The distance between the stage and the chairs at the inauguration of the two-day Women of the World (WOW) Festival, organised by the British Council at a hotel here on Saturday morning, was covered with red and striped black and white zebra print floor cushions. And the women preferred the floor to the chairs.
This year WOW Festival’s theme is ‘Resilience, Transformation and Return.’ It was explained that ‘Resilience’ honours the spirit of women to turn adversity into strength. ‘Transformation’ celebrates their collective efforts to create societies that value all women. And ‘Return’ embraces the wisdom of practices that are closer to nature.
With the Chinna Creek mangroves as the backdrop, Senator Sherry Rehman delivered her thought-provoking keynote address. “I hope we have a good time. And I hope we connect and develop synergies,” she said. “Festivals like these are important in linking activism in the real sense.”
She said: “Women have fought at the forefront for reform. Whenever there is activism needed, women are at the forefront, despite the onerous double burden both at the workplace and at home. As we celebrate women, we must continue to push back, disrupt and defy emerging challenges, risks and problems women face at multiple levels.”
‘Karachi became the caucus of the WOW movement’
Welcoming this year’s theme, she said that she was there to talk about the resilience of women in the face of climate change. “There are two great structural challenges in the world — poverty and water,” she said.
“Some 70 per cent women in the world live under the poverty line. They feel climate change, and usually with no one to raise a voice for them. These women’s lives, deeply entangled with access to natural resources such as water and firewood to complete their daily chores, are harder hit by climate-enhanced burdens and frustrations. They have been thrust to the forefront in dealing with the harsh realities of this rapidly changing environment. Being scarce as a daily necessity means that those who are lesser privileged are having to bear the burden of bringing water back to their homes. Women in rural areas are walking at least two kilometres to bring water back to their villages,” she said.
Earlier in her welcome address, Chantal Harrison-Lee, British Council’s director for arts, said that working with their team, the WOW Foundation and their phenomenal curatorial team they had put together their most ambitious programme to date, featuring nearly 100 women as well as men, across ages.
“We have climate change at the heart of our work, throughout our programming and in our delivery approach and we are dedicated to making WOW a climate-friendly festival,” she said.
“WOW first and foremost is a family-friendly, inclusive festival for all ages and genders. We really believe that if we move towards a world where gender equality is an everyday fact, it takes all of us to get there no matter what their age, race or social standing. WOW is a vital platform to celebrate and empower women to provide a space for discussion around key issues and barriers women and girls face, and aims to make a bottom-up change,” she said.
The British Council hosted the first full-scale WOW in South Asia in Karachi in 2016. WOW festivals first began in the UK in 2010, launched by Jude Kelly CBE at Southbank Centre London. WOW festivals around the world are platforms to celebrate women and girls, discuss what prevents them from achieving their potential, raise global awareness and discuss solutions to the issues they face. WOW has reached over two million people in 17 countries in six continents, in locations including Australia, Brazil, China, Egypt, Finland, Nepal, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, the UK, US and Pakistan with more than 60 festivals around the world. The WOW Foundation was created by Kelly in 2018 to manage what has now become a global movement.
Daniella Jenkins, executive director at the WOW Foundation, said that she felt humbled to come to Pakistan where WOW began in South Asia. “A child of Africa, I would sit and wonder about things. But belief brought me to Pakistan to listen and see what brings us together. Karachi became the caucus of the movement,” she said.
“We are about gender equality, which is how the world should be balanced,” she said. “Gender equality is possible and achievable. Gender equality is not about wrestle for power. It is about creating space,” she concluded.
The day’s other highlights included a Zoe and Rachel Viccaji concert, talent performances, panel discussions, talks, film screenings and workshops. There were also a number of stalls with interesting offerings to explore.
The festival concludes on Sunday.
Originally published in Dawn, December 15th, 2019