TED

Truth Tellers: Notes from Session 1 of TEDWomen 2019

Author and playwright Eve Ensler discusses the power of apologies — and the four crucial components of a sincere one. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 4, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

The stage is set for TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant! In the opening session, we heard from an extraordinary lineup of truth tellers. Six speakers and two performers shined a light on issues ranging from immigration to leadership and inclusion — and how we can shatter the glass ceiling once and for all — sharing new ways to look at old problems.

The event: TEDWomen 2019, Session 1: Truth Tellers, hosted by Pat Mitchell, Helen Walters and Kelly Stoetzel

When and where: Wednesday, December 4, 2019, 5pm PT, at La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, California

Speakers: H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Sister Norma Pimentel, Yifat Susskind, Gina Brillon, Heather C. McGhee, Eve Ensler

Opening: Reid D. Milanovich, Vice Chair of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, welcomes TEDWomen attendees to the Cahuilla Valley, which has been his tribe’s ancestral homeland for thousands of years.

The talks in brief:

“I was the first woman president of an African nation, and I do believe more countries ought to try that,” says H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 4, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel laureate, former President of Liberia

Big idea: A nation needs women leaders to prosper. We must work together to remove the barriers that have kept them from achieving full equality and political representation.

How? When H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf began her 12-year presidency of Liberia in 2006, she inherited the challenges of a country harmed by years of conflict: economic collapse, infrastructure destruction and institutional dysfunction. Most challenging of all was the damage women and children endured during the civil war, she says. Though Sirleaf helped steward financial growth and the reconstruction of the nation’s infrastructure, there’s still work to be done. On the TEDWomen stage, she announced the recent launch of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development, which aims to elevate women into strategic government positions and break through the structural barriers that allow inequality thrive. Only by working towards full gender equity can we ensure peace and prosperity for all, she says.

Quote of the talk: “I was the first woman president of an African nation, and I do believe more countries ought to try that.”


Sister Norma Pimentel, religious leader, sister with the Missionaries of Jesus, licensed professional counselor

Big idea: We must see that immigrants are a part of the same human family as the rest of us. If not, we stand to lose our own humanity.

Why? In her work at detention facilities at the US-Mexico border, Sister Norma Pimentel has learned that the people there simply want what all of us desire: safer, better lives for themselves and their families. While the humanitarian response has been impressive and supported by many dedicated volunteers, the policies and procedures in place cause great suffering — particularly for separated children and parents. We need to put aside our prejudices and fears and treat migrants in a respectful and compassionate manner.

Quote of the talk: “It’s important to be able to see [migrants] as people, to be able to have a personal encounter when we can feel what they feel, when we can understand what they’re hurting. … It is then that we are present to them and we can make their humanity a part of our own humanity.”


Yifat Susskind, human rights activist

Big idea: In a time of global strife and uncertainty, we can secure a brighter future by “thinking like a mother” — with optimism and empathy.

Why? When you think like a mother, you imagine better worlds and act to make them possible, says Yifat Susskind.  Because mothers are versed in a vital language: the language of love. When love drives our actions, we feel empowered to repair the world and protect those in need. Empathy and optimism are powerful tools, she says, both in our own lives and across public policy. By thinking like mothers and acting with care, we can prioritize the most vulnerable and forge a luminous, resilient path forward.

Quote of the talk: “Love isn’t just an emotion, it’s a capacity. A verb. An endlessly renewable resource.”


A comedic interlude: Comedian Gina Brillon commanded the stage with an uproarious stand-up performance, poking fun at everyday annoyances and interactions. “Have you ever had somebody say something wrong with such confidence that it made you question how you’ve been saying it your whole life?” she joked.


Writer and advocate Heather C. McGhee explores how racism leads to bad policymaking — and hurts the economic potential of everybody. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 4, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

Heather C. McGhee, writer, advocate

Big idea: Racism is bad for everyone — even the people set up to benefit from privilege.

