So, today is International Women’s Day and the official launch of the WOW Festival. I was fortunate enough to be on the Join Me On The Bridge march organised by Women For Women International and to see the speeches afterwards in the Royal Festival Hall.
There were inspiring words uttered by a range of speakers including the Southbank’s Jude Kelly, comedian and writer Kate Smurthwaite, Bianca Jagger, Cherie Blair and writer and activist Natasha Walters with Zrinka Brala a journalist from Bosnia who fled the war in Sarajevo.
I want to take a minute here though to recognise the speakers who gave me more hope for the future than any of the others. Shabana Khanam and Hajera Khanom are pupils from the nearby Mulberry School and spoke eloquently and confidently about why ‘everything matters’. It’s not enough to worry about a single issue like equal pay for women because every single thing is important and will affect this next generation of girls growing up. For instance, women are still defined by their marital status – no Mr for us, it has to be Miss or Mrs. This next generation want to be freed from these limits and to eradicate traditional perceptions of women which they felt we all accept so easily. They want collective thought and action, and call themselves feminists as an ‘act of gratitude’ towards the women who’ve gone before them.
I was really struck by the clear, defiant way these young women spoke and in front of a large crowd of much older women and men, many of whom are professional campaigners. They simply won’t accept that things can’t change in the world.
This year Gender Across Borders are running an International Women’s Day blog with the theme of Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures. They need look no further than Shabana and Hajera. These girls talk about collective action and the need for a lack of selfishness and this will be increasingly important in the future. This generation of girls in the UK has an unprecedented opportunity to be heard. They don’t need to wait to be given permission to speak or for someone to give them a platform. They have Facebook and Twitter, they write their own blogs. They find their own platforms. It sounds like they intend to use them to make quite a noise and are feeling the responsibility of that voice.
This perspective gives me so much hope for the future and I’m really looking forward to reading what the WOWsers have to say over the next 3 days.