. The breakout sessions were smaller panel discussions on a particular topic. I chose “From the Margins to the Center: Solutions to Stopping Violence in All Communities” and “Creating Pathways Towards Equity: Advancing Opportunity for Women and Girls of Color.” There were some panelists doing great work and I was glad to learn about it, but I would have preferred  more personal workshop-style sessions where women can speak to each other in small groups and make personal connections.

Throughout the entire day, there was an expo which included organization tables, a booth for free headshots, and musical acts. I stopped by to listen to Mariachi Flor de Toloache– a Latin Grammy winning all-female mariachi band and a new favorite of mine.

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My best friend in my head, Kerry Washington, spoke about financial abuse

Overall, I was glad to have been able to attend this one of a kind summit. I kept thinking throughout the day how this type of event would never have happened under any previous administration. There were logistical issues like the event running long, which can be blamed on the sheer number of attendees and on Joe Biden not being able to stop talking. Even though the summit was far from perfect, it was a step in the right direction. There were a wide range of identities represented- race, religion, gender identity- but there is always room to make those voices even more visible by putting them, literally, on the main stage. There was one instance of direct talk about intersectionality from Joanne Smith. Though this is the only direct mention that I remember, I did appreciate how intersectionality was shown in the speakers present and the topics discussed, even if intersectionality itself was not explicitly referenced. Of course, there were problematic statements made by some, including Joe Biden, and people who have made problematic statements in the past, like Patricia Arquette. However inevitable problematic statements may be during a summit of this magnitude, that doesn’t make it excusable. It just means it’s even more important that minority women are present and their voices are amplified. I feel like their, our, voices were heard at the United State of Women Summit and I hope the event gets better every year.

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Michelle Obama and Oprah

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