Courage is the bottom line

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To celebrate the launch of the 50th WOW Festival in Perth, the woman who founded it all – Jude Kelly – delivered a timely, moving speech at the Perthshire Businesswomen’s Network breakfast networking meeting this weekend.

Jude spoke to the crowd about why she started WOW: “I started the festival because there is this feeling at times of - ‘What a relief, eh? We’ve reached equality’. Sadly, nine years ago I looked around and realised – well we definitely haven’t”. As for what she hoped to achieve with it, she elaborated:

“When I started WOW I didn’t want to say ‘woman in corporate life should fight to be on boards’ and that’s where we’ll leave it.’ I didn’t want to say once we have more women in parliament, once some of them get there that’s fine and we’ll leave it there. 

It’s not about swapping women into power positions and leaving everything else the same. This is about recognising what a joyful and productive world we could have if the issues of multiple disadvantage could be looked at straight in the eye.” She then went on to specifically outline what factors can lead to societal disadvantages - due the way our society is structured - and start to think of solutions:

“A working class woman is less likely because of her accent and education and background and confidence to move at speed to recognise her potential. What should we as women do about that? Same goes if you’re a woman of colour, a woman with disabilities, LGBT - etc.

So we know what disempowering looks like. How do we as woman lead a different kind of just, fair and equal society? And how do we get boys and men to think – even if they’re unsure how to handle that at first – to have a go?”

She brought her own experiences into the conversation, too. “When I was growing up as a little girl my grandma had 14 children and left school when she was 12. My mum had four children and left school when she was 15.

For me to be where I am now, some people had to decide girls should get education, the vote, birth control, lots of things. Which I got. And as a white woman, I can now see I was given some real things. And I don’t want to squander my acceleration that was helped by other people’s goodwill." 

Things that need to change were spoken about head on: “A woman educated to the same level as a man, by the time she hits her pensionable age will be five times poorer than a man. That is a fact. The amount of promotion that a woman can expect in her life is at least 35 percent less than men.”

Although the realities of a patriarchal society were discussed frankly, there was an element of hope: “The knowledge that we have is vast. There are lots of things about power that lead to terrible behaviour by humans. We as women who have been on the receiving end of a lot of it have got to think about what a different kind of world could look like.

But if we’re constantly trying to negotiate how we can put that knowledge forward to make change happen while at the same time looking acceptable, then it’s a slow burn.”

She also highlighted the importance of the ‘global’ aspect to the Women of the World festival, and the importance of fostering solidarities with women on a global scale, and the work that we all have left to do in our communities to eradicate sexism and misogyny:

“Women making changes to their life can’t be in the Global North and leaving out the Global South. We have things to learn.

It’s not only that you can look to other countries – like there’s appalling violence in Papa New Guinea or terrible oppression in parts of Pakistan. But the statistics on intimate partner violence in the U.K. hasn’t changed a jot. There are still two women killed every week. There are still huge examples of domestic violence and the issues around girls’ and womens’ mental health have actually accelerated.

She closed on a powerful note: “If think now that eroding patriarchy will take care of itself, we’re really not being fair to the women who came before us. We’re not being fair to the women who will come after. None of us can afford to say we’ll leave it to itself.” 

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