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Stand up, be counted: Rise of women power at Cannes

A powerful quote from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, sets the tone. “This community can challenge stereotypes… If we change the stereotypes, we change the culture. If we change the audience here, we change the power in the world.” Cannes this year seemed to draw from the strength of such inspirational women and the festival saw the rise of women power in several resounding ways.

The most impactful, without doubt, was the creation of the Glass Lions – a category that recognises work done to shape gender equality and tackle vital issues affecting men and women. Incidentally, Ms Sandberg’s LeanIn.org championed and Facebook sponsored the Glass Lions in its inaugural year.

The work showcased at the Glass Lions painted a vivid picture of the several women empowerment drives that are going on all over the world and the role creative professionals can play in the bringing about that change – in attitude, behaviour, perception and action. (It was also a great idea to give every delegate the right to choose a social cause and organisation to donate money on behalf of Cannes Lions by just using the delegate ID.) The Glass Lions most definitely underscores how the festival is making meaningful forays and taking positive steps to harness ‘creative for good’ and, at the current time in our social evolution, gender-related issues seem to be in need of creative solutions most.

The strength of women showed in the increased number of women delegates, the number of women Jury Chairs and of course the galaxy of successful women professionals who took to the dais.

Christiane Amanpour showcased her journalistic brilliance as she spoke to Julia Louis-Dreyfus on playing the President of the United States. Viola Davis and Betsy Beers shared their powerful insights and their attempt to shape real and intentionally flawed characters on How To get Away With Murder. Samantha Morton talked about how she defied the six per cent statistic in the movie world where women directors were far and few. Diana Nyad took us on her epic 53-hour swim again, this time with words. Grace Helbig showed us how YouTube was the true voice of today while Dr Karen Nelson-Field outlined the unstoppable trajectory of online video. Monica Lewinsky told all about being Patient Zero of online shaming. The constellation of luminaries, thinkers, pioneers and game-changers took us by storm.

As a woman and a three-time juror at Cannes, it felt great. I can say that this year – after 14 years of getting my fill of inspiration at this festival of creativity – I felt a bit more special. Perhaps it was the sheer groundswell of positive energy that enveloped us. Perhaps it was the distinct vibe in the air that we matter. Perhaps it was the fact that our issues and our challenges were not just being recognised but addressed by communication to shape society. I must confess I clapped a lot louder, felt a lot prouder.

Having worked in the US, Hong Kong, India and the UK, I do believe I had a moment of epiphany at Cannes this week about the universality of these challenges. The core needs, the basic rights, the fight for equality and the very freedom of expression are not geography-specific. The work I saw, the case studies I read up and the sessions I attended all proved that, across the world, there was opportunity to conquer problems, challenge stereotypes and effect positive change. Through the power of creativity, commitment and communication.

Almost everyone who attended the 62nd year of Cannes Lions will go back determined to return with work that truly matters. Women will go back particularly bullish about the emerging trends. The 63rd year, I am sure, will see an unprecedented number of women attendees, winners, jurors and speakers. I want to be there again. I want to take it all in. I also want to give it all back. I want to stand up and be counted.

Meera Sharath Chandra

Meera Sharath Chandra is Founder, CEO & CCO of Tigress Tigress, a digital-led integrated communications agency.