What is WOW?

2020 marks the Women of the World Foundation's 10th anniversary – find out more about the festival and its history

Naomi Klein in conversation at WOW (2019-03-09) by Alice BoageyWOW - Women of the World Foundation

WOW is a festival because celebration creates optimism, optimism creates determination and energy, and that makes you feel like anything is possible. It’s for anybody who is thinking about the amazing world we would have if gender equality could come about.

All around the WOW festival you’ll hear music, stand up comedy, talks, debates and performance, food, friends and more.

WOW is for everyone - superstars like Naomi Klein, Malala Yousafzai, Leymah Gbowee, Lupita Nyong’o and Salma Hayek come and participate, alongside thousands of people of all genders to celebrate achievements and discuss solutions together. 

Jude Kelly at WOW Rio (2018-12) by Amanda SoaresWOW - Women of the World Foundation

Here's a look back at WOW's history over the past decade

In 2010, WOW Founder and Director Jude Kelly CBE was Artistic Director of Southbank Centre, one of the Europe's largest arts centres. A renowned theatre director, Jude had become concerned that women and girls had seemingly lost both the space and dialogue to discuss gender inequality.

Jude Kelly at WOW London 2019 (2019-03-08) by Alice BoageyWOW - Women of the World Foundation

Jude Kelly reflects on the foundation of WOW

"2010 was a year in which people believed women had already achieved equality. We had the legislation and style of an equal society and young women had been told that the job of feminism had been done. But they didn’t have equal pay and they didn’t have respect in lots of ways."

Nimco Ali at WOW London (2019-03-08) by Alice BoageyWOW - Women of the World Foundation

It was at the 2011 Festival that campaigner Nimco Ali first spoke about FGM for the first time in public and was inspired to start a campaign which resulted in new Government policy announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2014 to stop the practice globally.

Vanessa Redgrave presenting an award at 2019's Women on the Move Awards (2019-03-08) by Alice BoageyWOW - Women of the World Foundation

In 2012 the second WOW London Festival continued to strive forwards. Women on the Move Awards was launched at the festival, the first in a long partnership together to celebrate migrant and refugee women making exception contributions to UK society. 

Baroness Scotland launches programme to address Domestic Violence and Abuse, Bloomberg become headline sponsor and the festival went global, with the first ever WOW in the USA - WOW Baltimore.

Alice WalkerSteve Biko Foundation

Fast forward two years and WOW London 2014 sold out immediately, with Alice Walker, Julie Walters, Ruby Wax, Michael Kimmel, Angelique Kidjo and Fatoumata Diawara. 2014 also saw not only the first WOW events take place outside of London in the UK - WOW Derry-Londonderry as part of the UK City of Culture - but new WOW Festivals in Australia with WOW Sydney and the first WOW Katherine Festival, Northern Territory.

Duchess of Cornwall visits Mulberry School for Girls (2019-11-01)WOW - Women of the World Foundation

In 2015, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall officially became WOW's President.

WOW - Women of the World Festival in Rio (2018)WOW - Women of the World Foundation

The next few years saw WOW grow around the world. In London, Malala Yousafzai delivered an International Women’s Day keynote speech at WOW London; the second WOW Katherine took place in Northern Territory, Australia; new festivals and events take place across the UK in Egypt, New York, Brazil, Pakistan, Samailand, Nigeria, Finland and more.

A panel at WOW 2019 (2019-03-08) by Alice BoageyWOW - Women of the World Foundation

In 2018, Jude left her role at Southbank Centre to form The WOW Foundation, a charity that now runs WOW year-round. 2019's London festival was dedicated to two huge conversations: WOW - What Now? and WOW - What Next? to review the state of gender equality, and discuss what had to be done over the next decade. 

WOW Bites stage in Nepal (2019-12-06)WOW - Women of the World Foundation

Since launching in 2010, the festival has reached over two million people in 17 countries on six continents. Festivals and have events have taken place in Australia, Brazil, China, Egypt, Finland, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somaliland, the USA and across the UK.

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