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Kickass SXSW Sessions on Empowering Women and Girls

Today, Twitter and other social media sites were in a flurry of inspiring and educational posts in support of #InternationalWomensDay, in conjunction with Women’s History Month. One such Tweet and video came from Microsoft, asking young girls to name off inventors. They spouted off the men they read and learned about in school and in books. Da Vinci, Edison, Einstein, Graham and Tesla all rolled off their tongues. When asked about women inventors, the girls were not able to name a one, “In school it was always a male inventor. I just realized that,” said one student.

Yes, not everything is “man” made, and our younger generation’s awareness of that fact is critical. SXSW’s programming has historically taken up issues in our society that are ripe for change if we are to evolve as a species. This year’s SXSW programming, including Interactive, Film and Music, is filled with panels, events and keynotes that continue to carry that torch, celebrating diversity and equality while providing a forum for discussions that will take us further down the road of evolution, empathy and education.

One of the biggest highlights comes on Wednesday, March 16, when First Lady Michelle Obama (UPDATE: keynote takes place at 11:00am in Ballroom D of the Austin Convention Center) presents her Let Girls Learn initiative to pull down barriers that have prevented 62 million girls around the world from receiving an education. “We know that a girl with an education can shape her own destiny, lift up her family, and transform her community.” This takes place not only during Women’s History Month, but also near the one-year anniversary when Mrs. Obama solidified a partnership with Mrs. Akie Abe, the wife of Japan’s Prime Minister, at the launch of Let Girls Learn.

Co-founder Roland Swenson stated, “As each new generation comes up at SXSW they look for ways they can be of service, and it’s important to reflect and support that message. President and Mrs. Obama’s visit here will inspire attendees to that purpose.”

UPDATE (3/14/2016): Queen Latifah will moderate the conversation with Michelle Obama, which is exciting news indeed. This event is open to Music, Film, Gold, and Platinum badges, and Artist Wristbands are included as well. If you’re not able to attend, you can view it via the livestream feed beginning at 11:00AM CDT at and at AOL’s MAKERS site,

The convergence of Interactive, Music and Film has become more layered and deep since SXSW first began thirty years ago, and it continues in 2016. Taking place during Interactive on Sunday, March 13 at Container Bar,, in partnership with Girls Who Code, the organization that develops programs to “inspire, educate, and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities,” presents AlgoRhythm, featuring SANTIGOLD. Known first for her mega hit, “Disparate Youth,” the SANTIGOLD songstress is fresh off a new album release, 99¢. Off the first single, “Chasing Shadows,” she proclaims, “I won’t follow, I’m taking the long way, my standards hold me up / Why they eating they idols up? / Now, why they eatin’ they idols up? / Damnit.” And on “Big Boss Big Business,” she sets it straight, “If you mess with me, you wrestlin’ with the deep, I tell you what / Yes, you like a sycophant, hit you like an elephant / ‘Fore you know I got you where I want like a wonder woman.”

Amy Poeler’s Smart Girls, the organization that heralds the motto, “changing the world by being themselves,” returns to SXSW. Founded by award-winning actress and humanitarian, Amy Poehler, and the head of the Talent Department at Saturday Night Live and community activist, Meredith Walker, Smart Girls is all about championing the gifts of being weird, curious, funny and smart. They bring this core belief and ethic to life through a series of show episodes, from She Said, which stars comedians Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, who take on topics with a ‘strong female point of view’ and a comedic twist, to Smart Girls Build and Heavy Petting, the latter of which is all about adoptable pets in partnership with the ASPCA.

Their production team also heads out to find stories to tell, like “Champions of Change for Computer Science Education,” as Walker went to the White House to interview and celebrate nine citizens who were laying the groundwork for the future of education and STEM. Megan Smith, the CTO for the White House who also spoke at last year’s SXSW (and kept getting cut off by Google’s Eric Schmidt), sat down with Walker to express her wishes for change, “Kindness is as important as knowledge. Thinking about teens and kindness, being kind to each other so that everyone can appear as their whole self, is really important.”

Smart Girls is also known for “hosting the party you want to attend.” In partnership with pals at Nerdist and Geek & Sundry, Smart Girls hosts the festivities on Friday March 11th through Sunday March 13th, with a saloon-themed weekend at Bangers Sausage House & Beer Garden (79 & 81 Rainey). March 11th kicks off with a fun day of Chemistry, and on March 12th, Walker moderates a panel on girl empowerment, featuring how programs like the Cartoon Network’s Powerderpuff Girls can help fuel and engage young minds in entertaining ways.

Other women-empowering SXSW events include:

IEEE Women in Tech Meetup, part of IEEE’s Tech for Humanity Series, Friday, March 11.

Female Founder in Tech, led by The Womens President Organization, Saturday, March 12.

Part of the Online Harassment Summit, Women in the Media and Online Harassment, Saturday, March 12.
Jamia Wilson, executive director of Women in Action, Meredith Walker, Co-Founder of Smart Girls at the Party (also mentioned above), and Soraya Chemaly, director of Women’s Media Center, will tackle the ongoing, and at times scary situations, of women in high profile positions being on the receiving end of online hate and harassment, from journalists and activists, to tech professionals.

Through Our Eyes: Female Filmmakers Tell All, Saturday, March 12.
Female empowerment in the film industry is unstoppable and has (hopefully) hit a tipping point. Last month it was the #OscarSoMale campaign, led by Women in Media. In December it was Maureen Dowd’s long-form piece for the New York Times, “The Women of Hollywood Speak Out.” November was the inaugural Arclight Women In Film day-long event last year, which brought female directors, writers, producers, and those in other production roles, together in Hollywood to discuss what actions and initiatives are in place to change the old status quo. Not to mention the Federal and ACLU probes into Hollywood’s hiring practices. This SXSW session, organized by Film Fatales, a global collective of female feature directors, will provide a platform for female directors to reflect on what has and hasn’t taken place that needs to, and to tell their stories from the trenches.

Girl Improving Media Meet Up to “connect a community of people who support, provide and/or are interested in expanding opportunities for girls in media, so we can prepare the next generation of content creators,” Sunday, March 13.

Empowering Women and Girls Through Technology, part of the SXgood Hub, Monday March 14.

Numbers Don’t Lie? Women Worldwide Might Disagree…, Monday, March 14.
Part of SXgood and produced by SXSW Eco, this session explores gender data, how it impacts progress for gender equality, and why it’s so critical to get it right (so no ‘bad data’).

Deeds Not Words: The Fight for Women’s Justice, Monday March 14.
Democratic State Senator, Wendy Davis, will speak on the reasons why today’s young women are the generation to take our world, our culture, into the age of true gender equality.

How to Ask for Money: Know Your Worth, Get Paid, Monday March 14. editor, Leah Chernikoff, leads this panel with the co-founder of Indiegogo, Danae Ringelmann, founder of Julep Cosmetics, Jane Park, and founder of Black Girls Code, Kimberly Bryant, to weigh in on gender pay equality, and how more women can shrink the gap.

Take No Sh*t: Thrive as an XX in an XY World, Tuesday, March 15.
While Silicon Valley leads the world in tech startups that grow to billion dollar companies, their lack of diversity and gender bias has unveiled their archaic culture. Austin, on the other hand, is focused on solving gender diversity issues, and will showcase companies walking the walk.

For more information and to register, go to


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