Why? Heather C. McGhee is a self-proclaimed “public policy wonk.” She investigates problems in the American economy: rising household debt, declining wages and shortfalls in infrastructure investment. Through her research and travels across the US, she’s come to a chilling conclusion: racism is making our economy worse — and not just in ways that disadvantage people of color. “It turns out it’s not a zero sum,” she says. “Racism is bad for white people, too.” Take, for example, the subprime mortgages that precipitated the 2008 recession. African Americans and Latinos were three times as likely as white people to be sold these toxic loans, even if their credit was as good. Stereotypes blinded many policymakers to this reality, keeping them from stopping the crisis even when there was still time. McGhee says the way forward is to hold accountable the people selling racist ideas for profit — and start recognizing that we’re all on the same team.

Quote of the talk: “It’s time to reject that old paradigm and realize that our fates are linked. An injury to one is an injury to all.”


Disability is the spark for artistry, aesthetic and innovation, says choreographer Alice Sheppard. She performs with her collaborator Laurel Lawson at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 4, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Stacie McChesney / TED)

A special performance: Artistic director Alice Sheppard speaks about the work of her dance company Kinetic Light, which creates movement that challenges conventional understandings of disabled and dancing bodies. As she puts it: disability is the spark for artistry, aesthetic and innovation. She’s joined onstage by her choreographic collaborator Laurel Lawson, in a stunning performance.


Eve Ensler, author, playwright

Big idea: After calling abusers out, we now have to call them in. We need to invite them to take responsibility for their actions, to apologize and change. 

How? Eve Ensler waited most of her life for an apology. As a child, she was sexually and physically abused by her father. Nearly 31 years after his death, she sat down to write the apology that he never gave her — expressing, from his perspective, the words she needed to hear. Now, in the wake of the Me Too and Times Up movements, she shares how the incredible power of apologies could offer us a way forward. It boils down to abusers taking four crucial steps: admit your wrongdoing in detail; ask yourself why you did it; sit with the suffering and hurt you’ve caused; and take responsibility and make amends. An apology, she says, is the only way for both the victim and the abuser to be free. Let’s create a better process that invites abusers to repent and become someone different along the way.

Quote of the talk: “We don’t want men to be destroyed, we don’t want them to only be punished. We want them to see us, the victims that they have harmed, and we want them to repent and change.”

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Pattern Makers: Notes from Session 2 of TEDWomen 2019

“You don’t predict the future; you imagine the future,” says author Charlie Jane Anders. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, on December 5, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

In Session 2 of TEDWomen 2019, we met some extraordinary pattern makers: people helping us predict the future, improve our relationship to technology, and unearth powerful discoveries.

The event: TEDWomen 2019, Session 2: Pattern Makers, hosted by Pat Mitchell and Cloe Shasha

When and where: Thursday, December 5, 2019, 8:30AM PT, at La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, California

Speakers: Lucy King, Jennifer Zhu Scott, Angie Murimirwa, Jiabao Li, Eva Galperin, Charlie Jane Anders

The talks in brief:

Lucy King, elephant advocate

Big idea: As their foraging territories shrink, African elephants encroach on agricultural lands, upsetting a delicate balance between them and their human neighbors. Amid an increase in wrecked crops and houses, Lucy King developed a method to bar elephants from cultivated fields without needing to erect huge (and often ineffective) electric fences.

How? Through research inspired by local folklore, King discovered that elephants avoid beehives because they don’t want to get stung. As a result, she developed “beehive fences” that release insects when elephants attempt to breach them — and that send pachyderms packing. In tandem with these fences, King’s “Human-Elephant Co-Existence” program encourages farmers to plant crops that pollinators love and elephants hate, which could help farmers establish new livelihoods.

Quote of the talk: “Can you imagine the terror of an elephant literally ripping the roof off your mud hut in the middle of the night, and having to hold your children away as the trunk reaches in looking for food in the pitch dark?”


