The Lebanese philosopher and diplomat Charles Malik famously said: “The fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women of the world.”
I was reminded of these words at a luncheon I attended in honor of International Women’s Day organized by the International Women’s Club of Stockholm. The luncheon was sponsored by HE Sheikha Najla Al Qassimi, the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Sweden, to raise money for The Hunger Project— a global, non-profit organization focused on ending world hunger by empowering women toward independent and entrepreneurial solutions. Sitting at a long table surrounded by socially motivated and powerful female diplomats—many from nations with traditionally poor records on gender equality— I was heartened by how far women have come in the past few decades.
I felt hopeful just listening to the soft-spoken and clearly gifted UAE Ambassador speak about the strides her nation has made in education and professional opportunities for women. Nyamko Sabuni, Sweden’s Minister for Integration and Gender Equality, also gave a passionate call for protecting the integrity of women’s rights. The sheer talent present in the room underscored the fact of the day: activating the women around the world is the key to peace and economic prosperity.
Later that day, I was again moved by the words of a woman candidly giving truth to power in a very different and much more intimate way. Eleanor Coppola, the wife of the famous director Francis Ford Coppola, was set to speak at the Fotografiska museum on the topic of women in the arts. Fotografiska Museet is a cavernous, fantastically organized space located in an old shipping building on the industrial bank of the canal. I arrived an hour early and meandered through the mysteriously-lit exhibits, which ranged from photographs masterfully playing with the dimensions and concepts of architecture and space to heart-wrenching images of beaten and disfigured child soldiers in the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army by photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale.
Eleanor Coppola is a petite, elegant woman with cropped silver hair and a shy smile. She began her speech by nervously joking that her voice may crack several times throughout because she is not used to being “on this side of the microphone”. From there, she gave a beautiful portrait of a life that began with big dreams of working in the digital art world and how three children, a famous husband and the pressures of being a 1950’s housewife put her dreams on hold. After almost a decade of frustration and soul-searching, she found her voice again and began making documentaries, her most famous being “Hearts of Darkness: A filmmaker’s Apocalypse” based on the making of her husband’s noteworthy and troubled film “Apocalypse Now”.
Both of these events reflected both how far women have come but also how the challenges of the past continue to limit us. Like Mrs. Coppola, I struggle to balance my family with professional goals, and try to be everything to everyone. It is an unparalleled challenge to try and “have it all”. But our society will not maximize its potential until women have the resources to be both mothers and professionals. The values and skills women possess are unique and well-matched for today’s challenges, and we need their voices at the negotiating table to address them.