The brave and the brilliant at WOW

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The Women of the World festival (WOW London) is the ultimate in joyous celebration of womanhood. It’s also clever and complex and difficult and awkward, and leaves you furious, despondent and inspired – all at the same time. As Jude Kelly, Artistic Director and founder of the Festival, says “culture can’t just be about events that entertain. It also has to be about the tough stuff.”

This year more South Asians then ever brought their ideas, insights and questions to the festival. Straight-talking Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti kicked off the weekend’s events; Sadiq Khan, Labour candidate for London Mayor faced questions about his gender policy; journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Mulberry School for Girls student Anisa Khalique presented the Saturday morning news through a gendered lens. There was comedy from Shazia Mirza and political advisor turned comedian Ayesha Hazarika, as well as discussions on Asian women in the workplace, and what it means to be young, British and Asian. Pakistani squash sensation Maria Toorpakai spoke of how she negotiated Taliban-shaped hurdles by dressing as a boy to get court-time. Baroness Sandip Verma and Hera Hussain of Chayn, (an open-source project that uses technology to empower women against violence) spoke about women and girls’ digital security; and BBC journalist Anita Anand talked about her book on the incredible princess-revolutionary-suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh (she’s also made a documentary about the princess which we wrote about here).

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Our personal highlight was the fencing display and photo exhibition – both featuring Muslim Girls Fence. As the same suggests, these are a group of Muslim school girls brought together by Maslaha, British Fencing and Sport England to challenge stereotypes of fencing as an elite British sport, and of what Muslim girls can and cannot do.

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We have a long running thing with WOW – we go each year, and are always amazed at the spectacle of women (and increasingly, men) of all ages, and cultural, ethnic, religious and spiritual backgrounds coming together in mutual curiosity, solidarity and celebration of one another. As WOW grows and grows – expansion plans include 52 countries by 2018 – we look forward to seeing all the places – geographic and otherwise – it’ll take us to.

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Photo credits: Views on the news panel: Pete Woodhead; Shami Chakrabarti and Shama Rahman: Belinda Lawley; Muslim Girls Fence: Funoon’s trusty iphone. 

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