Jennifer Zhu Scott, entrepreneur and technologist

Big idea: Our personal data is a valuable asset — but we’re not getting paid for it. Giving individuals pricing power over their own data could reduce inequality by empowering people, instead of businesses.

Why? The most successful companies in the world profit from the data produced by the everyday people who use their services. So, why aren’t we getting a paycheck? Data ownership is a personal and economic issue, says Jennifer Zhu Scott, yet too often our conversations fixate on data privacy and regulation rather than the potential prosperity that data ownership could bring. For some, it might even be a path out of poverty. Take China — a society that saw its poverty rate plunge from 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent by 2015 as businesses went from being state-owned to privately owned. It wasn’t a perfect transition by any means, she says, but it’s a case study for how personal ownership can improve people’s lives. We can create an economic model for individuals to control and barter their own information, instead of letting Facebook or Tencent do it, and startups are already creating tools to make this a reality.

Quote of the talk: “Whoever owns the data owns the future.”


Angie Murimirwa, education activist, executive director of the Campaign for Female Education for Africa

Big idea: “Social interest,” or paying back interest on a loan through service rather than currency, can promote economic prosperity in communities across Africa — helping girls stay in school, get job training and obtain and pay off loans.

How? Young women in sub-Saharan Africa often can’t afford school and have difficulty finding consistent wages and loans, keeping them trapped in a cycle of poverty and inequality. Angie Murimirwa believes that one solution lies in empowering young people through “social interest” — a kind of loan that can be paid off by service, such as mentorship and teaching, and not by currency. Not only has social interest facilitated Murimirwa’s own success, but she has also watched it benefit thousands of others. In fact, nearly 6,300 young women have borrowed close to three million dollars — with a repayment rate above 95 percent. 

Quote of the talk: “We are building a powerful force gaining ever greater momentum, as we open the door for more and more girls to go to school, succeed, lead and, in turn, support thousands more.”


Jiabao Li, artist and engineer

Big idea: Technology affects the way we perceive reality, creating a hyper-fragmented humanity vulnerable to seemingly “mental” allergies. But as with many cures, the problem gives is also the solution.

How? To emphasize this human-made phenomenon, Jiabao Li created a series of perceptual machines to help question the ways we experience the world in the age of digital media. Her conceptual designs include a bulbous helmet that mimics the amplification effect of social media, and two web browser plug-ins — one that helps us notice things we’d usually ignore and another that dilutes algorithmic influence. Technology is designed to change what we see and what we think, and in many ways it’s separated us from each other. But we could use it to make the world connected again.

Quote of the talk: “By exploring how we interface with these technologies, I hope we could step out of our habitual, almost machine-like behaviors, and finally find common ground between each other.”


Eva Galperin, cybersecurity expert and technical advisor

Big idea: Stalkerware is on the rise. We need to educate the public on how to protect themselves and convince antivirus companies to begin detecting it.

How? Eva Galperin was shocked to discover that an alarming number of people are being hacked by their current or former partners. A common and particularly insidious form of this abuse is “stalkerware,” software designed to track or spy on someone without their knowledge. Stalkers buy a program, install it on their victim’s devices and gain remote access, allowing them see their victim’s every movement, text message or email. When Galperin discovered that most antivirus softwares do not detect these programs, she launched the Coalition Against Stalkerware to raise awareness and advocate for antivirus companies to detect it. She hopes that by next year, antivirus software will be able to offer stalkerware detection to discourage abusers and protect victims. 

Quote of the talk: “Full access to a person’s phone is the next best thing to full access to a person’s mind.”


Charlie Jane Anders, author and futurist

Big Idea: Dreaming about our collective future is the first step toward creating a better one.

How: The world is changing so fast that no one — not even futurists like Charlie Jane Anders — can predict what it will look like in a few years. Now, instead of trying to predict it, she vaccinates herself against the acute onset of future shock by imagining it in all its wild possibilities. In a process that’s part fever dream and part research-based extrapolation, she constructs future worlds by living them through the characters in her work and speculating about the delights and challenges that could arise. It’s by engaging in such directed flights of fancy, Anders suggests, that we can begin constructing a better world of tomorrow. 

