These are three words and concepts spoken by an all-star cast of women – and some men – who took the stage at the Women in the World Texas Forum held downtown Wednesday at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre. The founder of the live journalism event, Tina Brown, joined author and activist Gloria Steinem, designer Diane von Furstenberg and actress Eva Longoria, among others, in the sold-out venue. Topics ranged from women in politics to honor killings to the Ebola outbreak to Von Furstenberg’s iconic wrap dress.
Throughout the forum, the first Women in the World event to be held outside of New York since its inception in 2010, an overarching message emerged: Women are on the frontlines, leading the fight on important issues that affect members of all genders, backgrounds and political persuasions here in Texas and around the country and the world.
Steinem, who is often referred to as the “Mother of Feminism,” kicked things off, discussing issues she has been championing for more than two decades.
Describing the importance of reproductive freedom, Steinem said she viewed it as a basic human right.
“Reproductive freedom is both having the choice to not have children and equally having the choice to have children in a safe environment … claiming our bodies as ours – that’s revolutionary.”
Steinem also addressed domestic violence, citing statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that indicate more women have been killed by their husbands in the United States following the Sept. 11 attacks, than in both the terrorism attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
Steinem drew a connection between domestic violence and international conflict, stating that the biggest indicator of whether a country is willing to use force against another country is the rate of domestic violence in homes.
When asked who she plans to “pass the torch to,” Steinem responded that she plans to keep hers, so that she may light others.
“This movement is too huge and diverse for there just to be one person,” Steinem said.
As the event progressed, ties to Texas also became clear.
“The Dishonor of Honor Killings,” panel featured documentary filmmakers Deeyah Khan and Xoel Pamos, who shed light on honor violence. In “The Price of Honor,” Pamos focuses on the 2008 case of Amina and Sarah Said, two American teenagers who were brutally murdered by their father in Irving, Texas after refusing arranged marriages.
According to Pamos, approximately 10,000 cases of honor violence occur each year in the United States alone. These acts include rape, abuse, arranged marriages and murder.
“Honor violence is a collective crime, something that an entire community is involved in,” said Deeyah Khan, who directed “Banaz: A Love Story” about a London woman who was raped and strangled to death by her cousins after she divorced an abusive husband.
“In these situations, social currency of honor trumps everything,” Khan said. “But we have to ask, ‘what is the human cost?’”
The war on women then turned to actual war with “Challenges on the Home Front.”
Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, introduced the panel with a short film about female engagement teams (FET) in the U.S. Army.
FET is comprised of highly-trained female members of the military who practice cultural sensitivity and go where their male counterparts cannot due to restrictions that prohibit male soldiers from engaging Afghan women.
FET reaches out to this previously overlooked segment of the population to assess their needs, answer questions and provide education, something Biden says has been invaluable when attempting to establish peace in the war-torn region.
The panel also highlighted the challenges faced by women here in Military City, USA. Betty Easley, Elizabeth Dole Foundation Fellow and mother of six, discussed her husband’s battle with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home. She landed in Texas after her he was declared unfit for service. Easley credits the San Antonio community for helping her to rebuild her family and her marriage.
Janet Sanchez, founder and president of Esposas Militares Hispanas USA, focuses on the challenges military wives face with a nomadic lifestyle and language barriers.
“Many have masters degrees and yet they can’t find a job because they’re military wives,” said Sanchez, detailing many employers’ hesitation to hire individuals who live under unsure circumstances. “Sometimes I tell them to leave ‘military wife’ off their applications.”
By the end of the night, these had all been added to the collective vocabulary.
Von Furstenberg said it best in her talk that had the audience readily laughing and applauding.
“It’s a lot of work to be a woman,” Von Furstenberg quipped before becoming more serious. “I don’t know a woman who is not strong … but often they hide their strengths because of insecurity or religion or whatever. But then there’s a tragedy and curiously, their strength always comes out. We need that strength to come out before tragedy.”
Brown’s closing remarks included praise for Texas, saying “your heart is big, your wits are sharp and you make things happen.”
The possibility of returning to San Antonio for another Women in the World Texas was teased and Brown said she hoped to see a large San Antonio contingent at the upcoming Women in the World event held in New York City’s Lincoln Center in April.
*Featured/top image: Xoel Pamos, CEO of Smart Lips Productions (from left), Deeyah Khan, documentary filmmaker, and Marie Brenner, author and writer at large for Vanity Fair, speak during the program segment, “The Dishonor of Honor Killings” during the Women In The World Texas Forum. Photo by Robin Jerstad/DA Media for Women in the World.