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WOW Festival

Once again, Mulberry was fortunate to be invited to participate in the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival this year. WOW Festival is an annual week-long event which celebrates the lives and achievements of women and girls all over the world, giving women’s voices a platform and placing the issues that affect them front and centre.

Mulberry attended across four days of the festival: the Southbank Schools Day on Tuesday 8th March; and the WOW Weekend from Friday 11th to Sunday 13th March. 120 girls attended in total, representing years 8 – 13. Mulberry students attended talks, debates, panel discussions and workshops. They listened to world-class speakers on subjects including international activism, female representation in UK politics, women and austerity, and how teenage girls are leading a new and dynamic phase of the feminist movement. Mulberry girls took part in fencing workshops, watched contemporary dance performances, supported local craftswomen and activists in the WOW Marketplace and took part in a mass hula-hooping flash mob on the Royal Festival Terrace.

For the sixth year in a row, we had a fantastic range of student speakers taking part in various panel events across the weekend. Anisa Khalique, 12SS, opened WOW Saturday by speaking on a panel called WOW Views on the News: alongside Southbank’s Artistic Director Jude Kelly, WOW Festival Programmer Domino Pateman and journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown, Anisa gave her thoughts on the morning newspapers, addressing topics ranging from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, to the importance of extra-curricular opportunities in UK state schools. Later that same day, Ayesha Begum 11L, spoke alongside BBC Radio broadcaster Gemma Cairney on a panel called Teens Talk Back, in which she discussed the importance of feminism in the lives of young women. On Sunday 13th March, Maisha Zainab in 10E and Tamanna Islam in 10B gave a 15 minute ‘WOWBite’ speech on how meeting Michelle Obama at the White House inspired them to change the world. The reception of the speech was so overwhelmingly positive that Maisha and Tamanna were invited back to speak alongside a range of other panellists at the closing event of the WOW Weekend, ‘Pick of the Festival’, in which the weekend’s best speakers gave the audience a taster of what they had spoken about.

Additionally, four Year 10 students took part in Southbank’s ‘Wowsers’ programme. Anika Chowdhury, Naimah Mahmud and Farzana Aktar, 10L, and Rifat Khadijah, 10U, attended three evening workshops in the run up to the Festival. Run by The Girlhood, a UK organisation which seeks to connect young women with feminism, the workshops taught our Wowsers about the way in which they can ‘use culture to change the culture around girls’.

The Wowsers learned about how media and advertising can create negative representations of women which reinforce gender stereotypes; and how those same media and advertising techniques can be harnessed to create more positive representations of women, and to campaign for feminist issues. Drawing on the imagery and techniques used in ‘Riot Grrrrl’ zines, which highlighted sexism and misogyny in punk culture and the music industry in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Wowsers made posters campaigning for gender equality. Over the course of the WOW Weekend, they sold these posters in the Marketplace, raising over £300 to be spent on resources for teaching young women about feminism.

WOW Festival is always a highlight of the Women’s Education calendar, but WOW 2016 was a truly special experience. Our students were left feeling energised and empowered, their heads buzzing with opinions and ideas. We would like to thank the Southbank Centre for making us a part of this important festival, and giving our girls a platform from which to raise their voices for change.