The Women of the World Festival will mark its 10th anniversary next year. The event has been so successful that Jude Kelly has quit her day job as artistic director of the Southbank Centre to head up the venture full time. The festival has since been expanded into 17 countries around the world with 65 festivals in countries from Nepal to Finland to the US.
The festival aims to “celebrate women and girls, taking a frank look at what prevents them from achieving their potential, raising awareness globally of the issues they face and discussing solutions together”.
The festival is testament to the resurgence of interest in women’s liberation and feminism in the era of Trump, and part of a growing economy of live events, including panel talks.
Unsurprisingly, the broad church tied by identity included a range of political shades, which celebrates women in business as well as more radical activists. Trans activist Munroe Bergdorf has been a regular for a number of years.
While the conversation with singer Lily Allen focused on encouraging a general sense of wellbeing, the discussion between Jude Kelly and Angela Davis on International Women’s Day itself injected a shot of forward-looking politics into the timetable.
Davis’s rock star status had a largely black, female audience on their feet in applause from the moment she stepped onto the stage. There were almost physical fights in the queue to ask a question, and outpourings of admiration from the few who got to speak.
When asked about the debate around trans rights, Davis spoke candidly about the need to remain critical in one’s thinking throughout life, and the danger of making oppression part of an identity to the point of excluding others.
When Kelly asked about problems with antisemitism on the left, referring specifically to the Labour Party, Davis spoke of the need to oppose all forms of racism, but nimbly turned a spotlight onto Palestine. She made parallels with the way South Africa had become a torchlight for activists during the era of apartheid, and discussed the militarisation of police forces in Israel and the US.
While in her segment the next day, Sandi Toksvig highlighted the appointment of female leaders of the New York stock markets, Davis pointed out that women being appointed to leadership positions in business by no means halts the might of the capitalist system which continues to oppress women and so many other groups.
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