On “Showing Up” at TEDWomen 2018

On “Showing Up” at TEDWomen 2018

By: Sylvia Hathaway Chavez

Look What SHE Did! Managing Director Sylvia Hathaway Chavez with Author / Activist Cecile Richards

The theme for the 2018 TEDWomen Conference was “Showing Up”, and I did just that, by packing my baby, husband and mother-in-law into our car and setting off for sunny (and rainy, and cold, and windy) Palm Springs this past November.

I’ve struggled the past couple months to find the throughline for my experience at TEDWomen because the talks were so very diverse in subject matter. I was able to hear about 64 talks during my three days in the desert, and with so many meaningful messages shared, I’m honored to now share a few of them with our Look What SHE Did! community.

I listened to Stacy Abrams talk about narrowly losing a hard-fought governor’s race in Georgia, and Kotchakorn Voraakhom talk about how she constructed the first new public greenspace in Bangkok in decades, one that boasts zero water waste, protects the area from flooding, and improves air quality for local residents. I was thrilled to meet Cecile Richards, outgoing CEO of Planned Parenthood, whose talk included this brilliant quote that I will now recite forever, “If women aren’t at the table, they’re on the menu”. And I heard speakers from as far away as Kenya and India tell their stories of grassroots organizing to provide girls with education and save them from atrocities such as child marriage and FGM.

Many of the speakers reaffirmed my commitment to women’s empowerment and human rights, such as Dolores Huerta, who spoke about the day-to-day work of activism and how anyone can make a difference in their community. Others opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and flipped my preconceived notions about gender on their head, such as Emily Quinn, who spoke about her experience being intersex and the fact that we all have a combination of male and female markers in our genes—research that renders male/female gender a social construct. Ai-jen Poo spoke about how domestic workers (those who take care of our children, our homes and our families) have the capacity to solve the world’s most pressing problems, and should be looked to for their advice and wisdom.

Now looking back to my program booklet, where I had scrawled some notes in the dark theater during talks, the theme for the event kept jumping out at me from the page headings– “Showing Up”, so I figured I’d run with it. Now, “showing up”, to me, seems like a pretty low bar for anything. I guess sometimes, showing up is all that’s required, for instance when I put gas in my car I just “show up”, no preparation or advance notice required. But I think the TEDWomen organizers meant it in a deeper way. I felt that we were convened there to celebrate women all around the world who show up to work, to fight, to love, to innovate and to bring together what has been torn apart.

What I realized from my experience at TEDWomen is that women are at the forefront of every major social issue in the world. As the incredible and diverse cross-section of speakers shows, women are leading the charge to combat climate change, fighting for civil rights, for fair labor practices, and for the basic human rights of education, food, shelter and safety for everyone, regardless of who they are, what they look like or where they came from.

Of course, I didn’t need to go to TED to know that women have always shown up–it’s what we do. We see a problem in our community, we fix it, we see injustice in the world, we fight for people’s rights, we see discord, we create harmony, we see suffering, we provide care. And in too many instances, that work is invisible to the world. This is where WE (you, dear reader, and I) show up. We have powerful voices that are respected and listened to. We need to know more of the stories of female achievement that have been ignored by society. We need to learn them, recite them, amplify them, and lift them up into the public consciousness. This is the work that Look What SHE Did! is currently doing, with your support.

So thank you, Look What SHE Did! community, for showing up for us again and again. Thank you for showing up every day in your own lives as the astonishing women (and men, and everything in-between) that you are.

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Sylvia Hathaway Chavez
Managing Director
Look What SHE Did!