How WOW - Women of the World Was Created

Jude Kelly looks back at starting WOW and its ongoing legacy

Jude Kelly at WOWWOW - Women of the World Foundation

Jude Kelly CBE, Founder & Director of The WOW Foundation, explains why she started WOW - Women of the World Festival a decade ago.

Women's Rights (1970-08-26) by John OlsonLIFE Photo Collection

"I started the WOW —Women of the World Festival 10 years ago for reasons of sadness and love - and my belief in celebration. 

Sadness because I met so many women who’d been persuaded that gender equality had been largely solved so they were struggling in isolation to deal with injustices at work and at home that they blamed themselves for. 

Sadness because some of us had dropped the baton passed so bravely by women from history and in doing do, endangered their achievements and legacy. 

Angela Davis at the Royal Festival Hall (2019-03-08) by Alice BoageyWOW - Women of the World Foundation

But just as strong were my feelings of love for my own gender; their talents, compassion, fortitude, humour and resourcefulness in the face of systemic inequity and levels of violence sometimes unbearable to contemplate. I wanted us to celebrate all the extraordinary achievements from the past and present that have been steps along the path to change.

I was sure that a festival was the way to unlock dreams, convictions, and solutions and to galvanise us all to keep moving forward with optimism.

A girl at WOW Bradford (2017) by Karol WyszynskiWOW - Women of the World Foundation

I called it WOW - Women of the World because I wanted that comic book explosive sound in the title. A whoop of admiration and amazement for females. I also said “If you identify as a woman, or you know a woman, it’s for you.” Feminist is a term I use to describe myself, but for many reasons it doesn’t chime correctly with many women across the globe. So I wanted everyone to self-define and self-include because I truly believe that WOW is for everyone. 

People dance at WOW Bradford (2017) by Karol WyszynskiWOW - Women of the World Foundation

I made it a Festival and not a conference or symposium because I wanted us to first and foremost to celebrate and thus to attract women from all walks of life. 

Festivals conjure up an idea of fun, energy, spontaneous encounters, unexpected delights, adventure, and levity of spirit. I was always adamant that in amongst all the gravity and seriousness of some of the issues we would necessarily be examining we needed to build a place of warmth and inclusiveness and fun. 

WOW Day of the Girl at the London Eye (2019-10-11) by Ellie KurttzWOW - Women of the World Foundation

All of these ingredients make up the WOW - Women of the World Festivals. There's so much to celebrate. We have a glorious but scarcely told history. We have made extraordinary progress in the 20th and 21st century, often under extreme duress, and there’s nothing that women haven’t shown themselves able to achieve if opportunity allows. A brave future is compelling, exciting and tantalisingly close if we can combat prejudice, misogyny and most importantly recognise the intersections for women that need tackling in order to have equality for all.

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

In the 10 years since that first WOW, we’ve held more than 60 events and festivals in six continents in locations including Australia, Brazil, China, Finland, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somaliland, the UK and the USA. Over two million people have become involved and the Festivals have turned into a movement, which is growing at great speed. 

Audience during talks at WOW Madhesh (2019-12-06)WOW - Women of the World Foundation

WOWs provide a physical place and time to convene and share our bewilderment, pain and uncertainties, and examine face to face the issues raised by such movements. We need to talk, debate, listen to stories of all kinds and deepen our own understanding of the complexities of women’s lives.

WOW in the Royal Festival Hall (2019-03-08) by Alice BoageyWOW - Women of the World Foundation

So what’s the future of the WOW Festivals. . .?

I see the movement growing even faster as the sad facts and ramifications of inequity become clear to everyone. 

Most nations now claim they want to foreground women’s economic advancement in new government led initiatives but unless we learn to trust and respect the female as an equal then a surface difference may come about but not systemic and permanent change."

Credits: Story

Written by Jude Kelly, Founder and Director of Jude Kelly CBE

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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