The Aspen Forum on Women and Girls at Aspen Ideas Festival

The Aspen Ideas Festival is the nation's premier, public gathering place for leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines to engage in deep and inquisitive discussion of the ideas and issues that shape our lives and challenge our times. The Aspen Ideas Festival and Aspen Ideas: Health provide an unparalleled platform for the Aspen Forum on Women and Girls to jumpstart the conversations needed to change the narrative for the next generation of women and girls. 

Conversations by Year

2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018


What's Next for Women: New Leaders for a New Moment

2017 brought a sea change in gender equity and power. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, new opportunities and challenges have emerged to ensure all sectors — from corporations to government and beyond — are equipped to support women and girls at all levels. How can the momentum for women’s empowerment be harnessed for lasting, systemic change? The leaders of the Aspen Forum on Women and Girls, Anne Mosle and Peggy Clark, facilitate a dynamic conversation with activists, CEOs, and entrepreneurs who are pioneering bold ideas on the rights, potential, and power of women and girls.

Speakers: Peggy ClarkAnne MosleTarana BurkeReshma Saujani



#MeToo: The Movement

Hear the story of #MeToo from its founder, leaders, and chroniclers. Join Tarana Burke, founder of the original Me Too campaign, peoples’ champions Ai-jen Poo and Senator Sara Gelser, and Pew Research Center’s Kim Parker for an in-depth look on the formation of the movement, its socially transformative battle, and what the numbers say about how society is changing.

Speakers: Ai-jen PooAlex WagnerRebecca TraisterTarana BurkeSara GelserKim Parker


Making Communities Safe for Women

More than one-third of the world’s girls and women have experienced some form of violence in their lives, leading the World Health Organization to highlight “a global health problem of epidemic proportions.” In this year of unprecedented attention to women’s safety, we are increasingly aware of their vulnerability to sexual violation, trafficking and other forms of abuse. Ending gender-based violence and human trafficking requires ending the culture of complicity and impunity, empowering women, reforming legal systems, and securing more effective responses from the health and social service systems. Will we make those commitments?

Speakers: Pat MitchellElsaMarie D'SilvaAgnes Igoye


A Closer Look: Breakthroughs and Challenges in Women's Health

Advances in women’s health have led to breakthroughs in breast cancer imaging, hormone therapy, and longer lives for many women. Yet much of medical research does not take into account gender differences, and women-specific health needs are often not addressed. Health outcomes for black women, in particular, fall far behind those of white women, and maternal mortality rates for black women in the US are far lower than in many developing nations. What are we not treating in women’s health and what lies ahead for women in health care?

Speakers:Paula JohnsonPat MitchellLinda VillarosaDeborah Rhodes


Sexual Harassment in the Sciences

The #MeToo movement has inspired a sister movement called #USToo, designed to expose and eliminate sexual harassment in the sciences. A sweeping new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine looks at the extent to which women in these fields are harassed on campuses, research labs, medical centers and other academic environments. The chilling impact on the recruitment, retention and advancement of women does more than harm individuals – it also holds back critical progress in science, health, and medicine. A look at policies and practices that can curb abuse.

Speakers:Victor DzauPaula JohnsonJennifer Ashton


Holding the Line on Global Women's Health

The health of women and girls is closely tied to their right to make informed decisions about sexuality, marriage, and child-bearing, but the US is stepping back from leadership in this area. For the first time, the State Department has eliminated detailed information about contraception and maternal health care in its annual country reports on human rights. And the current Administration has reinstated and broadened the so-called “gag rule,” which prohibits foreign aid from going to any organization that discusses abortion as part of its family planning activities. What is the impact on reproductive health services and the organizations that provide them?

Speakers:Lois QuamSamhita MukhopadhyayFrançoise GirardTlaleng Mofokeng

The America Women Know

American women have lived their daily lives — before and after the epic election of 2016 and its accompanying drama — up against a set of structures, barriers, and mindsets that rarely make the headlines. What is it like to be a woman in America today? Which circumstances and experiences bind us together — and which ones tear us apart? Leaders share the experiences they live and the answers they have found that could help our divided nation. 