Quote of the talk: “You don’t predict the future; you imagine the future.”

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Planet Protectors: Notes from Session 3 of TEDWomen 2019

Singer-songwriter Shawnee brings her undeniable stage presence to TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

The world is experiencing the consequences of climate change and the urgency couldn’t be more clear. In Session 3 of TEDWomen 2019, we dug deep into some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time — exploring solutions and the many ways people across the globe are fighting for change.

The event: TEDWomen 2019, Session 3: Planet Protectors, hosted by Whitney Pennington Rodgers and Chee Pearlman

When and where: Thursday, December 5, 2019, 11am PT, at La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, California

Speakers: Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Kelsey Leonard, Shawnee, Colette Pichon Battle, Renee Lertzmann, Jane Fonda

Music: Singer-songwriter Shawnee brings their undeniable stage presence and music of empowerment to the stage, performing two songs: “Way Home” and “Warrior Heart.”

The talks in brief:

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, environmental activist

Big idea: To combat climate change, we must combine our current efforts with those of indigenous people. Their rich, extensive knowledge base and long-standing relationship with the earth are the keys to our collective survival.

Why? Modern science and technology date back only a few hundred years, but indigenous knowledge spans thousands, says Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. As she puts it: “For us, nature is our supermarket … our pharmacy … our school.” But climate change threatens indigenous people’s — and all of humanity’s — way of life; in her nomadic community, some of their social fabric is unraveling under the strain of its effects. To ensure resilience in the face of these developments, she suggests a marriage of new and old learnings to map and share crucial information for global survival. “We have 10 years to change it. 10 years is nothing,” she says. “So we need to act all together and we need to act right now.”

Quote of the talk: “I think if we put together all the knowledge systems that we have — science, technology, traditional knowledge — we can give the best of us to protect our peoples, to protect the planet, to restore the ecosystems that we are losing.”


“We need to fundamentally transform the way in which we value water,” says Kelsey Leonard. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant on December 5, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

Kelsey Leonard, indigenous legal scholar and scientist

Big idea: Granting bodies of water legal personhood is the first step to addressing both our water crises and injustices —  especially those endured by indigenous people. 

Why? Water is essential to life. Yet, in the eyes of the law, it remains largely unprotected — and our most vulnerable communities lack access to it, says Kelsey Leonard. As a representative of the Shinnecock Nation, she shares the wisdom of her nokomis, or grandmother, on how we should honor this precious resource. We must start by asking like: What if we asked who water is, in the same way that we might ask who is our mother? This perspective shift transforms the way we fundamentally think about water, she says — prompting us to grant water the same legal rights held by corporations. In this way, and by looking to indigenous laws, we can reconnect with the lakes, oceans and seas around us.

Quote of the talk: “We are facing a global water crisis. And if we want to address these crises in our lifetime, we need to change. We need to fundamentally transform the way in which we value water.”


Colette Pichon Battle, attorney and climate equity advocate

Big idea: Climate migration — the mass displacement of communities by climate change — will escalate rapidly in coming years. We need to prepare by radically shifting both policies and mindsets.

Why? Scientists predict climate change will displace more than 180 million people by 2100. Colette Pichon Battle believes the world is not prepared for these population shifts. As a generational native of southern Louisiana and an attorney who has worked on post-Hurricane Katrina disaster recovery, Battle urges us to plan before it’s too late. How? By first acknowledging that climate change is a symptom of exploitative economic systems that privilege the few over the many, and then working to transform them. We need to develop collective resilience by preparing communities to receive climate migrants, allocating resources and changing social attitudes. Lastly, she says, we must re-indigenize ourselves — committing to ecological equity and human rights as foundational tenets of a new climate-resilient society.

