WOW Festival, Chester

The inaugural WOW Chester took place over the weekend 20/21 May at the new Storyhouse theatre.

I was privileged to be invited to be part of the weekend including hosting a discussion with a stellar lineup of panelists.

It was a very lively panel with an equally engaged and interactive audience and I felt it was important to keep the conversation going after the event – so i’ve asked each of our role models to share their reflections post WOW Chester.

As we absorb the horrific attack killing our girls, young people and parents in Manchester we continue to speak via our WhatsApp group offering support and kindness to each other.

Reflections of WOW Chester…..

“It’s a fact that women, on the whole, have less power than men; we have less presence and authority in public settings be they professional, cultural, political or otherwise. We bear a greater burden in the home and a greater share of unpaid labour. How do we go about shifting this imbalance of power and influence towards fairness and in our favour?

“Firstly, we need a seat at every table (Boardroom/Parliament Benches/Newsdesk) and we definitely need more than one woman there. Without representation, we do not have a voice. We also cannot be what we cannot see and for so long the experience of white men has been considered ‘universal’ but it is only because that was the only experience in the public eye. With more than one woman at each decision-making table, we allow each woman to speak for herself and to challenge the status quo or to show that no single person speaks for all; allowing for the growth of empathy.

“Secondly, part of the change needs to be structural. Existing authority may have the best of intentions with increasing the number of women in power but when it comes to results few are successful without setting tangible quotas and targets; the numbers speak for themselves! By setting targets, by building them into the design of an organisation or system – i.e. 50% women and 50% men – it ensures that impetus is demanded and necessary adjustments are made to achieve this; the pipeline is populated because it has to be.

“Third, by designing a system that demands women at the table, it allows women to be entitled, which is my final takeaway from the discussion in understanding the necessary steps towards change. I would encourage all women to make it their primary goal to feeling entitled to what they want; after all, it’s what most white men feel naturally (“Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man!”). The psychology behind power can be overlooked and women require a strong network, be it family, sponsors, networks, colleagues or friends to feel that sense of entitlement but it is vital that we encourage ourselves, as much as each other, to strive ahead of what we think we deserve. As business leader Cindy Gallop says “ask for the highest pay rise you can without laughing”.”

– Hannah Philip @5050parliament

“Feel the fear, and do it anyway

I write this as I reflect on the last 24 hours in my city of Manchester, and returning from the vigil for the victims and families affected.

I ended last weekend on a high at the inaugural WOW festival in the North West. Joining an incredible group of women and men in Chester to celebrate the diversity and power of women. At the end of this week, I’d been gearing up for the start of Ramadan; one of the holiest months for Muslims where we fast from sunrise to sunset and increase in our spiritual reflections, prayer and charitable deeds. In a sense, recalibration of the soul.

My take away action from the Festival was to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. It was the first time I’d joined such a formidable panel of women to give my views on gender equality, and my aim was to connect and inspire at least one person. I did more than that. I learnt how to be confident in using my voice and story to connect with others, and it’s spurred me on to speak to my contacts about using educational tools as a mechanism to improve the life chances for young girls. I also wanted to be a role model as a British Pakistani Muslim woman. Sometimes it’s hard trying to be a good representative of such a diverse and complex community, one which I love, although I feel is increasingly getting hammered from all sides. It can be easy to feel the fear, lose hope and not know what to do for the best. My words at the Festival were that each of us has a unique contribution to make and to believe in ourselves. That’s what I’m going to do. Use that fear for my community, hurt and sadness at the loss of those beautiful souls or were tragically injured and their loved ones, and find a way to keep connecting and having dialogue with others. Unity at times like this is immensely powerful. I’m so proud of the way my city and its people reacted and rallied round each other during this last 24 hours and the fear we all felt. It’s up to me, and my peers, to continue to build connections on what binds us rather than divides us, as we face even more difficult times ahead.”

– Murryam Anwar @Murryam

“I’ll take away a new identity – a feminist – something I didn’t relate to before WOW. I’ll take away a new understanding of my inner critic that seems so noisy in women…I’m going to try and shut that critic up. I’m going to actively praise and encourage women… From the incredible feedback I received, I realise I have a story to tell that the audience connect with – I need to ensure I get out there and tell it to more women and girls…I’m ready for a new dialogue and inspiring and enabling a new generation of campaign Kate’s – women and girls need to step out of their silence and make their important voices heard…they matter.”

– Kate Spall @campaignkate

“On Sunday I also attended the “Violence: Everybody’s Business?” panel, featuring amongst others the brilliant Dr Maddy Coy and Holly Dustin, as well as T.O. Walker. Between the two I was left yesterday reflecting on a number of themes around power, but particularly the relationship between the power and control of individual’s over their own behaviour and the structural inequalities people face in holding and exercising that power. As a coach and change agent this is a theme I return to often in supporting people and teams or organisations to create change.
But as I write this on Tuesday morning I do so in light of the news of the horrific terrorist attack on the Manchester Arena. The strongest theme I come back to is the discussion of “what is real power?”. At The Parliament Project we support women to seek power within the existing political structures, but this can and must only be a precursor to changing the way we distribute and exercise power in society. “Real power” to me does not base itself in taking away or curtailing the power and agency of others; be that directly through violence or the less overt ways of restricting access through inequality and self-interest. “Real power” opens up the power and control people have over their own decisions and communities have to reach collaborative decisions that work for all. So as my take-away I will continue to support women and girls to seek power, to explore different ways of operating collective power and consider where I can share power I hold with others at every opportunity.”

– Nicola Waterworth @nicwaterworth

“It was a wonderful opportunity to be part of the first WOW Chester, to see WOW in the North West celebrating the breadth and diversity we have around us. I joined a panel of amazing women to discuss power and change from our perspective as well as the audience.

Some key themes that stayed with me – to educate our young people to show them they are all part of our future. The inequalites that women face are structural however we need to be at the table to dismantle these structures, in the boardroom, politics, law and the media. We cannot wait for this to happen so quotas are vital – a means to an end.

Reflecting on our discussions after the shocking attack in Manchester it is clear that there has never been a more important time to make our voices heard. To show there is no place in our society for hatred and exclusion, the power we have is to use our voices in all our diversity to demand change.

I’m pleased to hear the WOW festival will run for at least another 2 years in Chester, I look forward to next years event being even more open, inclusive and letting us hear all women’s voices.”

– Tabitha Morton @TabithaMortonWE

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