DCMS blog

From Bangladesh to Bristol – celebrating women’s strength and inventiveness

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Jude Kelly

Guest Blogger and Director of Southbank Centre and WOW

On International Women’s Day, guest blogger Jude Kelly – Director of Southbank Centre and WOW – Women of the World, a new festival celebrating and promoting women – gives us her independent viewpoint on the fight for equality.

Today – Tuesday 8th March – is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. To celebrate this landmark date, we are launching the first WOW – Women of the World at Southbank Centre. WOW celebrates women: their rich history, which is too often forgotten; and their potential, which is still to be petitioned for.
WOW - Women of the WorldAs one of the few female leaders of a major international arts organisation, I decided to launch WOW to highlight all that women are achieving, while also questioning why it’s still such uphill work to close the equality gap. I am all too aware of the disparity between women’s ability and their opportunity to show it. Society will benefit in every way when this changes, and while we don’t expect to solve this historic imbalance in a three-day festival, we hope the array of talent we have assembled will inspire and entertain in equal measure.
I also launched WOW in response to so many young women and girls telling me they needed more support to deal with puzzling and distressing obstacles to their progress and to give a platform to the vexed question of why Feminism became the new F word.
I have always been agitating for everyone to be given a chance to explore their creative potential. But women have far less chance in the UK than men of sustaining a career as a composer, director, conductor, editor – and this lack of women’s voices in culture directly affects everything about how we see the world and what role we are seen to play in it. But it’s all other areas too; law, politics, health; science; business – there are too few women in leadership roles and too few programmes of research and investment that concentrate on women’s needs and advancement. Please don’t tell me it’s better than it was – whilst inequality is still the norm, it’s not good enough to assume that progress will ‘trickle down’ naturally. It hasn’t worked for economic fairness and it won’t work for women’s rights either. And this is one of the reasons why I’m supportive of the recent discussions around quotas for women. We haven’t progressed as much as I think we should have and we need to keep raising the bar to get to a situation of equality. Women’s stories need to be told – and remembered.
WOW has two strands – performances such as gigs, films, comedy, classical music, theatre and readings; and the WOW conference with debates, talks, networking and mentoring opportunities, workshops and marketplace, free music and the WOW Den – five ideas to change women’s lives.
The festival features amazing women from Bangladesh and Bristol, Ghana and Afghanistan, Cornwall and China. We have powerful performers, speakers, comedians, and writers – plus dozens of 10-minute WOW Bites from a wide range of contributors. Highlights of the festival include an EQUALS Live concert with Annie Lennox, Kate Nash and Paloma Faith on Friday evening; and the great African musician and campaigner Baaba Mal in concert on Saturday with Krystle Warren, Speech Debelle, V V Brown and Eska – his tribute and celebration of the female voice.
Annie Nightingale, Radio 1’s longest-serving DJ and presenter does a Q&A followed by a unique DJ set on Saturday night. Sunday climaxes with Sandi Toksvig’s March of the Women, a comedy evening of suffragette history and female stand up, which features a specially created all women orchestra conducted by Sue Perkins.
Speakers from across five continents include Dr Precious Lunga, the Zimbabwean epidemiologist; Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty; Juliet Stevenson; Jyoti Mhapsekar, who heads up a women’s waste-pickers co-op in India; Helena Kennedy QC; and Bianca Jagger; and there will be speed mentoring with over 50 leading women from a range of industries as well as a market place for women to meet and network and a wide-ranging programme of free events across the site.
WOW is a chance for girls and women of all generations to enjoy each other’s ideas – and for men to come and enjoy those ideas too. It’s going to be three powerful days of women’s voices – young and old – and it’s going to be exciting, provoking and fun.

WOW – Women of the World runs from 11-13 March 2011

Images courtesy Southbank Centre

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