WOWser Market Interview with Illustrator Myrto Williams

Yesterday we met London based illustrator Myrto Williams. Myrto has been selling prints of her drawings and illustrations inspired by her birth place London, and the human anatomy.  The WOW Market ends today, don’t miss out on visiting Myrto and the other traders.

Click here to listen to our interview with Myrto.

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Quotas

Two of the talks I’ve been to this weekend (so far) have mentioned something that I’ve struggled to accept in recent years. Quotas. I’ve never been convinced about them either way. Do they help women? Are they tokenism? Does it help the cause of female advancement? I’ve always felt that there are a lot of good arguments on both sides but it’s been interesting to hear a number of speakers come out and say that they think they are necessary.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC spoke this morning at the Women, Power and Change session. She’s an incredibly smart woman, and a fantastic speaker and she came out quite clearly and said that quotas were the way forward. When she entered the Bar, before the 1976 Sex Discrimination Act, only 8% were women. So how far have we come? The current Supreme Court of 12 judges has one woman on it. Not very far at all. Women are still under-represented on boards, in parliament, in Cabinet and in all powerful institutions. Baroness Kennedy argues that this will not change without quotas. Women get stuck where they are, partially because they buy into the dominant ideas in our culture which tell them that quotas are unfair. But men in power talk up younger men coming up through the ranks, who remind them of themselves. Invisible forces like this won’t be broken through unless they are compelled to break them down. Intriguingly, Baroness Kennedy went on to argue that for senior directors and managers bonuses should have a measurable performance indicator related to promoting diversity.

People absorb the story that quota are bad for women as no-one wants to promote a mediocre woman above a man who is better. But why do we assume that all that’s out there are mediocre women? Or that the men that are promoted currently are not mediocre? Plenty of them are and there is no shortage of brilliant, qualified women in most fields who could live up to any role.

Baroness Kennedy went on to talk about merit. We currently have systems where people are promoted on ‘merit’ but who decides what the criteria are? Men who currently hold the power decide on the list of criteria when recruiting. If women were appointed to senior roles, that list could change and might open the playing field for future applicants without the need for quotas. Merit is not a neutral term as it’s currently assumed to be. It has context and the current context is one in which men are in power and make decisions.

This was an incredibly powerful argument and really opened my eyes to the extent to which I had bought the line that quotas were bad for women in the long run. I wasn’t taking the context of merit into account.

Her thoughts echoed some that were made yesterday in the Selling Us Short? session on advertising – who decides how products are advertised and how are women represented in ad agencies? The consensus of the panellists was that there were very few women at a senior creative level, although they were well represented elsewhere in the industry. Towards the end of the discussion chair Rita Clifton asked what would change this. Andrew Cracknell (a former agency Creative Director and author of The Real Mad Men) reluctantly argued that quotas are probably ‘the right thing to do’. He worried that the first women who were promoted or brought in to fulfill a quota would suffer a backlash but that it was proven to work in countries like Norway. Looking back now, I think his comments about the backlash may have come from thinking that men would think the women didn’t merit being there, but I would not agree with him having heard Baroness Kennedy’s comments.

Gail Parminter (founder of her own agency Madwomen) thought that quotas were difficult in a creative role as you need talent, drive and passion to succeed. But again, why did she assume that women out there didn’t have that? She did argue for a need for role models though and that the few women in these positions currently need to reach out to the next generation. Maybe this is where quotas would help – in creating more role models to reach out.

Kate Stanners also mentioned that she hated the idea of quotas as she felt that women wouldn’t be there on merit. I think Baroness Kennedy disproves this point.

Harriet Harman (Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Shadow Deputy Prime Minister) commented that we all hate quotas and find them problematic as it feels like meritocracy is being constrained by them. However, she did feel that sometimes there is no change without them and they are a means to an end. They have worked with MPs to an extent and that focusing initially on targets may be a way to start.

The Selling Us Short? panel had mixed feelings on quotas all round, and probably echoed my own mixed emotions but I’ve really had my thoughts clarified by Baroness Kennedy’s discussion of why they work and why they are necessary. I now see more clearly that the advertising panelists thought about merit in a way that was lacking in context. It’s been fascinating to see two quite different sessions at the festival have the same issue come up but in different ways. The real benefit of a festival like this is to tease out these issues and think about them in new ways benefitting from the experience of women who have fought their way to the top of their careers. We absolutely need to have these tough conversations if anything is going to change.

