MAKERS UK Cause Spotlight: Jude Kelly

As early as age 15, Jude Kelly knew she wanted a career in theater. More specifically, she aspired to be a director — despite seeing a lack of females in the role.

Even while breaking barriers and garnering success (including leading her own theater company and later joining the Royal Shakespeare Company), Kelly experienced subtle examples of sexism in the industry. As she told The Guardian, "It's the casual slights, and the realization that you're not part of a certain kind of boys' network."

Kelly's crowning achievement came in 2005 when she was named the Artistic Director of London's Southbank Centre, one of the world’s largest cultural venues. "Part of my job is to put on the best possible work that humans have created artistically, but now also attend very strongly to the fact that female voices need to be in that story — and not just a small percentage of the time," she shared with MAKERS UK.

But for Kelly, creating inspiring work wasn't enough. In addition to making a huge impact for women in the arts, she wanted to recognize and inspire more women around the world. In 2010, she founded the Women of the World festival (WOW).

"I'm a woman in a very senior position in the arts, which is a space where you tell stories about humanity. But most of the stories are still being told in a way that suggests boys and men are the protagonists and girls and women assist or are invincible," explains Kelly. "I thought, if I don't use this position of power to change or try to change it at least to some degree, then I’ve really squandered the opportunities that have been given to me as a girl and a woman."

The festival spans the length of a week and presents talks, debates, performances and workshops. WOW’s hope is to bring together women across the globe, and encourage them to build their community — topics include feminism and how to break the barriers that many women face. Poverty, lack of education and sexism are among the themes discussed, all with a shared goal to promote thoughtful dialogue and provide a safe environment for participants to share their experiences and express their beliefs.

Since its inception, the impact has been great, with more than 10 WOW festivals taking place across five continents. In total, more than one million people have come together to celebrate women. Kelly hopes the festival helps to advance women in leadership and ignites a sense of empowerment to the women of the world who are eager to instill change.

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