Memorable Women’s Day Conference 2017, #BeBoldForChange

Where do I start??

The 6th annual Women’s Day Conference unfolded at the Renaissance Convention center. It was expertly organized by the team of Minister Michelle Hooyboer Winklaar, a full day of inspirational speakers, quality entertainment, lunch-in-a-box and a toast with some delicious bubbly at the end of the day.

The room was packed. It’s full every year, and every year I am amazed at meeting so many powerful and accomplished females who live on the island.

The conference was streamed live on Facebook and transmitted live on Magic 96.5FM so it became bigger than it was, permeating households and offices spreading the #BeBoldForChange gospel everywhere.

Mira Sorvino, an American Oscar winning actress was the keynote speaker focusing on human trafficking. As the former U.N. Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking, she had a lot of stories to tell, which made us think. With legalized prostitution on the island, Sorvino got the conversation going, about the oldest profession in the world being a choice of poor underprivileged women, or the result of coercion, constituting modern day slavery. Are the fresh-off-the-boat Chinese immigrants stocking the shelves in my neighborhood’s supermarket modern day slaves, or distant cousins saved from poverty and lack of opportunity in the Red Dragon?

We will continue to think about the issue.

Next the Minister herself presented an eloquent talk about her years in government announcing for the first time that she will be retiring from politics, after 8 years. She went on to describe her experience in a world where politics are dirty and politicians expected to have broad backs and thick skin. She challenged the audience to make space in politics which allows women to lead like women, to exercise their female brand of leadership with kindness and compassion, creating the antidote to the aggressive and cruel style of male-dominated government. She went on to advocate an innately strong leadership style that is emotionally intelligent, not just tough.

In a room filled with her supporters, the minister’s presentation was very well received.

A big box of Kleenex was needed thereafter, as every speaker recounting her personal story moved the entire room to tears.

It was a first. I have never heard such honesty and openness in a public forum in Aruba. Yes, from overseas guests. But from our own people? Never. We have a tendency to coat everything in sugar, sprinkle it with glitter and feathers and go on parade, it’s Carnival time, and you only live once!

To date, I have never experienced the naked truth discussed in public, here, except in AA meetings, which is self-understood.

The International Women’s Day conference, 2017, was powerful.

It was incredibly moving and good for the soul.

Recovery from depression, recovery from sexual assault, breaking through the glass ceiling, recovery from breast cancer, overcoming insurmountable obstacles as an immigrant, rebounding from domestic abuse, wow, the list goes on, the women who shared their journeys were eloquent and passionate. Shared pain is half the pain, shared joy is a double dose.

We were also treated to a poetic short film, by activist Yakari Gabriel, and lovely music with Lucre Houtman and Martin Buitenweg.

True to its goal, the #BeBoldForChange International Women’s day conference made an impact.