18 Nov 2016

Q&A with Women of the World Founder Jude Kelly

Jude talks about the global movement that shouts up for gender equality.

Jude Kelly CBE is one incredibly inspiring individual who champions the voices of women everywhere – from all walks of life.

Jude is the artistic director at the Southbank Centre in London, Britain’s largest cultural institution, and the founder of Women of the World (WOW) – a global movement that shouts up for gender equality, through high-profile weekends of talks, music, debate, comedy and performance.

From 10 to 12 March 2017, WOW comes to Hull. WOW Hull will take place at Hull City Hall and we’ve been hosting sessions called Thinkins at venues all over the city, giving people the chance to share their ideas and suggestions of what they’d like to see at the festival.

The last of these, The Big Thinkin, takes place from 6pm on Monday 21 November, 2016, at the Mercure Royal Hotel, where Jude will be giving a guest speech. We talk to Jude ahead of her visit to Hull.

What is WOW festival and why does it exist?

WOW is a celebration of everything that girls and women have done and are doing, and how we achieve an equal world. It’s also a festival that looks at what still needs to be done.

Who is WOW for and what can people expect?

It’s really for everybody. It’s for people who want to find out about the different issues that girls and women are facing, but it’s also a festival of stories – great stories of achievement and great stories of surviving that cover tremendously difficult challenges. It’s not a conference and it doesn’t require you to be a professional in a particular field. It’s for people for all different walks of life.

In the past, we’ve had things such as the under-10s’ feminist corner, a project about older women and we cover very important subjects including rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence. There are also other issues surrounding the way you see your body, and the politics of afro hair, among many others.

Was there a particular moment when you decided to set WOW up?

Yes. It was about eight years ago and I thought to myself, I’m a really senior woman in the arts – and the arts are all about telling stories. There aren’t enough stories told by women and not enough history understood about all the incredible things that they have done and that’s how it all started.

What has moved you the most about a performance or speech you’ve hosted at WOW?

Malala Yousafzai has been to the WOW Festival twice now, and for me, she is an extraordinary young woman. What she has had to endure, what she believes in and what she’s committed her life to doing – that’s an amazing story in itself.

But then there are other women who are less known who have come forward and talked about surviving sexual harassment, rape or incest and who are amazingly courageous. That’s been very moving.

There are also wonderful stories from the women from Dagenham and women who fought for equal pay and so many young women – 14, 15, 16 year-olds – who want to change the world for the better.

Is there a role for art in the future of equality?

Art and culture can communicate who we are and what we do. The difficulty is of course, is that art and culture has developed as if it’s only for highly educated people who have enough money to enjoy the arts. It’s our job to make sure that people know that it is for everyone. Art and culture has the ability to make people feel like they are visible and equal.

I’m really excited about WOW Hull. People are really invested into their community in Hull and because of that, change will happen more quickly if they band together. City of Culture has infected Hull with a sense that ‘we can do this about lots of things.

What impact has WOW had so far and what are you looking forward to?

I’ve definitely seen a change happen since I started WOW. WOW in the UK and around the world has developed a confidence and happiness about being active about gender equality and helps people not to be scared of sharing their views. It’s already in 17 countries and is being planned for another 20. Trying to make a change in the world is an exciting thing to do, even if you think, why do we have to do this in the first place? We’ve just got to get on with it.

Why are Thinkin sessions so integral to shaping every WOW festival?

We never do a WOW Festival without our Thinkins. You need to be able to listen to other people’s opinions and if we based everything on my experiences for example, it wouldn’t work.

What can people expect from the Hull Thinkin session on 21 November?

Just come! And don’t worry – you haven’t got to know everything and you don’t have to call yourself a feminist. It’s a very friendly and welcoming environment to be in.

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