It was a room full of female empowerment at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on Thursday.
UN Women celebrated International Women’s Day by hosting a panel featuring Reese Witherspoon and Black Panther actress Danai Gurira – two Hollywood figures fighting for gender equity in their industry and beyond.
Gurira, 40, shared a tearful and powerful anecdote of her time meeting women in Liberia who had experienced sexual abuse and harassment.
“When I’ve sat in the presence of women and girls that have gone through things that I couldn’t even begin to imagine, all of them said to me no one had ever asked what had happened to them. That really got to me,” Gurira said. “At the time I was an extremely broke playwright who had a fundraising party and a friend said he’d match whatever I made, and I was able to pay my New York rent and go.”
She continued, “But now I’m in a different position, so now I have to go again, and I have to meet those girls face to face. So it’s about that circle closing because those girls have the potential, desire and resilience. If we don’t get up and do something practical in our various positions of power, she will not reach her greatness and her potential.”
Witherspoon, 41, opened up about the beginning of the Time’s Up movement — an initiative created by hundreds of women in the entertainment industry who are calling for an end to sexual harassment in the workplace for women around the country.
“It started out in October with 40 women in a room just talking about this problem and how we were going to deal with it, because enough is enough,” Witherspoon said. “We are no longer going to be harassed, we are no longer going to be mistreated or discriminated against. We are going to create more opportunity for each other.”
To donate to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which will provide subsidized legal support to women and men in all industries who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace, visit its GoFundMe page. Learn more about Time’s Up, an organization of women in entertainment combating sexual harassment and inequality, on its website.
In October, Witherspoon revealed that she had been sexually assaulted at 16. “ true disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16 years old and anger at the agents and the producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment,” she said at the time. “And I wish that I could tell you that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly it wasn’t. I’ve had multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault and I don’t speak about them very often.”
The Wrinkle in Time actress, who also serves as beauty company Elizabeth Arden’s storyteller-in-chief, gave a shout-out to the brand for its pledge to help women in need.
“I’m very proud to work with companies like Elizabeth Arden, who is giving $1 million to the UN Women’s fund today,” Witherspoon said. “That’s because they care about their customers and I think that many corporations can take a page out of their book. Because until we take care of the last girl who doesn’t have a voice, we’re not doing the work that we need to be doing.”
Arden has pledged to donate $1 million to UN Women, an organization working towards gender equality and enabling women and girls to use their human rights to their full potential. Proceeds from the $26.50 limited-edition lipstick will be included in the brand’s charitable pledge. You can score your own Witherspoon-signed tube on elizabetharden.com during the month of March.
“With March On, Elizabeth Arden gives the power of red lipstick a whole new meaning,” Witherspoon previously told PeopleStyle. “Not only does it symbolize feminine power and solidarity, but it will also contribute to creating a world where gender equality can become a reality.”