Quote of the talk: “All of this requires us to recognize a power greater than ourselves and a life longer than the one we will live. We must transform from a disposable, short-sighted reality of the individual to one that values the long-term life cycle of our collective humanity. Even the best of us are entangled in an unjust system. To survive, we will have to find our way to a shared liberation.”


Renee Lertzman, climate psychologist 

Big idea: We need to make our emotional well-being a fundamental part of the fight against climate change.

How? What’s happening to our planet seems overwhelming. And while we have tons information about the science of climate change, we know much less about its emotional impact. Renee Lertzman has interviewed hundreds of people about how climate change makes them feel, and she wants to equip us with a toolkit to handle our climate grief and still be able to take action. Patience, compassion and kindness are qualities we need to deploy more often in our conversations about the crisis, she says. As climate events push us outside our “window of tolerance” — the stresses we can withstand without becoming overwhelmed — numbness and apathy are natural responses. Many people tell her: “I don’t know where to start.” She recommends practicing attunement: listening to our own feelings and those of others, accepting them without judgement and meeting our experiences with curiosity. Whether we’re with a few friends or at a larger climate action gathering, remembering that we are human is a key ingredient in the fight for our world.

Quote of the talk: “These are hard issues. This is a hard moment to be a human being. We’re waking up.”


Civil disobedience is becoming a new normal, says actor and activist Jane Fonda. She speaks with host Pat Mitchell about Fire Drill Fridays, her weekly climate demonstrations, at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant on December 5, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

Jane Fonda, actor, author and activist

Big idea: In the wake of climate change, protest is becoming a new normal — at least until we see the changes we want.

Why? In a video interview with TEDWomen curator Pat Mitchell, Fonda discussed Fire Drill Fridays, the weekly demonstrations on Capitol Hill she leads in partnership with Greenpeace. Since moving to Washington D.C. in September, Fonda has staged a sit-in at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill every Friday to protest the extraction of fossil fuels. At age 81, she has been arrested multiple times and spent a night in jail — and her actions are inspiring people around the world to host their own Fire Drill Fridays. But, she says, we don’t need to get arrested to raise awareness; there are many other ways to put pressure on lawmakers and hold governments accountable. Read a full recap of her interview here.

Quote of the talk: “There are about twenty-five million people in this country who are really scared about climate crisis, and they want to do something but no one has asked them. We have to ask them. We have to get organized.”

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Strike for the climate: Jane Fonda speaks at TEDWomen 2019

Civil disobedience is becoming a new normal, says actor and activist Jane Fonda. She speaks with host Pat Mitchell about Fire Drill Fridays, her weekly climate demonstrations, at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant on December 5, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

At age 81, actor and activist Jane Fonda is putting herself on the line for the planet, literally. In a video interview with TEDWomen curator Pat Mitchell, Fonda speaks about Fire Drill Fridays, the weekly demonstrations on Capitol Hill she leads in partnership with Greenpeace.

Since moving to the Washington D.C. in September 2019, Fonda has staged a sit-in at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill every Friday to protest the extraction of fossil fuels. She’s been arrested multiple times and spent a night in jail, and her actions are inspiring people around the world to host their own Fire Drill Fridays. She believes protest is becoming a new normal — at least until we see the changes we want. But, she says, we don’t need to get arrested to raise awareness. She details some of the ways we can pressure our lawmakers and hold governments accountable.

Here are highlights from the interview.

Pat Michell: Talk to us about the origin of Fire Drill Fridays.

Jane Fonda: “I was very inspired by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish student, and by the young school climate strikers. Greta says: we have to get out of our comfort zone, we have to behave like our house is burning — because it is. She really struck a chord in me. … It’s an enormous challenge. We have eleven years, many say, a decade. And I thought, ‘Oh, I’m so lucky that I am healthy and living in a decade where we, who are alive, can actually make the difference — we can make the difference as to whether there is a livable future or not.’ What a glorious responsibility we have. We have to step up to the plate. …

“So, I decided, like Greta, I was going to put my body on the line and move to the center of American power, Washington, DC, and have a rally every Friday like the students do. And we work with the students — they speak at my rallies and I speak at their rallies — and then after we speak, we engage in civil disobedience and risk getting arrested.”