Speakers: Rabia ChaudryPamela ReevesSandra Phillips RogersGillian TettGillian WhiteJean CaseArati PrabhakarJoanne Lipman



Women Who Lead: Colleges Put Health Pioneers at the Helm

Three of the nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning are now led by women with broad accomplishments in health-related fields. Elizabeth Bradley, Vassar College’s newly appointed president, has helped to strengthen health systems around the world; Paula Johnson, president of Wellesley College, has special expertise in women’s health and gender biology; Kathleen McCartney, president of Smith College, is an authority on child development and developmental psychology. In conversation with these trailblazers, learn what promotes success and what it takes for women to lead in health and education.

Speakers: Elizabeth BradleyPaula JohnsonKathleen McCartneyJackie Judd


Poverty Disruptors

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From path-breaking housing programs to quality child care linked to community colleges for young parents, innovations in moving families toward opportunity are showing up across the country. This spirited conversation featured leaders pioneering these approaches, the role of philanthropy, and how we can transform systems by listening to the voices of families.

Speakers: Anne B. Mosle, Ascend at the Aspen Institute; Aisha Nyandoro, Springboard to Opportunity; Gloria Perez, Jeremiah Program; Sherece West-Scantlebury, Winthrop-Rockefeller Foundation

Girls, Unleashed

The idea that investing in girls is the single most effective investment available to spur economic development and end global poverty has become a widely popular notion. And yet, what does investing in girls actually look like on the ground? What have we learned as of late about which kinds of investments for which kinds of girls in which kinds of settings have the biggest ROI? Join us for a wide-ranging conversation featuring some of the freshest and wisest voices on girls’ empowerment, both domestic and global. You will leave smarter about the cutting edge approaches to unleashing girls’ natural power and galvanized to be an even bigger part of the solution.

Speakers: Farah Ramzan GolantRasha JarhumMusimbi KanyoroMona EltahawyReshma SaujaniDonna ShalalaRiya SinghSofia Caballero StaffordIrin CarmonPeggy Clark


What is Gender?

Attitudes toward gender are a cultural signature. Women’s bodies and their dress are subject to ideological interpretations; the labels “man” and “woman” are increasingly recognized as a social, not a biological, construct; and the boundaries of self-identity have become fluid. Within and outside Muslim communities, a veiled woman is variously viewed as a symbol of subjugation, communal identify, political defiance, sexual repression, or personal freedom. Trans people are celebrating personal liberation in some quarters while enduring ridicule or punishment in others. How does gender define us? How do shifting attitudes towards gender influence health and development?

Speakers: Bisi AlimiMona EltahawyPaula JohnsonBuzz Bissinger


Women Who Lead: The New Narrative

Today, there is global demand for prosperity that is inclusive, sustainable, and fair. Growth without equity is no longer an acceptable outcome. Who is going to lead us into a future where growth and social equity go hand in hand? From the private sector to government to philanthropy and everywhere in between, women are driving change on new terms, with powerful results. Join us to talk with a remarkable group of women who lead and who are creating a new narrative for growth and prosperity.

Speakers: Latondra NewtonSally OsbergPamela ReevesAmy Klobuchar

Advice from Women Who Lead

Today, there are 104 women serving in the United States Congress, 29 female heads of government or state around the world, and 23 female CEOs in the S&P 500. But there are many more women leading important global and US institutions and initiatives, changing business models and transforming lives. From journalists to social advocates to business leaders, women are leading in their own ways and on their own terms. What do these leaders have on their minds? What can we learn from them? And what do they have to share with the next generation of leaders – women and men alike? Join us to listen to the advice that women who lead have for leaders everywhere.

Speakers: Pamela ReevesSochua MuAi-jen PooShiza ShahidFiona HillAndrea KatesAlyse NelsonRebecca BlumensteinHannah JonesLeila JanahRaney Aronson-RathAmy CuddyVicky DingesLatondra NewtonGayle Tzemach LemmonRobin ChaseJacqueline NovogratzBina Venkataraman


Aspen Ideas: Health Closing Session

Closing session at Aspen Ideas: Health Festival, featuring Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Speakers:Vivek MurthyPhumzile Mlambo-NgcukaSteve ClemonsGarth GrahamDavid LeonhardtPeggy Clark


Women and Work

Changes in the demographics of the workforce and the nature of work itself have created new challenges and opportunities for working women and their families. Many of the fastest growing workforces, like professional caregiving, have long been associated with women and are a reflection of the increased need for supports for an increasingly female workforce. The rise of freelancing, self-employment, and part-time work has created flexibility in the workforce with significant implications for families, safety nets, and economic mobility. This panel explores these new realities with an eye toward solutions that will support opportunity for working women.

