WeAreTheCity had the most inspiring, exciting and emotional experience at the 2017 Women of the World Festival.
The Woman of the World Festival (WOW) was back at London’s Southbank Centre, and the week was spent celebrating and championing women, girls, and the struggle for gender equality around the world. There were discussions on everything from feminists throughout history, to questioning the effects of Brexit on women. The event continued with debates, stalls, live music and performances with some of the most relevant writers and activists of the moment.
There were stalls to visit during breaks in the day, including Ingenues, which sells activity boxes for children about inspirational women, Kenric, the longest running lesbian social group, Rada in Business, The Feminist Library and Fawcett Society for equality and women’s rights. Mulberry UTC school for girls was also there, and had a talking robot, Pepper!
Friday’s sessions began with a panel for Women, Power and Change, opening with Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre. She discussed the shifting and ever-changing concept of power, women representing themselves, not conforming to group mentalities, but learning to stand up as themselves.
“The thing about power is, we’re reluctant as women to say we’ve got it.”
Jude introduced an esteemed panel, including Jo Swinson, discussing women’s relationship to money, Melanie Eusebe on understanding your value: ‘Know your value. It’s the purpose and essence of your life that you are literally trading away every day for money’ and Michael Kimmel on engaging men. Kimmel’s speech addressed a three step plan for men to support women, which listed listening to women, challenging men and coming out as supporters. He described how men tend to self-congratulate themselves for supporting women, before proclaiming that gender equality would be the best thing to ever happen to men. He summerised:
“We’re all genetically connected to a woman, so why don’t we support them?”
The final speaker was LetUsLearn’s budding astronaut Agnes Harding, who cannot get a student loan due to her immigration status. She encouraged other young female migrants to remain optimistic:
“All girls should reach for the stars; only gravity should hold us back.”
The day then broke into the morning sessions, including talks on Imposter syndrome with Vanessa Vallely and MP Jess Phillips, and ‘Womenomics’, which discussed the state of women in the global economy.
In the afternoon, sessions delved into how diversity benefits business, a tech workshop with Dr Sue Black, and a talk on Austerity with Chief Executive of Bradford Council Kersten England and councillor Lib Peck. Questions were put to the panel about how cuts come most frequently from the smallest and most vulnerable budgets, and the speakers confirmed that new budgets won’t benefit people with disabilities or adult social care.
Nicola Rollock gave an eye-opening talk entitled ‘Code Switching: How Black Women of Colour Survive in the World of Work’, which highlighted the extra work it takes to manage racial micro aggressions in everyday situations. Rollock surmised:
“I know of no single initiative that specifically seeks to support Black academics in their career progression despite what the data shows about their small number and their experiences. In my view, organisations suffer a significant waste of talent by not taking the time to engage properly with race equality and understand the experiences of employees of colour.”
Sandi Tosvig’s ‘Mirth Control’ closed the WOW festival on Sunday with a rousing speech and a final thought:
“Only 17 per cent of Wikipedia profiles are women. Women are being written out of history. Let’s change that.”
2017’s Women of the World proved that we need change now more than ever. The week dissected how we can use our creativity, intelligence and power to find the courage to move beyond our own circles and make new solutions for change together. There is still an alarming amount of diversity, gender and monetary parity that needs addressing, so thank-you to WOW festival for boldly giving a platform to these issues.
Southbank Centre’s WOW – Women of the World festival ran from 7-12 March, supported by Bloomberg.