Find Your People

I went to two quite different sessions this afternoon but in a way Find Your People feels like it pulls them together.

Crash and Burn was a searingly honest discussion of what happens when women hit real lows. Rosie Boycott who chaired the panel is an alcoholic, Angie Le Mar had both a physical crisis and a crisis of confidence in her life and Ruby Wax suffered ‘the tsunami of all depressions’ about 4 1/2 years ago. The questions and comments from the audience were stunningly open too and I was so impressed and humbled by the way the women who spoke there talked about such difficult periods in their lives. Stigma had been a theme discussed by the panel and for these women to confront it in front of utter strangers was so brave.

During the conversation with an audience member the phrase Find Your People kept coming up again and again. Rosie Boycott had felt that support from AA, Ruby Wax has launched Black Dog Tribe, a social networking site for people with mental illness and the panel advised an audience member to seek support for the situation she was in. Find your people. One contributor noted that she had found her people and it simply stopped her feeling mad. She wasn’t alone and she wasn’t crazy for feeling what she was feeling. While inner acceptance was also noted as being key to moving on (from striving to thriving as Boycott put it) having support was vital.

Find your people.

In some ways I saw this echoed in the Rally The Troops event. Helping people to connect to other people seems to be what’s driven these women to do what they do. June Sarpong’s WIE venture is about women having a chance to network with powerful women in their fields. Shami Chakrabarti spoke about the need to help people understand their legal and human rights in language that was inclusive and empowered them. Baroness Grey-Thompson spoke of her time as a Paralympian and how she still goes into schools to let girls know how important sport is to their health and how they can achieve anyything in spite of obstacles they may face. Justine Roberts founded Mumsnet on the premise that mothers needed a space to talk to others mothers about anything and everything (an impulse I can relate to as I started my own feminist forum, Sharing Thoughts & Taking Action).

Find your people.

By finding your voice and what you’re passionate about – and Shami Chakrabarti is one of the most passionate speakers I’ve ever seen – you will be connected to others who feel the same way. It’s part of what I love about feminism in the internet age. The community of bloggers and tweeters helps me to discuss issues and challenge my thoughts, as well as find support when I think I’m the only one who feels that way. It’s also the single biggest strength of the WOW Festival itself, bringing women together in particular sessions to talk about a fantastically diverse range of issues.

Find your people.

Woman of the World Market

I caught sight of WOW Market while I was wandering around the Southbank Centre.

I found various organizations: some involved in helping women affected by domestic violence – WOMEN’S AID http://www.womensaid.org.uk – , others, such as the FEMINIST LIBRARY- http://www.feministlibrary.co.uk- which has been running for over 35 years, looks after everything with regards to the beautiful human called WOMAN.Among other things the Feminist Library was founded to preserve the literature of the Women’s Liberation Movement,it also celebrates feminist music-making.

Members of the Feminist Library also endorse “Dyke March London”, which supports Dyke Visibility and celebrates love and passion not only for women but also for bisexuals and transwomen.The next Dyke March London will take place on 31st March 2012 at 5 pm in Soho Square and it will run through Central London.

So all you wonderful ladies out there wear your most comfortable shoes and join the march at the end of March!

Among the artists I also noticed, sitting in a small corner, a lovely lady called Marta.She received MA in painting and drawing from University of Warmia and Mazury (Poland).She decided to make beautiful and unique jewellery using her own drawings as a template for the laser cuts.She creates little female and male characters and turns them into small jewellery pieces, combining the old technique of drawing to new age laser cutting. Every single piece has its own story to tell.Marta also designs beautiful earrings.You can check the designs and see more of her little creations on : www.don-manolo.com

One of Marta’s little jewellery piece and fabulous earrings

One particular organization that aroused my interest was VANDANAMU ETHICAL COTTONS.As it states in their advert “99% smiles,1% sweat and 100% cotton”, so it must be ethical.Vandanamu has been run by Abhi Arumbakkam since 2010; before then an elderly couple, whose main aim was to provide a relief to those affected by the tsunami that hit India, Sri Lanka and other neighbouring countries, ran the company.This organization helps to raise awareness about unfair wages being paid to people in Southern India as well as supporting a sewing and printing unit to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities to those in need.

