Friday 9 March was International Women’s Day (IWD). There were lots of events happening across the UK and we would love to hear how you celebrated and commemorated it – let us know. Claire Rush, one of the Sophia Network Trustees, attended the first day of the Women of the World (WOW) Festival on London’s Southbank. WOW is an annual global festival where women and men of all ages and backgrounds celebrate women’s achievements and discuss the obstacles they face across the world. Claire shares her thoughts and reflection of the event with us today.
Drizzle and mist. Grey skies and a grey Thames. Trains and tubes at rush hour. This was how IWD started for me. Nothing, however, could dampen my excitement and anticipation about attending the third annual WOW Festival - my first experience. Jude Kelly, WOW director, had grand aims for the event: ‘WOW is a force for progress, a place where everyone can congregate to debate big ideas about a fast-changing world and hear from some of the amazing people who are making change happen. It is an opportunity to pass the baton on to a new generation, and for men and women to get together to discuss everything from war, peace and race to beauty, religion and sex.’ Did the WOW festival deliver what it promised?
The three day programme was certainly impressive, if not, over-powering.
So many opportunities! So many issues! So many choices to make! So little time!
Fortunately all the sessions were videoed and the clips are gradually being uploaded to the Southbank Centre’s Youtube page – an opportunity for you to listen, learn and reflect if you were not able to attend. With some prolific speakers, the range of talks and discussions were phenomenal and included women in the economy, rape myths, everyday sexism, international activism, war, global feminism, women in sport, the media portrayal of women and racism (to name a few). There were innovative sessions including a WOW Parliament where women voted on a motion to be taken to Parliament, a mass speed-mentoring event (‘an opportunity to share your challenges, exchange ideas and stories and identify a new mentor’), participating in nude life drawing and an opportunity to get a free nail wrap depicting a celebrated or forgotten woman of influence. A full programme during the day was supplemented with an enticing arts’ programme in the evening.
I had an inspiring day at WOW. As a follower of Jesus who is passionate about social justice and creating an equal world for all, WOW was a space where I could engage with others, refine and challenge my own thinking in formal and informal spaces. I took so many notes that my pen actually ran out in the middle of one of the sessions. A special thanks to the man in the British Film Institute shop who gave me his own pen for free – good to see a brother helping a sister in need on IWD!
Quotes of the Day
Below is a round-up of my favourite and challenging quotes (some may be paraphrases – I couldn’t write quick enough!)
'Some women have a nervousness which prevents them from contributing to the debate in economics but we need to realise that we are making economic decisions in our daily lifestyles' – Banking executive, Cathy Turner, on women and the economy.
‘We need to honour our daughters. We need to trust our daughters - we don't trust the wisdom of girls. We need to educate our daughters' – Yiauddin Yousafzai, the father of Malala, the 13 year old girl who was shot by the Taliban for defending her right to go to school.
'The new superpower is girls coming together with girls... Girls standing up for themselves and refusing to accept inequality' – Former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown on girls' activism in Nepal, Bangladesh and India.
'My friend, my partner, my mentor, my leader' - Gordon Brown introducing his wife, Sarah.
'I want more. I want more than rape joke pages on Facebook. I want more than to be told get a sense of humour. I want more than 1 in 4 women in parliament. I want more than 13% of women in the judiciary. I want more...and I hope that you do to because our voices are louder when we raise them together' - Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project.
'I am inspired by women every day but I become angry and frustrated by what women have to endure. We cannot stay silent - poverty has a female face, too many women die in childbirth, too many girls are not empowered to go to school. On International Women’s Day, we must act against the persistent and perniciousness abuse which is a daily reality for TOO many women across the world’ – Valerie Amos, UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs.
'Find an issue which you are passionate about, gather girls and young women around you, use social media to make global connections and never be afraid to ask anyone for advice' – Advice from Sarah Brown, founder of the White Ribbon Alliance, when asked by an eleven year old girl, how can I be a successful activist?
So a week on, what are my reflections?
WOW was a friendly, inspiring temporary community advocating for change. I wish that I could bottle up the inspiration in the atmosphere – you could taste it. It was amazing to be in an environment were women’s achievements were celebrated in fun and innovative ways, yet the barriers and obstacles that my gender face across the world was not forgotten, but challenged! Although not marketed as a networking event, there were lots of opportunities to get to know other women on a personal and professional level, particularly, queuing for sessions. It was great to be able to make these informal connections.
WOW promoted gender inclusivity. The Festival did not exclude men from attending or from the debate. Many of the talks which I attended emphasised the importance of women and men working in collaborative partnership to create a world that was truly equal. I am sure that our Sophia Network community would agree with this.
WOW created an empowering culture. I am passionate about enabling the voice of younger women to be heard in spaces where it has previously been excluded. It was evident that the WOW Festival had taken its aim to ‘pass the baton on to a new generation’ very seriously. On 7 March, the WOW Education summit, delivered in partnership with the Mulberry Girls’ School explored: ‘How can education contribute to a fair world for women?’ I can’t wait to see the fruits of their discussion. The Festival also had a team of WOWsers – young ambassadors – who contributed to panel discussions and blogs, which ensured their voice was heard in the debate. ‘Create the world that you want to see’ was the message of one such WOWser on her engaging talk about beauty and body image – you can view it here. The Southbank Centre also hosted a live two-day Hack Day event which enabled talented young people, both male and female, to build web and mobile applications to explore issues facing women today. On a deeper level, it would be interesting to know how much young people were consulted in the planning of the overall programme and if the Festival has a youth planning team.
The absence of faith based discussions. My only disappointment is that I felt that the Festival failed to engage with faith issues in a meaningful way. Formally, there was only one panel – The Politics of the Divine. Alongside representatives from the Islamic and Jewish faiths, Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, chaplain to the Queen and Parliament, shared her inspiring calling to the ministry when she was aged fourteen years old. Her story is one of perseverance and faith; at the time there were no female ministers yet she refused to give up. During her discussion, Rose recognised that the Church of England (CoE) was ‘a male dominated and white church when it comes to leadership’ and called for the change to enable all in the community to say ‘yes’ as Mary did.
Apart from this, the voice of women on faith issues was glaringly absence (although I am sure that many women who spoke had a personal faith). Faith and religion interweave through communities across the world and are responsible for both the empowerment and disempowerment of women. If we are truly working towards enabling men and women to build a fairer society, faith issues cannot be left on the periphery (perhaps because of political correctness). Personally, I was surprised that there was no real debate or discussion around the recent CoE vote excluding women as bishops.
Perhaps next year, WOW can invite the Sophia Network members to have a voice?