Monday, 16 March 2015


It is not possible to summarise the experience of attending Women of the World (WOW) festival in London this week. So I won't try. I would almost certainly do it a disservice. What I will share are some the conversations, sorrows, opinions, theories, attitudes, strength and joy that crested along the Southbank with women of all creeds, colours, religions, shapes, sexual preferences, political persuasions. 

I often wonder whether people on the outside look in and think 'What the hell? It must be all periods, hating on men and bra burning in there'. I wish I had a word for me rolling my eyes, putting my hands on my hips and wagging my finger saying m-m-m (you know the sound I'm making right?)

Let me give you a little taste of what the hell was going on in there. Well in my little corners of the Southbank anyway. 

A celebration of womanhood and feminism. A cacophony of agreeing and dissenting voices about the choices we make as women. A plethora of reasons that justify those choices. A proverbial Jacob's Ladder of ideas that when shared left us emotionally charged to make changes wherever we may choose.  That word - choose / choice - was extremely important during this weekend. I have heard women rage against the situations they find themselves in when they are ignored in the workplace or touched without permission in the street. I mean how have we not moved away from this yet - in 2015? We are still hearing evidence of the gap between men and women when it comes to pay or promotion to director level. Poet Bridget Minamore opened a talk on 'Who owns your body?' with rhymes about a women's experience when put in the position where you are frightened because a guy is walking behind you, a guy who doesn't understand the fear that consumes you until he crosses over or moves past you. Have you ever done that walk in the dark with your keys in your hand? I wonder how many men consider the thought processes and contingency plans a woman makes when she is in this position?

As always, journalist and curator Hannah Pool brought together female speakers and panels to raise the profile of feminist issues: be it the body politic, race, representation in the media, sex or empowerment. I think Hannah Pool is brilliant. She is one of those women that I would like my daughters to be inspired by: she brings a excited calmness to the a stage and whilst allowing speakers to divulge their views with a sense of freedom, she continues to question and include the listeners experience.  Bringing women, such as Leyla Hussein in to these forums to discuss  how women's bodies are perceived and Dr Shirley Tate to theorise about how historic references to the black female form has affected the social 'norms' in today's conscience, is paramount to ensuring that we continually question the way we see ourselves through social and populist prisms. The brilliant part of these sessions are the Q and As where voices from the floor testify and align themselves with speakers or indeed other voices from amongst the plastic chairs. I might prickle with a teacher's annoyance when women behind me lament their opposition against a lone voice, but who cares? The discussion is being had and it's clear that these discussions will go home with these women; it will make us think and share what we think and want to share with other women. And so the conversations continue.

This year the feminist that I want to wave and shout 'Hey girl!'at is Feminista Jones. Go and read her stuff to find out what she's about - I cannot (and would dare not) paraphrase this  compelling woman. I believe this is a woman we all need to hear when we all become a bit browbeaten. Or when we become a little too submerged in 'me' and need to remind ourselves of the 'she' that is out there. I got a little bit stalkerish of both Mses Pool and Jones and was lucky enough to attend three sessions they were involved in. But good for me because each time I walked out of a room and into another one I felt taller. I'm still feeling taller. Why? There is no one answer. None of the women I heard this weekend had magic wands but there were definitely some moments of wisdom that I have tucked away in a mind-pocket for a crappy-me day. But moreso I took the opportunity to rub shoulders, squish up on seats, clap, nod and 'oh yes' with other woman over issues that we believe are important. There is great strength to be gained when we affirm who we are and what we believe in within the safe circle of like-minded people. I say like-minded but there is nothing I like better than a good ole 'I understand what you're saying, but..." type discussion. So I guess we were like-minded in that our experiences as women crossed over at times and we were there to improve our own happenings.

Week(end)s like this matter so much because when we can get so bogged down in the minutiae of our days and the days of others, we can forget to listen to each other. 

So even though I said I wasn't going to paraphrase Feminista Jones, I am a strong believer in the power of pay-it-forward.  So the really good stuff that I hope you can tuck in your mind-pocket were :
The woman you are today is worthy of love, admiration and respect
We must share our stories because we are not alone, and we never know who is listening
We shouldn't doubt or compare ourselves with others

Simple tings no? Maybe, and I hope that deep down we all knew this stuff anyway. Yet it can be all too easy to forget for ourselves and also ignore when we see that others are not able to see it in themselves. Both Feminista Jones and Hannah Pool are pioneers of activist movements for the protections of others who may not be in the position to protect themselves: street harassment and FGM for starters. 

I have often said (and written) that I regularly find my chutzpah by being around other women. We often provide a collective to create a bridge needed for the women around us to conquer obstacles. But I wonder how often we can sometimes be the barrier?  How do you see yourself amongst female company in your life? A bridge or a barrier?

Oh and P.S Get yo'self down to WOW next year

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