Journalism

Women of the World Festival 2014 at the Southbank Centre.

By Tina Ledger

WOW Festival Poster on Southbank, London.

WOW Festival Poster on Southbank, London.

Events reviewed:

  • Global Gay Rights
  • Sexual Violence in Conflict

 

Supported by Bloomberg and hosted at The Southbank Centre, Women of the World Festival (W.o.W) celebrates the successes of women and also discusses some of the most pressing topics regarding women today, including female genital mutilation, sexuality, sexual violence and modern feminism. W.o.W festival features talks by some of the worlds most prominent figures, such as fashion designer and business woman Vivienne Westwood, education activist Malala Yousafzai, and Ronnie Spector, of the 60s super girl- group The Ronettes.

 

Founder and director of the festival Jude Kelly says: ‘The idea of a woman being the leader is still, I think, something people have to double-check. There’s always that “Can she do it?” As soon as you ask the question, the possibility is that the answer can be “no”. The fact that you ask the question simply because she is a woman is one of the problems. I don’t feel like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder,I’ve had a fantastic career, but I felt that because I’m in a senior position it’s important not to be on the fence. I like being able to make younger women feel they’ve got an ally – women should support other women.’


Global Gay Rights:

 

Founder of Black Pride UK Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Forensic psychologist Skye Chirape, and author of The End of Equality Beatrix Campbell, discuss race and sexuality, and whether we need more lesbian role models. Chaired by Jane Czyzelska, Editor of DIVA magazine.

 

Global Gay Rights Panel

Global Gay Rights Panel

Though lesbian and gay couples have now achieved marriage equality in the U.K, we have also seen homosexuality being re-criminalised in some other countries across Europe and Africa. Currently, over 80 countries legislate against homosexuality – that is around half of all the world’s countries.

 

Beatrix Campbell argues that, as LGBT organisations gain global attention and recognition, we will see a rise in patriarchal fundamentalism. This may include campaigns of fear mongering, such as the recent statement from UKIP Councillor David Silvester attributed global warming and poor weather conditions to gay marriage.

 

However, many people who identify as homosexual also identify with other ethnic or religious minority groups. Phyll Opoku-Gyimah spoke about the black LGBT community, and how they are not fully represented within certain areas of gay activism. She also adds that this puts pressure on people that are black and gay to choose an identity. This brings forth debates around privilege, as the black LGBT community often have very different experience to those that are white/British, as they are also subject to racial discrimination.

 

For example, my experience as a lesbian are greatly different from someone that is also an ethnic minority, and experiences homophobia from family members. My experience of coming out was very positive, however lesbians within the Asian community, in particular, often find it incredibly difficult being open about their sexuality with their families. Black pride recognises this, and invites members of various background to come and share their experiences of coming out and offer practiced adive, which others would greatly appreciate.

 

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah makes clear that Black Pride is not about separation, it is about offering specialised support for those that also experience other aspects of discrimination within there lives. Black Pride is a place to share life experiences and learn about other cultures, and after watching Phyll’s amazing video footage of the event, I am very much looking forward to attending later this year.

 

Highlights:

  •    LGBT political battles are not won
  •    We will see a rise of patriarchal fundamentalism
  •    Check your privilege

 

Best quote: ‘Homosexuality is not inherited from Europe and colonialism, homophobia is.’ – Skye Chirape

 


Sexual Violence in Conflict:

 

Millie Harvey, Carron Mann and Dr Lara Nettelfield represent Women for Women International, and have worked with over 384,000 socially excluded women, many of whom have survived sexual violence, in eight conflict-affected countries across the world. They present lessons from 20 years of experience to explore how sexual violence can be prevented in conflict and post-conflict contexts, and how to support survivors of such violence to ensure they contribute fully to the rebuilding of conflict-affected countries. Led by Brita Fernandez Schmidt, Executive Director of Women for Women International.

Sexual Violence in Conflict Panel

Sexual Violence in Conflict Panel

 

Women for Women International operate in many conflicted areas, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Congo. All the panelists spoke in detail about the actions that are being taken to rid countries torn apart by conflict of sexual violence, but what really struck out to me was the Men’s Leadership Training Programme.

 

Sexual violence is not just a behavioural problem, it also illustrates attitudinal issues; for example, the belief that women might invite, or even deserve rape, which in turn teaches women to feel guilty about their traumatic experiences. Carron Mann spoke about coming across these attitudes in conflicted areas, where women are often grateful for forgiveness: ‘my husband appreciated that it was not my fault, so he took me back’. The Men’s Leadership Training Programme teaches both men and women about the benefits, economically and socially, that women can bring to society.

 

During the event, we saw video footage of a Congolese soldier, who had previously participated and bared witness to mass rapes. We hear the soldier talk frankly of his experience, which had a strong emotional effect on me, and I felt physically sick. Now, however, the man states that through training, he now realises the physical and psychological effects of rape and sexual violence. It was bizarre to hear someone speak about, what I had assumed to be universal and innate to humanity, as if it were something completely alien.

 

However, survivors of sexual abuse are not just treated with suspicion in areas of conflict, but also in this country. Through what I learned at the Rape and the Law event at W.o.W, it is clear that there is also an attitudinal issue surrounding women and rape within the U.K. Therefore, should young boys and girls not also be educated about women’s equality in Britain? Rather than focusing a great deal of attention towards asking girls to speak more openly about their experiences of sexual abuse, we should also make clear that these behaviours are abnormal and not acceptable, especially to young men, in order to break this circle of abuse.

 

Highlights:

  •    Sexual violence in conflict ins not a recent phenomenon
  •    Men’s Leadership Training Program
  •    Confronting the degrading attitudes that surround women, not just the behaviour

 

Best quote: ‘Any arguments suggesting that a woman could do anything to justify her being raped is disgusting’ – Carron Mann

 

View from the Southbank Center

View from the Southbank Center

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