I was lucky to be walking past the Royal Festival Hall on the south bank, when I stumbled across Jude Kelly’s talk on the WOW festival in January. I was hooked from this point on, and knew I wanted to attend the WOW festival and it truly was WOW, thank you Jude Kelly and the Arts Council for funding this important festival.
Reflections on WOW-
During the WOW festival I heard the word feminism/feminist, a number of times. What is it? Am I a feminist? What does this word mean and how has it evolved?
Wikipedia defines feminism as: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” If you called yourself a feminist you used to be seen as a man-hater. Going to WOW I realised that things have moved on and feminism is described today as:
“ the radical realisation that women are people.” Jude Kelly
“ about equality and opportunities for girls and women, with both men and women trying to achieve this.” Sarah Brown
I was drawn to the ‘where feminism is now’ and ‘how men are also part of the movement’ talks. Two inspirational speakers on the topic, Gordon Brown and Ziauddin Yousafzai, talking about feminism and how they are trying to change the perception of girls and women in the world, being just as good or even better than men. Ziauddin said for far too long women have been happy to be the strength behind men (behind every great man is a great women) but we should be side by side.
The many highlights from WOW-
Hearing from Savita Patel (CEO) & Jamuben Ayer (Artisan & craft leader) from the Self Employed Women’s Association (Sewa) in India, discussing women’s role in shaping the economy. SEWA was developed to form a collective for women suffering violence and poverty to support women who work in 90% of the black market. They shared stories of empowerment in action, they call it ‘embroidery that empowers’. Through SEWA 60% of the returns from the products (which are truly beautiful and can take 2 months to make by hand) you buy, go to the artisans and bring dignity and self-reliance for their families. We also heard how Jamuben was the first person in her village to send her daughter to school, through her hard work at SEWA and her daughter can now go on to achieve her aspiration, of becoming a doctor. I have heard from Plan UK and a lot of other people that the single most important economic thing you can do is to educate a girl. For a couple of years I have been sponsoring a girl in India.
Jude Kelly’s leadership skills were on full display, founding WOW and chairing so many of the events so skillfully. Bringing together people like Alice Walker, Jessye Norman, Naomi Wolf, Angelique Kidjo to name only a few people, made the event an inspiring one.
Ruby Wax, the poster girl for mental illness on why you need your brains. She spoke about how her whole life has been about reinvention. She has the drive of a Rottweiler and yet she warned of the very real potential to become swollen with narcissism in the celebrity show business world. She studied neuroscience, because she wanted to know how to handle her brain and learn how this machine works. She shared that she always had depression since she was a kid, it was a “waking hibernation, it takes over like a tsunami.” She has just finished her new book on the brain and neuroscience. She has also been studying mindfulness to help manage her condition. This has helped her to develop wisdom which is, “when you let go of the envy, narcissism and bitterness, and now that the world will be ok without me, that is what I am aiming for.”
Ahdaf Soueif on the function of women in Egypt’s revolution – 11th Feb Mubarak stepped down and the revolution was unable to put forward a government. Women were active and heading campaigns and institutions that carried on in the revolution. Revolution was unable to put forward a body to say we are now in charge of the country, therefore the military stepped up and said they would look after the country and oversee the peaceful transition. Instead the military started killing people. Men and women were detained. Women taken and given virginity tests, military said they did not want people to say they were raped in jail. Forms of sexual abuse were used as a political tool to deter women to take part in protests. Samira Ibrahim took the military to court and the process was ruled illegal and the military were prevented from doing this again. She created a change in the way people responded to this incident, by not being shamed by it and internalising it and society responded to her by giving her a hero’s welcome. The graffiti that represented this in the street showed the doctor’s name and phone number to shame him. There was brutality to women on the streets, beating and ripping the shirts of innocent women. On Dec 2011, the army started doing the same thing as the regime, the revolution showed this through street art. It was shocking when a mother who bought the revolution sandwiches to eat was beaten up. A young women’s image started popping up and she became an icon with a name similar to snow white. Her features were not known and she was given the gas mark, she appears everywhere, her blue bra becomes a powerful icon of the revolution, someone adds to it, “no to the stripping of the people”, “long live the revolution” and that spreads everywhere. People were also talking about who is veiled and not veiled, graffiti appeared saying don’t classify me, we are all human. She said because of what they did to women it was possible to discredit them and everybody became gender sensitive. Mother’s of the martyrs, 1600 people have been killed, who went out in peace to change things, one of the mother’s who was looking for her son for 30 days said: “I have lost my son and gained a million sons, you have to bring the revolution home.”
Philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock and politician Baroness Shirley Williams are described as two of the most brilliant minds in Britain. They candidly shared what life was like in their early days, and the sexism they faced and how they managed and protected themselves and went on to achieve success. They shared stories of mild abuse, being chased by the filing cabinet by a cabinet minister. Dealing with man handling and inappropriate behaviour. “Why are women so bad at saying F… O…now?” There was a time she was seriously pinched, and as a group of women they stamped backwards on the pincher. Baroness Shirley Williams said: “Very quick reproach is very effective. Say something very wounding and tough when it happens.” Or Baroness Mary Warnock said: “you can get to know their wives and say I am sure your wife would be interested in you grabbing my tits.”
Space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock, the brain behind the Thinking Woman’s guide to the Universe, shared her passion for Science and having more gender balance especially in the physical sciences, where 30% are female and in engineering only 10% are qualified as engineers. This has an impact on the type of innovations in the world, the ideas that men and women come up with are different. For example, A New Hampshire 14-year-old has won America’s Top Young Scientist prize for her innovative clean water system, which has great potential for people suffering natural disasters and those living in war zones. Ninth grader Deepika Kurup’s very green technology could help the more than 1.1 billion people throughout the world without access to clean water. Her prototype takes solar energy and uses it to disinfect contaminated water in an innovative, cost-effective, and sustainable system.
Inspiration for me came from-
1) The story of Malala Yousafzai the 15-year-old girl who was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunman while returning home on a school bus. She has now become an education activist and wants to become a politician to ensure all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015. She has started a worldwide revolution for the education of girls and girls all across the world are using the slogan “I am Malala.” There will be a national Malala day on July the 12th to support her work on education and equality, she say’s: “I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated.” Jude Kelly said on the Saturday night that Malala was also backstage at the WOW festival on Saturday.
2) The women I met during the speed mentoring, over 3 days that wanted to be mentored. It was a privilege to meet a number of women from different walks of life wanting to develop. I learnt a lot from the mentee’s, about different job roles, industries, ideas they have and the contributions they are making to society.
3) The many women and men manning the stalls at the festival. The talents were impressive from all the stall holders mentioned towards the end of the blog. ‘Who made your pants?’ was one of them, a campaigning lingerie brand based in Southampton, UK. They buy fabrics that have been sold on by big underwear companies at the end of season, stop them ending up as waste and turn them into gorgeous new pants that have a great start in life. They create jobs for women who’ve had a hard time. The first job everyone learns is making the pants. The women who make the pants are part of a huge refugee population in Southampton, some of the women previously were isolated and not feeling able to go and have fun. Another story of empowerment through pants, where you know that you are directly improving people’s lives by the choices that you make. So I bought my most expensive purchase of pants and will now think differently about where I buy my pants from. Each pant has the name of the person that made them on the label. This is the handmade revolution of quality products. By knowing more about how things are made and where they come from, you can feel good by buying quality products rather than a quick Primark purchase that you will throw away in a few months time.
WOW opened up my eyes to what is happening in the world for men and women and how I can now educate others about this and be part of a more ethical movement to help women at the ground roots to be in control of their destiny.
Save the date for next year’s WOW festival which will be from the 7th to 9th March 2014.
WOW festival videos of the talks http://wow.southbankcentre.co.uk/events/
Plan UK http://www.plan-uk.org/what-we-do/campaigns/because-i-am-a-girl/
America’s Top Young Scientist http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/01/02/young-scientist-year-invention-could-clean-water-for-11-billion/#ixzz2Num53lFN
Who made your pants? -http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk/index.php
Video’s of women across the world- What I see project – http://whatiseeproject.com
Women’s networking organisation-http://www.womensnetworkinghub.com/about/
Hats made to measure- http://www.jenniferlevethats.co.uk
Beautiful handmade jewellery -www.crystalstonelondon.co.uk