I last went to Cadogan Hall to watch Boris and Ken and the long forgotten Brian Paddick (‘tho of course Lord Paddick now) of the Lib Dems, in the final pre-Mayoral election debate. A classic ‘Men in the World’ do, which as we know from the current political firmament, is still a rather prevalent format.
Tina Brown, who I admire and like very much, has ATD (attention to detail) to an nth degree; a pre-requisite, in my view, to success. And she certainly did not fail us this time. This extraordinary gathering genuinely could not have happened without her lazer-like focus, her verve and muscle.
So, what did I take out of it? Enjoying fashion does not mean you aren’t a feminist. Political figureheads, Val Amos, Frances Osborne and Mary Goudie, dazzled us with both their elegant attire and eloquent nominations of “the girl I’m here for”. Theresa May, on being a self-confessed fashionista said, “I like shoes. You can be clever and like clothes. You can have a career and like clothes “. Queen Rania of Jordan, reminded us there is “nothing Islamic about Isis”, whilst taking our breath away with her beauty and composure. Meryl Streep – who I have unashamedly adored and slavishly followed through Kramer v Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, Cry in the Dark, Out of Africa told us it is “actions, not words”.
But Tina won every competition. On poise and glamour. But specifically on purpose and passion. She told us that it has been “a terrible year for women”. Public raping of girls in India as a just punishment, atrocities perpetrated on Yazidi girls as young as three by the Islamic State, political repression in Russia, the backward slide for women in Afghanistan, the 12 year old girls, wives of 60 year old men, dying in childbirth in Africa. The complete lack of any kind of rights for women in vast swathes of the world, where kidnappings, torture, rape and violence in the subjugation of women are commonplace. And whilst we have a long, long way to go, there are some extraordinary women speaking out in all of these places. It is fortuitous that Suffragette had its premiere the night before. We were treated with a clip from it, Carey Mulligan: “We will win. We’re in every home, we’re half the human race“.
I think many in the audience had a sniffle or two along the way, but mine came when Zaina Erhaim, a journalist reporting from Aleppo where schools are targeted so now function in basements. Every time Erhaim leaves for a job, her mother immediately strips and bags the sheets, so if she doesn’t return, “she would have my smells”. Her voice was one of many speaking on tragedies happening across the globe: Ebola survivors, taking up the cause of Ebola orphans. Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Laureate, having to resort to stripping in Liberia, to get her way with the warlords whose culture cursed men who saw older women naked. Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, educating and empowering the former female child slaves of Ugandan soldiers, ostracised by their communities when finally freed.
But the day was not dominated by tragedy but also focused on female achievement. The amazing Maggie Aderin-Pocock, MBE and space scientist spoke of education, and specifically science as a space for women to move towards. Actress Nicole Kidman, staying in London playing the unsung DNA scientist, Rosa Franklin, in ‘Photograph 51’, was on the same page. Business was maybe not represented as much as it should have been, but perhaps that’s because – another wonderful fact revealed last week – not only are there are only four female CEOs in the top FTSE, they are outnumbered 4/1 by people called John.
And there was a lot on social media, on self-image, on the “selfie” phenomenon and its impact, of six year olds with a “virus of body hatred”. But fighting back are role models like Chantelle Winnie, the international super-model, once dubbed “the girl with the skin condition”. Modern Scottish political role models featured too – I am three quarters Scottish myself, and a serious Unionist, so not sure how far I go on the admiration stakes for the duo of Nicola and Mahri. But they went down a storm.
So, well done, Tina and Edelman (the team mainly women, too) for pulling off such an open, honest, uplifting gig. Everyone, men included, left the summit with their tails up. There are terrible things happening in the world which we need to help raise awareness of. There are amazing women doing just that, standing up for the plight of women everywhere – social workers, refugees, doctors, women soldiers, politicians, journalists, supermodels, actresses. And we can all do our bit.
I left wondering not if but when, the Cadogan Hall will be hosting a mayoral debate with the major parties fielding an all-women slate?