International Women’s Day, part ii: Widening Our Circle at the WOW festival

On 10 and 11 March, The Circle and our team of fabulous volunteers set up shop at the Southbank Centre’s WOW — Women of the World festival with the aim of meeting as many women as possible, discussing our current projects and our goals for the future, listening to the incredible line-up of speakers and, of course, widening our circle. Here’s a little look at what we got up to…

We met…

Hundreds of inspirational women who were not only keen to learn about The Circle but also wanted to share the ways in which we work to empower women worldwide. This included one of our lovely new members Katie Rose from Sing For Water, who joined after being inspired by our founder Annie Lennox’s talk at #March4Women on 5 March.

We also chatted with women like Nazzy Amin from Restless Development about our accountability in pushing for gender equality and shaping the future for women. Carolyn Thom, from Their Voice Modern Slavery, told us about their Day 46 initiative, which aims to help protect and rehabilitate victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK, once their financial support and assistance from the Home Office ends after 45 days.

Our time at WOW ended with us meeting the brilliant Gemma Cairney, who has supported The Circle in the past and was there signing her brand new book Open.

We listened to…

Sandi Toksvig’s 2016 Year in Review, where—all while wearing a #pinkpussyhat—she discussed everything from Boaty McBoatface and Brexit to Trump’s inauguration, which paved the way for the ‘first truly global feminist movement’ with January’s worldwide Women’s Marches.

We heard from Iona Lawrence, director of the Jo Cox Foundation and best friend of the well-missed MP Jo Cox, who was tragically murdered last year. She told the audience how Jo never asked ‘what do you think?’ but simply said ‘what can we do?’, continuing on to say that ‘Jo was a true activist and a passionate force for good in this world’.

We also listened to the remarkable stories of three extraordinary women in the Honourlogues: Shame performance, which was moved to the Royal Festival Hall due to the huge crowds of women queuing.

Founder of Karma Nirvana Jasvinder Sanghera CBE discussed how at sixteen she ran away from her home in the UK after her parents tried to force her into marrying a stranger from India and hasn’t spoken to them in 36 years since, after they told her that she was dead to them for dishonouring the family. Her sister later committed suicide by setting fire to herself after her family shamed her for divorcing the man she was forced to marry and who abused her. Jasvinder now runs a charity which supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriages.

Irish Times journalist Róisín Ingle spoke about how her own country turned its back on her when she was in need of an abortion and how, after fifteen years of staying silent due to shame, she decided to write a column on her abortion, which in turn helped thousands of Irish women stand up and say ‘me too’. She is now campaigning as part of the #Repealthe8th movement.

Last but not least, Fiona Broadfoot spoke on her experience being trafficked from Bradford to London as a fifteen-year-old girl, where she was forced into prostitution for eleven years of her life before escaping. She discussed how her past still follows her today, as her criminal convictions for prostitution have led her to being frog-marched out of jobs, denied by colleges and even recently by two male councillors when she launched her Build A Girl programme, who said they would keep a copy of her criminal record ‘just in case’. Since launching her programme she has helped empower dozens of girls, and speaking out about her past has helped her reclaim the shame that consumed her for so many years. Her final statement ‘and still I rise…’ was met by a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.

We cried at…

The Women on the Move Awards. The awards are held every year at the festival and, as Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly MBE says, ‘it wouldn’t be WOW without it’.

The ceremony had four incredible winners, including 17-year-old Yazidi teen Rozin Khalil Hajool, who moved to the UK with her family in 2008 after it became too dangerous to live in Iraq and launched an online petition to help Yazidi women and girls who have been kidnapped by ISIS. The petition has gained over 275,000 signatures and continues to rise.

Sunday Times foreign correspondent Christina Lamb OBE was awarded the Sue Lloyd-Roberts Media Award for her series of articles on refugees in 2016. She has reported from some of the world’s most dangerous hotspots and shared some emotional stories with the audience, which left both Christina and us a little bit tearful to say the least.

Lord Alfred Dubs won the Champion Award for his work championing and winning support for The Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act of 2016, which compelled the UK government to resettle and support unaccompanied refugee children from other countries. Coming to the UK at the age of 6 as one of 669 children who escaped the holocaust, Dubs has spent most of his life being an advocate for refugee rights and continues to fight for the implementation of The Dubs Amendment today.

The final award of the night was given to Eritrean journalist Eden Habtemichael, for her work with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. After seeking refuge in the UK with her daughter in 2004, with only a few words of English and no one to help her, Eden has worked tirelessly to welcome and support asylum seekers and refugees who have lost everything. She also helped establish Refugee Week and hosts a scheme for refugees in Oxford, where she has been named a ‘hero’ by the young people she has helped.

We also…

Played the drums with Girls Rock London—an NGO that creates opportunities for women and girls to make music—, took part in the dinahvagina lucky dip and each came away with our very own ceramic clitorises (as you do!), made personalised The Circle placards at the Activism in the Archive corner, made cut-out versions of ourselves for the Globella feminist zine, got Mehndi on our hands at our neighbouring stall Asha Projects, signed a petition at the 50:50 Parliament stand to get better gender balance in Parliament, left a note of love to rape survivors at the My Body Back stall, and bought lingerie from Taylor and Rani which gives back to girls around the world—whether that be with a pair of knickers, sanitary products or a monetary donation—with each purchase.

But most importantly, we met wonderful women who we hope will join The Circle and help us in our mission to empower women around the world and stand up to all forms of discrimination against women.

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@shanhodge
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.

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