Highlights From the Women of the World Festival

Every year the Southbank Centre in London comes to life with vibrant and vocal feminism as it plays host to the Women of the World Festival (WOW). WOW is now officially a calendar event during Women's History Month and has become the place for generations to come together and discuss the most pressing issues. 

Now in its sixth year WOW has played host 20,000 visitors over the weekend of workshops, debates and performances. The initial idea of WOW was to give women a platform to discuss their experiences, good and bad, but it has become the birthplace of movements. From The Everyday Sexism Project to the work to #EndFGM it all started at WOW. At WOW 2014, ahead of the Girl Summit, Lynne Featherstone, the then Minister in the Department of International Development, announced the largest ever international investment to end FGM within a generation. Last year, Catherine Mayer and Sandi Toksvig formed what is now the fastest growing political party, The Women's Equality Party.

This year the festival played host to Kimberlé Crenshaw and the conversation on intersectionality. Kimberlé follows in the footsteps of women such as Annie Lennox, Salma Hayek, Malala Yousafzai, and more, who have taken the WOW stage with the founder Jude Kelly — a stage that, with the upcoming WOW Commonwealth festival at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, will be in 53 countries. This will take WOW closer to the global movement it aims to be. Until then, here is a glimpse at some of the events and debates that took place at WOW London 2016:

Caitlin Moran's Moranifesto
On International Woman's Day, WOW opened with the queen of reclaiming the word 'feminism' Caitlin Moran and the launch of her book "Moranifesto." The book looks at the world and politics through a special gender and Moran lens. Moran read her favourite bits of the book and had a discussion with Kelly.

On Saturday 12 March, the trailblazers that are Kelly and Pat Mitchell sat down to talk openly and honestly about seeking to create a better world via storytelling. After a thoughtful, and deeply personal lecture from Kelly, she and Mitchell sat down to talk about WOW and MAKERS. Kelly who has joined MAKERS as the Global Partner Council Member for MAKERS in the UK spoke to Mitchell, herself a MAKER, about the power "our own stories" and the need for platforms like WOW and MAKERS to tell them. These platforms allow women and men to come together, learn and hear about their lives and lived experience. 

Activism Without Borders
This panel was one of the most powerful and moving of the weekend. Vian Dakhil and other activists gripped a packed room. "What can UK-based activists learn from their international sisters?” was the question put to the panel. A question Dakhil, who gained international attention during a plea for assistance for Yazidi people in the Iraq Parliament in 2014, summed up as "global solidarity through sisterhood." Dakhil, who is one of only two female MPs in Iraq and the only one from the minority Yazidi ethnic population, explained how she spends every waking moment working to rescue girls and young women from ISIS. She asked for us as women, activist or not, to stand together and to carry forward the voices and names of the thousands of women, girls and children who remain captive.

Don't Fence Me In 
The exhibition located around the second floor of the Southbank was a centre point as attendees moved from panel to debate or just to get a coffee. The powerful images and a short film curated by Maslaha sought to break the media and social view of what it means to be Muslim today, with added fencing. The image of girls in headscarves fencing stops you in your tracks and draws you into the conversation – a conversation many find hard to vocalise, but in photographs it’s simple. Beyond the headscarves, girls shared insight into their lives in East London and the complex discrimination of gender and faith.

We Need You: The Men Fighting for Gender Equality
The world's most prominent male feminist, Michael Kimmel, along with other ‘new’ men talked about what it means to be a man and feminist today. WOW, while providing a space for women, from the start has also sought to engage men and boys. This panel — it being Kelly's belief that in order to achieve change we need to take men with us — provided an insight into what conversation men are having and how men we love can stand with us.

Toilets are a Feminist Issue
Leading feminists and activists talked about why we should give a shit about toilets. From women always having to queue for the loo to the lack toilet facilities in the developing world having a devastating effect on women’s safety, Helen Lewis pulled together a thought-provoking panel with Beatrix Campbell and Lewis. While for years we have seen the role of women in the boardroom as a feminist issue, this session flips the story and spotlight to the bathroom as the space to investigate.

NEXT: Get to Know Annie Lennox »

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