For more information on Vandanamu Ethical Cottons go to http://www.vandanamu.org

Women of the World Market was an interesting place to visit.

Written by Maggie Gogler

It’s The Economy, Stupid

A slightly unexpected highlight this morning was this session on global finance and our economy. Rosie Boycott chaired a panel that included Emma Duncan (Deputy Editor of The Economist), Polly Toynbee (political journalist at The Guardian) and TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady.

It was an unusual relief to hear four women speak knowledgeably about detailed economic history and theory, as well as propose suggestions for the future.

Many interesting points were made about the current goverment’s policies and whether they were likely to help our economy recover, in comparison to the tactics taken in a country like the United States. Inevitably there was also much discussion on the government’s cuts and how they are affecting women in particular.

One section of the session really interested me however. Emma Duncan noted that there are very worrying statistics on women’s financial literacy, or lack thereof. She wondered if this was partially because in households men traditionally were the holders of the money and the power to control what was done with it. They also, let’s not forget, carried the weighty responsibility for ensuring the financial health of the family and making sure everyone was provided for.

In this day and age though, is that really true? Many people my age and certainly younger grew up with women who worked and often also ensured bills were paid and groceries and clothes bought, at the best price. Is it as simple as a lack of role models?

Frances O’Grady commented that very often poor people and poor women are actually brilliant at managing to get by on the money they have. They simply don’t have enough of it. It’s certainly true that, as Polly Toynbee said, if you are low paid you are less likely to educate yourself on pensions, savings rates and which is the best ISA right now. As Emma Duncan went on to comment, it is vitally important that young people – not just young women – are educated on financial matters.

I did Business Studies at school for the Irish Junior Certificate (the first year that the Junior Cert was taken). It incorporated incredibly useful sections on household budgeting, balancing chequebooks (times have obviously moved on) and understanding banking and different types of accounts. However, it wasn’t enough and as I discontinued Business Studies after the Junior Cert. that was the end of my education on the subject.

Education in financial matters, as in so many other aspects of young girls’ lives, is the biggest factor that will contribute to a healthy relationship with money later on. Control over money will give you power over your own destiny – as anyone who has given up work to look after children and then wants to leave a marriage will tell you. Knowing how to use what you have to get the best out of a little cash, or plan for the future on a larger salary comes from being confident in making decisions and this comes from education.

Hope for the future

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.

Can’t make WOW? Watch at home…

Hi all!

We want WOW Festival to be truly an international festival – UK wide and worldwide. For this reason we will be live streaming events from the festival.

Here in the New Media Team we’ve been working on WOW since back in November. The digital part of WOW basically involves organising everything online, from Facebook and twitter, to tweet meets and teams of bloggers.

We started out with aim of creating an online community for WOW and (I hope!) we have managed to achieve this. The main thing for us was to have a great Facebook page specifically for WOW so as to create an extension of the festival online. A place for debate, discussion and information. We’ve hit 1000 followers on International Women’s Day, which seems rather well timed.

So here’s a list of all things digital that we’ll be doing throughout the festival weekend:

Twitter – we’ll be tweeting from out @southbankcentre account using #WOW2012

Facebook – we’ll be updating both the Southbank Centre Facebook and our WOW facebook fan pages

Andriod and iphone app – we have created a conference app so that you have easy access to programme information, facebook, blogs and twitter.

Audio Recordings – we’ll be recording some of the talks and putting them on this blog. More details to come.

Live Streaming – you can watch these events live on the WOW microsite:

Friday

Battering Down the door – Starts at 14:15

Eve Ensler – Starts at 18:00

Saturday

It is rocket science – Starts at 12:00

Funny Women – Starts at 16:30

Sunday

Ironing it out – Starts at 10:30

Women and Criminal justice system – Starts at 12:00

Tea with the Lady – Starts at 13:30

Mary Whitehouse – Starts at 15:00

…and of course blogging! We’ve got a team of six bloggers and lots of young people (the WOWsas) who will be blogging during the festival. Watch this space…

Gemma