By: PEERZADA SALMAN
KARACHI: This year in May the WOW Festival in Karachi generated quite a buzz in the country and around the world. A Thinkin session for the next festival was held at the British Council on Tuesday afternoon.
The session began with all participants introducing themselves to the host. They spoke about what they did and their interest in the WOW (Women of the World) Festival. After a couple of speeches by British Council director for Sindh and Balochistan Chris Hunt and Neha Malkani two short films were shown. The first was to do with the WOW London festival and the second had selected shots from the festival held in Karachi’s Beach Luxury hotel in May.
This was followed by the founder of the festival Jude Kelly’s address to the audience via video link. She said she founded WOW because she realised that any advantage she had was because other people had fought for women like her. She said there was no country in the world yet where we could say ‘that’s what a gender-equal world looks like’. She said the reason she thought of a festival and not a conference was that because she wanted to celebrate all that every single girl had done. She said there was still a lot to be solved.
Ms Kelly said the festival had spread to many countries, becoming a global movement. She said it gave the women a chance to think about things like ‘what do we do about sexual harassment’, ‘what do we do about education’, ‘what do we do about all things that affect us’, etc. She said women in Karachi or Rio de Janeiro or in Finland wanted change. She remarked, “It’s an amazing time for girls and women.”
Highlighting the importance of Thinkins Ms Kelly said you couldn’t have a festival about women unless it was with and by women of all backgrounds. So the Thinkins allowed everybody to have their voice heard. She said: “Every voice has to count, everyone’s story has to matter.” She said stories were the most important thing. She said keynote speeches, poetry and debates were essentially stories.
Ms Kelly said she had the fortune to be part of the WOW Festival in Karachi. She said the energy, anger (at times), and the vividness were wonderful. She said it was great to see 10-year-olds sitting alongside older people. Mentioning the presence of boys in the festival, she said equality was about a changed world for everyone. She urged the participants of Tuesday’s Thinkin to be as brave as possible.
Jim Hollington, British Council’s director for arts in South Asia, said the festival held in May was a success and the council was absolutely committed to making sure WOW Karachi was sustainable. He said it had been decided that Karachi would be the first of a number of WOW festivals across the South Asian region. He said they had planned to take the model of Karachi and take it to other cities of South Asia in three years. He said WOW would go to Kathmandu, Nepal in February next year.
Amenah Sheikh talked about the team that helped organise the May festival and the activities that happened during the event. Her speech was followed by audience participation. They were divided into five groups to come up with suggestions for the coming festival. It took them a little over half an hour to note down their ideas.
Group 1 said sessions based on women’s literature should be included in the event. Group 2 said women should take themselves seriously first and there should be success stories from low-income groups’ women. Group 3 and 4 said discussions should be diverse and instead of talking to people, problems should be addressed. Group 5 said there shouldn’t be any cultural barriers.
Finally, Raania Durrani, who will soon join as director for arts, thanked the groups for giving their ideas and hoped that the conversations would carry on all through the year.