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9 October 2015

"Eavesdropping At A Private Party" - Women Of The World

Written by: Ben Fenton, Senior Director at Edelman

Consumer Trends & Insight, Culture, Entertainment, Media, News, Women In The World

I’ve spent the last 24 hours or so feeling like an eavesdropper at a private party – that uncomfortable (but exciting) feeling that you are illicitly learning secrets about people that they would never tell you face to face. In this case, I was overhearing a little about the way women feel about themselves and each other. The Women In The World summit has brought together an extraordinary mix of people, from a Syrian refugee speaking through an interpreter, to Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman who need nobody to communicate their thoughts to the world.

And what I learned is what I always knew: women are so much better at speaking their minds, or maybe more accurately, speaking their hearts. It’s what they do, not a special event, but a simple daily process. What’s more, they actually enjoy it.

It’s probably that very simple observation that leads me to a very simple conclusion: I think I would rather that women ran the world.

Several of the extraordinary women who spoke (on a very subtly lit and decorated stage, easy on the eye) made the same point:

– women aren’t better than men, said Urusla von der Leyen (who combines being Germany’s defence minister with being the mother of seven children), they are different – and we need both.
– The Nobel peace prize winner Leymah Gbowee, who brought Liberia’s men to shame over their decades-long self-destructive civil war, said that to have only men around a peace table was to see the world with only one eye (women are the other, and you need both, of course).
– Icelandic financier Halla Tomasdottir’s view: “It’s not that masculine values are bad, but in excess, they are dangerous.” Who could disagree with those views? Not me.

Except that, sitting in this conference, I probably do disagree. I think women probably are better than men; I think that you don’t necessarily have to have a man’s eye to view conflict in the world and resolve it; and I do think that masculine views, or at least a lot of them, are bad.

What I have seen here is women from all over the world, from the wealthiest and most famous household names, to those with nothing to their name and whose names mean nothing outside their own homes. But each of them seemed to have a common issue and a common sense of purpose.

Essentially, all of them are dealing with problems caused by men and all of them are dealing with them using quiet determination and vigour, but without the ultimate recourse of the male of the species: violence.

That wasn’t completely true: I heard the story of the Yazidi women who, having been raped and abducted by ISIS, escaped to join the Kurdish peshmerga with a burning desire for revenge. But even they used their minds rather than brute force in war: at night they chanted from their defensive positions at the extremists’ positions what they knew that ISIS had been told by their leader – if they were killed by a woman, they wouldn’t die as martyr’s but go to hell. It worked. The one place in the line where no attack came was where the Yazidi women were.

But all these women had answers that didn’t involve force or coercion. They had had enough of that. Men had provided plenty of examples of why that didn’t work. These women’s answers were about persuasion, leading by example or simply by shaming their enemies.

Like the extraordinary Leymah Gbowee from Liberia: she led a woman’s movement that brought peace to her country. How? Well one way was, when she and her comrades were being threatened with arrest at a protest against warlords, they started to remove their clothes. In their culture, men who saw an older woman naked were believed to be cursed, so their actions had enormous impact, she said.

So far, so good, but Leymah explained that later, one of the warlords was asked: what were you afraid of? Women taking their clothes off? Why were you scared of a few old women? And the warlord said: “At that moment, we asked ourselves: what have we done, what have we come to, that it makes our women feel they have to behave like this? And we saw we had to change.”

Who in their right mind would not prefer that kind of diplomacy, that kind of protest, that kind of thoughtfulness, to the mess we men seem to have made of the world over the millennia?

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