On Saturday, Oct 29. hundreds of people gathered in Salle Mercure for the annual TEDxMontreal Women conference—one of many TEDx Women conferences across the world. Over the course of the day, 16 speakers gave powerful talks related to the theme, “It’s about time.”
The conference theme for the independently-run TEDx event was derived from the wider TEDWomen conference topic this year. Though broad, the assertive subject gave speakers room to touch on issues of health, human rights, technology, and social justice, all while calling women to action. For Emily Hamilton-Leavitt, director of Food Logistics for TEDxMontreal Women, the theme challenges women to take ownership of their accomplishments.
“It’s about time we showcase what we’re good at and not minimize our accomplishments […] women have a tendency to not necessarily own what they do,” Hamilton-Leavitt said. “They’re not necessarily going out there and showing it to the world, and we wanted people to really see how women can do these incredible things.”
Speakers at the event spoke on topics ranging from female sexual pleasure to the importance of finding moments of stillness in otherwise busy and chaotic days. The range of talks helped ensure that every attendee could find a subject they were interested in. However, one speaker, Juss Kaur, spread a powerful message on religious tolerance that she hoped all attendees could engage with.
As a Sikh liaison in the McGill Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (MORSL), religious acceptance is an important topic for Kaur. In her talk, she addressed religion-based hate crimes and western phobia of those wearing head coverings.
“There is this turbanphobia that’s going along, and, as a Sikh woman, I’m very concerned about that,” Kaur said. “Since 9/11 basically, some people generalize and they say that all turban wearing individuals are terrorists, and so I wanted to bring across this message that this is not so […] we have to understand that everyone is not the same. You can’t take a brush and paint everything the same.”
Kaur shared her vision of oneness, calling on audience members to search for common ground with those with whom they have superficial differences.
“My message is that it is our responsibility to learn to counter all our fears,” Kaur said. “Fears come from hatred and not being able to understand other people, to understand that below all these surface differences we are all the same.”
In addition to the diversity of topics at the conference, there was a similar range of variety in speaker ages and backgrounds. The youngest speaker at the conference, for example, was Emma Hason, 16-year-old high school student and poet. Instead of a talk, Hason performed a slam poem about the pressures placed on teenage girls to excel academically and socially. The topic of Hason’s talk was rooted in her personal experiences as a young woman.
“I always sort of felt that there was this pressure on girls my age and I’d see that a lot at school,” Hason said. “I was really noticing that a lot of people felt like they had to act a certain way just because that’s what society told them to do.”
Hason’s ultimate goal with her poem was to mobilize other young women in her community to support one another, rather than perpetuate unrealistically high standards placed on teenage girls with attitudes of individualism.
“A lot of times, girls have a habit of turning on each other and thinking that it’s each for her own,” Hason said. “If we stick together, we can maybe make it through everything, and we don’t have to always give in to what other people say we need to be like, we don’t have to be afraid to be ourselves because there’s always going to be other girls who are going to stick up for us and have our backs.”
Whether a talk’s purpose is to build community among viewers, to call people to action, or to raise awareness on an issue or invention, the TED platform serves an important role in disemminating ideas. Because many audience members at TED conferences attend with the expectation to learn, each idea shared has a resounding impact upon the listeners. This was certainly true at TEDxMontreal Women.
“I think [TED is] a very important venue for sharing knowledge,” Kaur said. “The people who were there were very open-minded and ready to receive the message. I think that’s amazing, and of course from here, these are the type of people who can bring change, […attendees are] open-minded, with attitudes that say, ‘Yes, there is possibility of looking at something with a different attitude.”