Women of the World festival – a fab feminist event

Last weekend marked the tenth anniversary of the Women of the World festival (WOW). Held at the Southbank Centre in London, the impressive slate of talks, comedy, and music traced the complex contours of what it is to be a woman.

WOW encourages women from all backgrounds to learn from each other, strategise how we can work together, and surface our disagreements. From sessions discussing women’s relationship with sex to BBC China editor Carrie Grace leading a conversation on equal pay, WOW is as celebratory as it is educational. Over the past few years, WOW has gone global, reaching 2 million people in 17 countries, spanning over 5 continents.

Opening the Saturday of the three-day festival, founder and curator of the WOW movement, Jude Kelly CBE urged women ‘to not calm down’. There remain many issues that need to be addressed. Evidencing the urgency of responses to coronavirus, she asked ‘where is the global response to gender-based violence?’ Jude’s ethos was, if it’s happening, we need to talk about it; if humans do it, it is not taboo.

Joining Jude, the panel consisted of Julia Gillard, Senator Sherry Rehman, Dr Nicola Rollock and Fatima Zaman. The panel exuded the energy of a politicised Destiny’s Child. Special emphasis was placed on the need for women to be allies, and to embrace intersectionality rather than fear it. There is no ‘woman’ experience, and we must acknowledge that the world is the inheritor of its context, that the racist foundations of society won’t just go away if we ignore them.

From when the festival first started, a lot has happened. In 2010, Harvey Weinstein and other celebrities with a free pass on the law acted with disgraceful impunity, Instagram was unborn, and feminism was very much a dirty word. Change, when it comes gives us optimism in darkness, but it can also be illusory. Dr Nicola Rollock noted that modern institutions remain phenomenally artful in maintaining the status quo. Society gives us the impression that it is making progress, but the data tells us otherwise.

A recent study by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) found that 9 in 10 people ‘hold some sort of bias against women.’ That means that 90% of the world’s population discriminate against around 50% of the world’s population. The data also showed that 28% of those polled thought it is ‘justified for a man to beat his wife’ and 40% believe that men make better business executives. The panel stated we need to multitask smashing glass ceilings and making structural changes.

It was disheartening how few of the women being celebrated that I had heard of. When I had heard of them, I knew so little about their trailblazing work. These are the pioneers of change, the feminist crème de la crème, so, it is an honour to share a list of some of the women and their work that you should check out:

Anna Politkovskaya: Russian journalist and human rights activist. Reported from Chechnya for seven years during the war, refusing to leave despite being threatened with rape, being the victim of a mock execution, and many arrests. She was murdered under suspicious circumstances. Notable works include Putin’s Russia: A Life in a Failing Democracy and A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya.

Alex Crawford OBE: British journalist named Journalist of the Year on five occasions. Covered the Libyan Civil War and reported live-on-scene the Battle of Tripoli. Recently reported from Idlib, where her and her team were deliberately targeted by the Syrian government. 2019 winner of the Anna Politkovskaya Award.

Fatima Zaman: Civil servant and leader of policies against violent extremism in the UK, advocate of counter-narratives, and campaigner with former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Flo Perry: Illustrator and author of How to Have Feminist Sex: A Fairly Graphic Guide. An honest advocate of having the sex you want to have, not the sex you think you should be having.

 Dr Nicola Rollock: Award-winning academic, and an activist against racial injustice in education. Author of The Colour of Class: The educational strategies of the Black middle classes.

 Pat Mitchell: Emmy award-winning journalist, founder of TED women.

Sherry Rehman: Pakistani politician and member of Senate of Pakistan. The first female Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Parliamentary Leader in Senate, an activist against honour killings, gender-based violence, and economic discrimination against women. Author of upcoming book Womansplaining.

Svetlana Alexievich: 2018 winner of Anna Politkovskaya Award and the first journalist to have received the Nobel Prize for literature. Specialises in writing the oral testimonies of those affected by war, namely in Soviet Russia. Notable works include War’s Unwomanly Face and The Last Witness: The Book of Unchildlike Stories.

This list is by no means exhaustive, there were hundreds of phenomenal women sharing their stories. Events like WOW are so important, so if you get the chance to go to any of their events, please do.

Image Credit: flickr via Wikimedia Commons

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