NYWIFT at Women of the World Summit

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A high-five moment captured by Livestream at the 2014 WITW Summit.

On April 3rd to 5th, women and men, but mostly women, crowded into a theater at Lincoln Center to engage with and listen to women from all corners of the world as they shared tales of heartbreak (personal accounts of surviving chemical warfare attacks in Syria), inspiration (leading, beyond odds, the citizens of Rwanda to unite post genocide after witness neighbors slaughtering neighbors), and calls to action (“Politics is not for superheroes. It is for everyone. Ask yourself, ‘Why not me?’”—Laura Alonso).

I attended the Women in the World Summit on a press pass, and as I nestle into a seat on the first tier among cameras and computers the first evening, I gazed down at the audience restless with anticipation of the upcoming events. For the next three days, I was amazed at how hour after hour everyone was riveted in their seats unless they were rising to reward women on the stage, like Hillary Clinton, with a standing ovation.

My wrist was sore at the end of every evening from my continued frantic tweeting to the world outside the theater of shocking statics…

…and amazing quotes.

I found my tweets being embedded and shared everywhere from online to the big screen at the Summit itself. I wished everyone, especially my fellow New York Women in Film and Television members, could be attending alongside me. 

I was proud that NYWIFT chose to send our Board President, Alexis Alexanian, as a delegate to the WITW Summit. At the close of the Summit she texted me, “Amazing and wonderful…So much to chew on!”

I asked her to share her thoughts on attending the event with NYWIFT members:

What were some of the highlights from the summit for you personally?

  • Seeing Christine Lagarde and Hillary Clinton together in a wonderful dialogue moderated by Thomas Friedman was an incredible treat
  • Listening to all that former President Jimmy Carter has done and continues to do (at age 89!) for women’s rights
  • Hillary Clinton’s quote, “Take criticism seriously, not personally.“
  • Hearing Angelique Kidjo’s big, bold voice fill the theater

What are the issues or situations did you become aware of at the Summit, that you want to share with NYWIFT members?

It became clear from more than one of the panel discussion that there’s a tremendous amount of concern and fear surrounding Vladimir Putin and his controversial actions in government. Also, I was not aware of the horrors and crimes committed against women on a regular basis in India’s caste system. or that there are so many brave and dedicated women from a variety of Muslim countries leading the way for women’s rights.

Being at the Summit representing NYWIFT as a delegate, what role do you see NYWIFT, or WIF in general, playing on the world stage of women’s rights, freedoms and equality?

I was thrilled to be a part of the Women in the World Summit. It was a privilege to listen and learn from so many diverse and inspiring voices. In terms of advocacy for women’s rights, I think NYWIFT can learn from the fearless activism exemplified by the Women in the World participants and strive to embolden our voice in the industry.

Overall, was there a takeaway or inspiration from the Summit that you feel will change your outlook or goals as President of NYWIFT?

I’m inspired by the fearlessness and the clarity of purpose I witnessed from a whole spectrum of women from far reaching corners of the world. Despite overwhelmingly oppressive circumstances, these women are fighting for change every moment of their lives. I will remember their faith in themselves and their mission and draw on that spirit.

The women speaking at the WITW Summit were truly inspiring. I couldn’t help but ask myself as I fell asleep reflecting on each day’s events, “Was I doing enough?” I looked back on my life and wondered if my role as an activist had dwindled as the years passed. In college, I marched on Washington DC (U.S. involvement in El Salvador and Afghanistan—both military decisions I questioned) and represented my school at Amnesty International Conferences. In my twenties, as a young mother, I was active with my local National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter, petitioning on behalf of issues of women’s rights. In my thirties, I travelled in a bus half way across the country for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty

As I lay in bed each night, I had the a sinking feeling that in my forties, I might be shirking my responsibilities as a citizen of the world. 

A couple weeks ago it was Equal Pay Day, and as I prepared to discuss with high school students, on the behalf of NYWIFT, the ramifications of media’s portrayal of women as seen in the Miss Representation Project documentary, I was shocked to discover while viewing the film that the U.S. government signed into law the Equal Pay Act back in 1963. What had happened (or rather not happened) that had President Obama signing an executive action to strengthen the enforcement of equal pay for men and women? Has nothing changed?

I was disheartened; but then I remembered Gloria Steinem clutching my hand recently while instilling in me the importance of paying attention to state government’s power, specifically on core issues such as equality in pay for the same job. It dawned on me: I was at that event, speaking with the most influential woman in the equal rights movement because I serve on the Board of Directors of NYWIFT. I spend hours every week working hard for NYWIFT members, and the organization itself, to help empower women in the industry! I might not march or picket in my forties (not to say I might not again), but I am still active in trying to creative positive change—and isn’t that what an activist is? Someone who actively strides to make the world a better place?

At one point during the Women In the World Summit, Ruslana, a Ukranian singer and freedom fighter, asked the audience to shine a light for the Ukraine. Small flashlights were passed out to everyone, and the theater lit up with tiny white lights. Even in the press box, women and men stood proudly and waved their lights. In that moment, those lights seemed to not only represent support and freedom for the Ukranian people, but for all of humanity across the globe that suffers repression, violence and poverty.

That little light lives now on a shelf in my living room. Every time I walk past it, I am urged to turn it on to remind myself of something Sarah Silverman said at the Summit, "Be undeniable. That’s how strives are made.” I call on all women in the world and NYWIFT members especially, “Be undeniable.”

 — AMANDA LIN COSTA 

If you’d like to follow the women, men and organizations involved in the Women in the World Summit on Twitter and be inspired every day, I made a list for that.

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