10/14/2011 06:16 pm ET | Updated Dec 14, 2011

What If?: Reflections on Visual Culture and the Power of Women's Stories

I was honored to open and set the tone for the Women's Forum for the Economy & Society yesterday in Dueville, France. The conference is celebrating its 7th year with nearly 1400 participants from over 80 different countries. We launched this year's meeting with the power of stories, especially told in visual form. The diverse and powerful panelists that joined me were: Yamina Benguigui, filmmaker and deputy mayor of Paris; Kathryn Hall-Trujillo, founder of the Birthing Project; and Euzhan Palcy, groundbreaking filmmaker of films such as Sugar Cane Alley and A Dry White Season.

What was so striking about the stories these women wove together was that they each, in their own ways, looked around at their own circumstances, their own families, their own cultures, and saw untapped opportunities and untold stories. In Euzhan's case, for example, she was struck by how few stories like hers that she saw on celluloid. At only 17 years old, she honored her own grandmother's advice -- "complain for one minute, then get on to action" -- and made her first film about Caribbean themes and starring Caribbean people (some of them from her own family!). The deeply personal and convicted source from which she made her art translated on the big screen. She won over 17 international awards.

The theme of this year's conference is What If?: Challenge, Imagination, and Commitment. Hearing these women's stories of valuing their own perspectives and shedding light on their own cultures and passions got me wondering, once again: What if we lived in a world where a diverse group of women's voices, ideas, and experiences were reflected fully in our culture?