11 March 2015

WOW Festival 2015: The Misrepresentation of Women in Society

A guest blog by 28 Too Many Youth Ambassador Noa Marson.

We have come so far in the struggle to bring equality for women and girls across the globe. Even one hundred years ago it would have been surprising for thousands of people – of all different backgrounds and ages - to come together and demonstrate their support, freely expressing their opinions and feelings. At the Women of the World (WOW) festival from the 1st to the 8th March, exactly that happened. In celebration of International Women’s day on Sunday, many topics were addressed and discussed such as FGM and the unfair dominance and control that men have over women.

Upon entering the Royal Festival Hall at the South Bank there was an extremely beautiful atmosphere, with several stalls promoting the rights of women.  Plan were raising awareness to give child marriage the finger with #endchildmarriage, and Women for Refugee Women were getting people to write messages on postcards to Theresa May, asking her to stop the detainment of refugee women with #setherfree. There was also The Feminist Library and many other anti-oppression and pro-tolerance charities and groups.

The first seminar I attended was called ‘The Female City’. The panel consisted of three very inspiring women: leader of Lambeth council Lib Peck, Chairman of Social Cohesion and Community Safety Overview & Scrutiny Committee Mariam Khan (at just 21 years old!), and urban innovation expert from the Young Foundation Tricia Hackett. Considering that only 12% of country’s leaders are women but approximately half of the world population is female, this is completely unrepresentative of humanity’s needs, unjustifiable and simply unfair. 

Peck proposed that a city run by women (or at least more gender-equal) would prioritise political issues like equal pay, child care provisions, adult social care and very importantly focus on ending the violence against women, making society a safer place. Khan suggested that it is not that men do not want to diminish these concerns - nor is it that they do not care - but that they have an entirely different frame of mind to women, and therefore do not consider them in the same manner that a woman do. The subject of women being inclusive was also addressed, as well as the importance that the needs of the whole of society are considered; to do this one must actually speak to the women, and hear the issues firsthand. Peck spoke about how when she was first appointed in her role, she was surprised at the number of women that came for support, now that she occupied the position a man had previously held. 

Another insightful and honest talk asked the question ‘Who owns your body?’. Initially most of us replied ‘me’, and as we thought more about it some answered ‘my child’ or ‘my husband’, but as we delved deeper we realised that the media and our culture - without our permission - actually control a huge part of our actions, even subconsciously. 

For example, in the United States there are certain rules about breastfeeding in public; additionally, most of us feel pressured to look certain ways, even if we do not want to believe it. For example, a performer in the audience shared that she used to never remove her body hair, but as she grew increasingly ashamed of it she began to cover her body and eventually chose to start removing it. She now feels much more comfortable in her own skin.  It is this subliminal message of perfection and unspoken rules that confine individuals into the norms of society, leading one to feel ashamed if they deviate from these expectations. However, one could also consider ‘body’ to be meant more physically - for example if there is more than one person in a photograph it is legally the public’s. Ironically with promotional photographs being taken during this discussion, many people felt uncomfortable that they - in photograph - were not ‘theirs’ and did not have the control over what happened with the photo, including who saw it. 

The whole festival was an extremely moving and important experience, with people from all over the world of different ages, religions, genders and experiences, gathering together as one in the firm belief of gender-equality. What I have spoken about is a tiny snippet of WOW 2015 and there were many performances, exhibitions and stalls, getting everyone involved (even an under-10s feminist corner!). Without events like this the struggle for equality would be much greater, and much more impossible to tackle. I definitely recommend to everyone to go next year. (I will be!)

If you want to make sure that women and children seeking asylum in the UK are treated with justice and dignity, you can have a look at Women for Refugee Women. If you want to show your support with ending child marriage you can visit the Plan UK website (if you get a ring you can post a selfie giving child marriage the finger!). 

It is an honour to be appointed as Youth Ambassador for 28 Too Many. I am very passionate about the rights of girls and women across the globe, therefore I am grateful to be able to do my part to help eradicate FGM. I am currently studying for my GCSEs and hope to work in the field of neuroscience in the future.


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