PM: Do you have any concerns about putting your body on the line, and your life on hold?

JF: “I realize that not everybody can leave work and go do what I’m doing,” Fonda says. “But I must say that requests are pouring in, and not only from the United States but from other countries, people who want to start Fire Drill Fridays. And the people who are coming and getting arrested with me and engaging in civil disobedience, many of them have never done it before. And they find it transformative.

“But the fact is that there are so many things people can do, starting with talking about it, expressing how you feel about it … even when it’s uncomfortable. … Of course voting is very, very important, and we have to vote for the people that are the bravest, the boldest of our elected officials.”

PM: What would success for Fire Drill Friday look like to you?

JF: “Success would look like every state stops all new fossil fuel expansion. Because if they keep drilling, fracking and mining, the problem will just get worse. So that no matter what we do with windmills and solar collectors and so forth, we’ll never be able to catch up. We have to stop all new expansion.”

PM: Will fire drill Fridays continue?

JF: “There has been such an interest in it … from all around the country, people asking if they can start one …we’re thinking about maybe doing it in Los Angeles.

“But I want to correct one thing: I’m not leading. It’s the young people — it’s the students — that are leading. It’s always the young people that step up with the courage. And it’s pretty amazing, because they’re risking a lot. It’s pretty brave to take a Friday off from school … but they’re doing it anyway. There have been millions of them … all around the world, and they’re saying, ‘Don’t let us have to deal with this by ourselves, we didn’t create this problem. Come and help us.’ So, Grandmas unite!”

PM: Do you leave this experience with a new level of hope or optimism?

Fonda: “Yes, I am optimistic. There are about twenty-five million people in this country who are really scared about climate crisis, and they want to do something but no one has asked them. We have to ask them. We have to get organized. … This coming year is the critical year. What happens is going to be so important. Especially someone who is healthy, who feels relatively young, who has a platform — we have to use it in every possible way we can.”

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Taboo Breakers: Notes from Session 4 of TEDWomen 2019

“It shouldn’t be an act of feminism to know how your body works,” says gynecologist Jen Gunter. She discusses “menstrual shame” at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant on December 5, 2019, in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

In Session 4 of TEDWomen 2019, we tackled some big taboos — divorce, menopause, political dissent — and met the extraordinary people on the front lines of breaking them.

The event: TEDWomen 2019, Session 4: Taboo Breakers, hosted by Corey Hajim and Shoham Arad

When and where: Thursday, December 5, 2019, 2:30pm PT, at La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, California

Speakers: Jeannie Suk Gersen, Joel Leon, Jen Gunter, Lisa Mosconi, Rayma Suprani

Music: Filling the room with her unmistakable rasp, the legendary Macy Gray brought Session 5 to a joyous close.

The talks in brief:

Jeannie Suk Gersen, legal scholar, writer

Big idea: To understand how marriage works, we need to talk about how marriages end.

Why? It may sound counterintuitive, but talking early in a relationship about what happens when two people break up may be one of the best ways to learn how to stay together, says Jeannie Suk Gersen. Too often in marriages, we make and demand sacrifices without reckoning their costs. There is wisdom in looking at the price of our marital decisions — in the same way that divorce law teaches us to do. Where to begin? Gerson lays out three ideas we should discuss with our partners from the get-go: how sacrifice can be a fair exchange; how childcare will impact the relationship; and which assets will be shared and which will be kept separate. If we take the time to have these divorce-conscious and difficult conversations, she says, we can better navigate togetherness.

Quote of the talk: “Divorce makes it incredibly explicit who owes what to whom. Whether you’re married or divorced, those are debts of love that will need to be paid.”


