Women and some notable men gathered from all over the world to celebrate International Women’s Day in Los Angeles on Tuesday for TIME’s second annual Women of the Year gala. The event honors the 12 women featured on TIME’s 2023 Women of the Year list, a group of inspiring women leaders who use their voices to fight for a more equal world.
The event at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills brought together several honorees, from Oscar-nominated actors Angela Bassett and Cate Blanchett to activists Ayisha Siddiqa and Masih Alinejad to athletes Megan Rapinoe and Ramla Ali, featured on TIME’s second annual Women of the Year list.
At the gala, around 200 guests and honorees convened in a pink-toned to highlight the impact of their work and to talk about what inspires them. Amid the dinner courses, the honorees took to the mic to make jokes, call attention to pressing issues, and share what it meant to be included on the list.
TIME’s CEO Jess Sibley kicked off the night with a reflection on leading a company originally created by men, for men, without necessarily keeping women in mind. So much has changed in the 100 years since TIME came to be, exemplified by the many women honored on the list. “You are all driving change and making history,” Sibley told them.
Here are some of the biggest moments from TIME’s Women of the Year gala.
What equality means to women on the red carpet
Actors, activists and artists took to the red carpet ahead of the event with gender equity a popular talking point with many speaking out on several issues.
Actor Brooke Shields, donning an all-pink outfit, called out the “disturbing” overturning of Roe v. Wade, which previously guaranteed the right to an abortion in the U.S. She said that gender equality “starts within yourself, you have to be willing to fight for that.”
Ukrainian advocate Olena Shevchenko, who has faced hostility and violence for co-founding the nonprofit Insight, which supports LGBTQI communities, told TIME being named on the list was a shared honor for all the women in Ukraine.
For Pakistani human rights and climate defender Ayisha Siddiqa, standing up for gender equality, especially for the women of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, means fighting for greater access to proper menstrual products, healthcare and the freedom to choose who or if they want to marry and a right to education.
Iranian dissident Masih Alinejad raised the issue of women’s rights in Iran, saying the women who have been protesting there are her “heroes” who are fighting “gender apartheid.” Wearing a T-shirt in support of the women in Iran, she shouted “women, life, freedom.” Because of the brave women in Iran, the “world is paying attention,” she added.
TIME CEO Jess Sibley said “there are so many actions that we can take” to help advance gender equity. “One day, one action, one voice to make progress each and every day for a better future that we can all build together to make the world more equal.”
Amanda Nguyen, CEO of non-profit civil rights organization Rise, and TIME 100 honoree, said it’s important to uplift women but it is also important to “encourage the men in our lives to step up to be allies.”
Entering the event, Cate Blanchett said that coming together with other women on International Women’s Day “personally, it provides me with so much resolve and energy.”
Equality isn’t just about money—but it’s not not about money
A common theme on the red carpet was the demand for those with privilege to do something with their largesse. Singer Phoebe Bridgers told TIME that ensuring better gender equality involves protecting trans kids and demanding that people with power give money. “It can feel hopeless but I think there are a lot of people out there doing their absolute best and give your money and resources to them.”
Boxing champion Ramla Ali said the gender pay disparity in sports between men and women is still huge. “It’s going to be a gradual fight, it’s not going to be a fight that happens overnight but slowly, slowly I see changes,” she said.
Soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who was also one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2022 for her fight for equal pay, said that female athletes need to get the same investment as male athletes. “Just give us the money,” Rapinoe said as she entered the event.
Quinta Brunson cracks up the room
Abbott Elementary creator Quinta Brunson gave a toast which she dedicated to laughter. “Laughter is resilient. Laughter is persistent,” she said. “Laughter keeps us all going.” Her sitcom, in which Brunson plays a teacher at an underprivileged elementary school in Philadelphia, has certainly become an example of laughter as a key to navigating life.
To that end, she shared a joke from one of her ‘students’ on set: What does a janitor say when he jumps out of a closet? Supplies! “Is that not the funniest?” she said, as the room filled with laughter. “Everyone was just on the floor. That kid was five by the way, I’m still trying to make stuff that good.”
Read more: Quinta Brunson Wants to Shine a Light on Everyday People
Ahead of the Oscars, two nominated actors discuss their craft
The 2023 Academy Awards will air Sunday, honoring the major players in the film industry. Two of this year’s top contenders were also honored on the Women of the Year list and each spoke briefly about the significance of the moment.
Angela Bassett came into acting at a time when “it was a special occasion when people who look like me were featured” in TV and movies, she said. Now, nominated for her second Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress for her moving portrayal of Queen Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Bassett acknowledged the historic moment. “It would be a part of my legacy as a woman, as a Black woman, and as a Black actress who dared to dream that I could continue the journey of the women who came before me in this business, making way for future generations of Black and brown women to one day stand on that stage.”
And Cate Blanchett, nominated in the Best Actress category for her thundering performance in Tár, talked about the importance of listening as an actor—and as a human. “To be a good storyteller you need to listen to the stories that have not been told,” she said. “Even though we live in a world of uncertainty that can breed a pessimism that creates a misguided certainty of what will happen next. In this state of not knowing, I choose to turn that fear into excitement.”
A dedication to the women of Iran
Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad, held up a white and blue headscarf: “This should be on my head covering my massive hair. I could get killed for not covering my hair. That’s why I decided to come here.”
Alinejad paid tribute to the women of Iran, where protests against the nation’s authoritarian regime have raged since the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested in for “improper hijab” and is alleged to have been beaten to death by the country’s “morality police” in September 2022.
“The Islamic republic is a gender apartheid regime,” Alinejad, who has herself faced retaliation from the Iranian government, said. “They did everything to break me. But I am here to break them.”
Megan Rapinoe highlights the transgender community
Megan Rapinoe, dedicating her toast to the trans community amid a spate of anti-trans laws on the rise in the U.S., called for people to look closely at what trans people have given the world. “The way they refuse to live their life any other way than completely whole is so inspiring,” she said. “They offer us a full view of what it means to be a human in the world.”
Read More: Here’s the Status of Anti-Drag Bills Across the U.S.
Ayisha Siddiqa shares a poem for humanity
For her toast, human rights and climate defender Ayisha Siddiqa read a poem she wrote about making space for hope. Here’s a small excerpt:
“If the future leaves without us, the silence that will follow will be an unspeakable nothing.
What if we convince her to stay?
How rare and beautiful it is that we exist.
What if we stun existence one more time?”
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