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Canada Tina Brown returns fire on the ‘war on women’ in the U.S.

If you're looking for kid-glove treatment or diplomacy about the state of women's rights south of the border, Tina Brown is not likely to supply it. The way she sees it, there are open hostilities, and the offensive is being led from the highest office in the land.

"There's a war on women going on in the United States, for sure," Ms. Brown says. "And it's being empowered by the White House."

Ms. Brown, the former editor of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair and founder of The Daily Beast, has been convening feminist summits called Women in the World since 2008. On Monday, a satellite event will be held in Toronto, to coincide with TIFF (The Globe and Mail is the media partner).

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Related: Justin Trudeau, Angelina Jolie to speak at Toronto's Women in the World Summit

It is, in the way of past summits, a melange of feel-good/feel-bad stories featuring activists from around the world and a smattering of high-profile advocates for women's rights (including actress Angelina Jolie and Canada's most-famous suit-wearing feminist, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau).

It's clear that the driving force behind this year's summit, who most definitely will not be in attendance, is the man Ms. Brown regards as sexist-in-chief: U.S. President Donald Trump.

"Trump empowers the lout in everybody," Ms. Brown said during a phone interview from New York. "He gives a free pass to uncouthness and misogyny and therefore he amplifies it. He's not alone in blame.

"Social media has let loose all kinds of dark instincts that were lurking. When you thought it was just your own dark thoughts, and there was nobody who shared them, maybe you wouldn't have been so loud about them. But when you find there are a whole bunch of people who agree, it does give you volume."

Ms. Brown and her husband, author and editor Harold Evans, are Brits transplanted to New York. Surveying the terrain in her adopted home, she sees different fronts in the war on women, all of them united by one common factor: Since the launch of Women in the World nearly a decade ago, "things have got worse."

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There's the toxic shadow cast by the White House, for one thing, and the misogyny unleashed by last year's presidential campaign. Ms. Brown also points to the funding assault on Planned Parenthood, which provides health care for many low-income American women. There are high-profile cases of harassment and discrimination from Silicon Valley.

Progress, Ms. Brown says, seems to have stalled. "Excuse me, why have we still not got anywhere with representation in Congress? Or the percentage of CEOs? There's no woman running a network, or a bank on Wall Street."

And yet, in this hinge moment, she sees an opportunity for propulsive action in the opposite direction. In 2008, Ms. Brown says, "American feminism was a pretty torpid beast." Younger women such as her daughter, now 26, had decided "feminism wasn't cool." Many people had decided that the most important battles had been won and an upward trajectory was inevitable.

That all changed with the threatening political climate that arrived last year. Now Ms. Brown sees her daughter's generation galvanized, ready to fight and signing up to run for political office.

The challenges for women – and opportunities – will be examined on Monday, when a group of international storytellers and activists convene at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Although the United States is dominating the world's headlines, the agenda features women's stories from around the world: Malawi's Memory Banda and Afghanistan's Sonita Alizadeh will talk about the crisis of child marriages; two Middle Eastern mothers who lost sons – one Israeli, one Palestinian – will talk about the possibility of reconciliation.

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Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and celebrated Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan will discuss the particular role women play in global progress. As well, Ms. Brown will interview Mr. Trudeau, perhaps shedding some light on his relationship with Mr. Trump.

Even at a moment that Ms. Brown sees as perilous, she's looking at the possibility that something good might result from the current political and social tumult: "Sometimes the best social changes happen when things are under assault. That's when revolutions happen, when people are alert and listening."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and actress Angelina Jolie are among the speakers at the acclaimed Women in the World Summit, being held in Toronto for the first time on Sept. 11. The Women in the World Summit brings together activists, artists, CEOs, peacemakers and firebrand dissidents to share their experiences and discuss solutions. Watch it live at tgam.ca/WWS starting at 12:35 p.m. ET.

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