Women of the World Festival 2017

Watching the sunset on the evening of the 13th March, I couldn’t help but reflect on the week just gone. Overall, it was a pretty amazing week. Love was shared all over the world on International Women’s Day on Wednesday, and I managed to get the magazine I’ve been working on for the last six months sent off to the printers, without too many tears. To top it all off, my mum came to join me in London for this years Women of the World festival.

Where to start. Well, firstly it was amazing to see my mum again. And wondering across Waterloo bridge at nine o’clock in the morning on a Saturday was one the most surreal and beautiful sights I have ever seen. Secondly, I must add that I was nervous before arriving. I am a feminist through and through but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a whole day of man-hating, as sadly that is the connotations often associated with the word ‘feminist’. How wrong I was. The serene walk and catch up with mum really helped calm those nerves, and after a heavy week uni work I was almost too tired to be too nervous, but still the nerves were there. I am so happy to say that all those nerves were put to rest almost immediately.

After grabbing our wristbands and a cup of coffee (essential for any early start on a weekend) we got a seat near the front to hear Sandi Toksvig give her talk on The Year in Review: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Having seen her take over QI, I was never too much of a fan but mum was really keen to see her. And thank god we did. I have never laughed so much. She was not only funny, but incredibly insightful and empowering too. Everything I should have, but did not, expect.By 11 I had laughed, and cried, so much my belly started to hurt. I wish I could write about every woman that spoke at WoW, but not only do I not think I could do them all justice, but it may make this post about three days to read.

Following Sandi, a hard act to follow, were seven women from around the world speaking about an array of issues pressing women in the current world. The stand out for me was a Columbian journalist who was a survivor of kidnapping, rape and torture whilst out at work. Her story is so compelling and heartbreaking, again I cannot do it justice. But what I will say is that she has changed my life. Even thinking back I am brought to tears by her bravery, humanity and selflessness. I always knew being a woman is hard, and you hear about horrendous stories from third world countries about the way women are treated, but until I heard it in first person it never really seems real. It was always easy to disassociate and just shake my head in grief when it pops up (irregularly) on the news. Jineth Bedoya Lima received a standing ovation from everyone in the room, whose outstanding heroism was conveyed perfectly, even through her translator. After all, as founder Jude Kelly said, “WoW is about the power of story.” And this was the most powerful story I have ever had the privilege of hearing. Lima finished by saying that after having recently named her rapists in Columbian court, she was not sure how long she had to live once she gets back home this week, because the gang her perpetrators are part of want her silenced. And that is when my heart broke. Injustice is everywhere, of course, but this seemed to get to me most out of any story I heard that day. Partly, maybe, because this is the line of work I want to go into and I realised quite how lucky I am to live in the country I do, and partly because she has not let it stop her. Through her work, advocacy for other women and her refusal to be silenced on such harrowing issues she has since been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, and has become my new idol.

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Sandi Toksvig

Powerful and empowering stories were shared all over the Southbank Centre that day, and I’m gutted I didn’t get to hear all of them, but I’m also grateful to experience the ones I did. I came away with a buzz I can’t describe and a love I have not felt for a very long time. The theme of WoW is to listen to each other, to love each other, to support each other and to laugh with each other. This is the message I live my life by and it was life-affirming to be in a building with hundreds of other women (and men!) who feel and think the exact same way. Despite the media, feminism isn’t about bashing men or being better than men, it is about being equal to them, and being given that chance. After all, only 7.61% of world leaders are women, and even here in the UK female MPs only make up 30% of Parliament.

This (sort of) brings me to my next point, and the reason that I decided to write this blog post. The incredible MP Harriet Harman told us that when she first started out in politics only 3% of MPs were female, so yes we have come a long way. But coming into the world with fresh eyes, all I see is how far we still really have to go. Hand in hand with the theme of supporting each other that ran through WoW came the idea that we, as women, need to stop fighting among ourselves. Seriously, we need to stop tearing each other down, and just listen to each other. Because if we don’t we are never going to get anywhere, and the inequality between men and women is never going to change. Especially now Trump is in power, we need to stick together more than ever. And I see it every day, even in my life. And truly it breaks my heart. Of course there are going to be people we don’t get along with, I’m not trying to be naive to that. We don’t need to love each other, or even like each other, but we do need to support and respect each other to a certain degree. I’m sure there are women at uni or from home who think I hate them or dislike them, but this is a public recognition that partly I am just an incredibly awkward human being at times, and more importantly that as long as you are doing what you want to do, are happy and making other people happy I will always be your silent cheerleader. Jealousy has no place in feminism, or even in the world if I’m honest. If someone is succeeding in their respective fields, in life, with family or anything at all, then I will always be 100% behind them, because any advancement any woman makes is a win for all of us. And as a woman I’m just so pleased you’re able to do what you wish in that respect, because there was a day not so long ago when we couldn’t.

So this is my plea, think outside yourselves, for the greater good so to speak, and please stop with all the bitterness and jealousy and indirects and general dislike and hate. You gain nothing from bringing someone else down. More so, we get enough of from men, we don’t need it from each other as well. Just let it go, let people do their own thing. As long as they are not hurting themselves or others I really do not understand the need for the bickering.

I was so grateful that this line of thinking was wholeheartedly supported by WoW. I could feel the love and support I have much longed for throughout the entire day and I am going to hold onto that and continue to spread that for as long as I live. And finally, feminist is NOT a dirty word. It is a word I am proud to call myself.

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The crown for a Year in Review: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
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Channel 4 Newswoman Fatima Manji in Conversation with Nosheen Iqbal from The Guardian
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Exhibition in the WoW marketplace
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Exhibition in the WoW marketplace

 

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