Speakers: Ai-jen PooErin CurrierHeather McGheeAnne-Marie SlaughterDeborah Clark


Women's Health: A Conversation Across Generations

Spanning generations and geography, this conversation on women’s health looks at the triumphs and challenges of the last several decades and identifies still-to-be-seized opportunities for positive change. Advancing health means putting women in charge of their own fertility and approaching medicine with sensitivity to gender, but it also means reducing poverty, strengthening families, and promoting justice. What can we learn from women long on the frontlines, and what dreams do new activists have? How can we move beyond ideology to action and build societies that put women’s health at the center of progress for all?

Speakers: Irin CarmonPaula JohnsonCourtney E. MartinPhumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka


Beyond the Hype: Does it Really Pay to Invest in Girls?

Type “girl effect” into Google, and almost 410 million results appear. Girls, it seems, have been discovered, and with them the promise of an extraordinary return on investment. Empower girls, we are told, and big dividends will accrue in the realm of health, economic development and community building, education and the environment. But as with most seemingly perfect solutions, there is surely some unacknowledged complexity here. Is investing in girls really the “magic bullet” of the 21st century? How should resources be allocated? What don’t we know yet about the consequences?

Speakers: Catalina EscobarKennedy OdedeAngela DiazCourtney E. MartinRebecca Leventhal


From the Ivy League to the Glass Ceiling

During his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama announced, “When women succeed, America succeeds.” Women today outnumber men on college campuses and in advanced-degree programs; yet the gender pay gap persists, with a woman needing an associate’s degree just to earn what a man with a high school diploma makes. What would it take to bridge the pay gap for women earning degrees at unprecedented rates? What is the role of men in this conversation, and what do low-income women need in order to join their sisters at the top?

Speakers: Gwen IfillAnne Mosle


Our Future: The Best Thinking About the Transformative Power of Women and Girls

From human rights to economic opportunity, bold and rigorous thinking about gender equality can lead us to a safer, more prosperous, and more just world. As we think about the next ten years, how will the lives of women improve and prosper? What are the big ideas from women, and about women, that will help transform the next decade into one of real opportunity at home and abroad? Remarkable leaders across a variety of sectors will present their thoughts about ways to advance the cause of women and girls, and in so doing, advance the entire world. Underwritten by PepsiCo.

Speakers: Sally BlountMonique VillaPamela ReevesChristina PaxsonLori GottliebArianna HuffingtonSherrilyn IfillJane HarmanJoanna LipperSallie KrawcheckShiza Shahid


Women's Health: The Unfinished Revolution

The phrase "women's health" slips off the tongues of clinicians, public health experts, community advocates and legislators with ease, but the ideological battles of the past three decades have clouded this once-useful term. Reproductive health services and access to family planning promote health and combat poverty, but they do not represent the sum of women's health needs or rights. Women also differ from men in how they develop, age, and respond to treatment, yet the science of their unique characteristics is alarmingly incomplete. What is "women's health" really about, and how we do re-imagine its future?

Speakers: Jane OtaiSisonke MsimangCourtney E. MartinBetty King


Girl Rising: A Film and Discussion

From Academy Award-nominated director Richard E. Robbins comes Girl Rising, an innovative feature film about girls around the world who are striving beyond circumstances and pushing past their limits. Their remarkable stories affirm the power of education to change a girl — and the world. Underwritten by Booz Allen Hamilton

Speakers:Richard E. RobbinsTom YellinPamela ReevesMona EltahawyShabana Basij-RasikhPeggy Clark





Women Philanthropists: Doing it Differently

The original definition of philanthropy is “the love of humankind.” Going back to the roots of this word, how are leading women philanthropists approaching giving with a humanitarian lens? What does it mean to be a woman philanthropist today, how did they create their philanthropic agenda, and how might these women influence a younger and broader generation of philanthropists?

Speakers: Anne MosleMonique VillaTory BurchMerle ChambersAnn B. FriedmanLaurie M. TischKatie CouricJackie Bezos




Women and the Struggle for Democracy

Remarkable women leaders from Tunisia, Argentina, and Cameroon discuss their challenges and successes in the quest for democratic change. As part of the Vital Voices network, these women and others around the world are increasing women’s involvement in politics and sharing their experiences from the front lines.

Speakers:Amira YahyaouiKah WallaLaura AlonsoSteve Clemons