Joel Leon, performer, author and storyteller

Big idea: Parenting inevitably involves sacrifice, but those burdens should be shared. Co-parenting challenges partners to ask: How can I show up for you in a way that benefits our family?

How?  “Co-parenting” might sound like a buzzword invented by well-to-do families and modern sitcoms, says Joel Leon, but it actually refers to a parenting style that challenges fathers and mothers to show up for each other in a world that often assumes fathers to be absent. Connecting his participation as a co-parent to his own experiences as a child — when his mother was the sole source of love, warmth and shelter in his life — Leon asks parents to reject the stigmas associated with fatherhood and the stereotypes associated with motherhood. Create space for compassion and communication in the home, he says: being a parent is an opportunity, not a responsibility. 

Quote of the talk: “It is work, beautifully hard work, dismantling the systems that would have us believe a women’s role is in the kitchen tending to all things domestic, while the hapless dad fumbles over himself whenever he has to spend a weekend alone with the kids. It is work that needs to happen. Now.”


Jen Gunter, gynecologist

Big idea: Menstruation has historically been a topic connected with shame. This “menstrual shame” has been used as an intentional tool of repression against women — but knowledge about the female body is the key to ending it.

How? For centuries, women and girls have been told that their menstrual pain isn’t real, that their bleeding bodies are gross (or dangerous, or even evil) and that they shouldn’t talk about their periods. These messages silence women, causing a lack of information that perpetuates profound menstrual shame in many societies, says Jen Gunter. She explains how not knowing what is happening to our bodies is disempowering — and gives a quick lesson on the internal processes of the uterus, from ovulation to menstruation. When we know how our bodies work, we can end the menstrual taboo, and when we know what kind of pain is typical, we can begin addressing it. 

Quote of the talk: “It shouldn’t be an act of feminism to know how your body works. It shouldn’t be an act of feminism to ask for help when you’re suffering.”


Lisa Mosconi, neuroscientist

Big idea: Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and we need to pay closer attention to the connection between hormones, menopause and brain health.

How? While there is no such thing as a “gendered brain,” our hormones are actually more closely connected to our brain health than we might realize. In her work, Lisa Mosconi has noted that many of the symptoms we associate with the menopause — hot flashes, night sweats, memory lapses, anxiety — are neurological symptoms. They start in the brain, because of its relationship with estrogen, the hormone whose levels drop when women go through the menopause. Estrogen plays a vital role in energy production, giving our brain the fuel it needs. Once estrogen levels decline, our neurons slow down and begin to age faster. This puts women at a higher risk of developing the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. This research is still in its early stages, Mosconi notes, but it suggests that women’s brains in mid-life are more sensitive to hormonal aging than to aging itself. If we break the taboos around speaking about the menopause, we can do more for women’s health — and women’s brain health in particular.

Quote of the talk: “So many women are worried that they might be losing their minds, but the truth is that your brain is going through a transition and it needs time and support.”


Rayma Suprani, political cartoonist and activist

Big Idea: Political cartoonists are vital to a healthy and free society. As the right to free speech faces rising threats, we need to ensure that cartoonists have the freedom to express their ideas.

How? In 2014, Rayma Suprani submitted a cartoon to her editor at El Universal, a major Venezuelan newspaper, that criticized the health care system. The next day, she was fired. Many suspect the government was involved, and the subsequent threats she received were so terrifying she eventually left the country. Political cartoonists provide an important perspective in society, says Suprani, translating complex social and political issues into a single image. They introduce new ways of looking at the world and government, sparking discussion and raising awareness. When cartoonists aren’t able to express their ideas without fear of backlash, we lose an essential voice in political and cultural dialogue. By ensuring cartoonists can freely share their ideas and criticisms, we can better speak truth to power and cultivate a more free world.

Quote of the talk: “A drawing can be a synthesis of a place: a universe, a country or a society. It can also represent the inner workings of someone’s mind. For me, drawing cartoons is a form of resistance.”

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