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KARACHI: People turned up in a big number to attend the Women of the World (WOW) festival at the Beach Luxury Hotel on Sunday.

It was the first time that a city from any South Asian country was hosting the event organised by the British Council Pakistan and Southbank Centre, London. Apart from a stellar array of women who took part in panel discussions and mentoring sessions speaking on the plight of women in Pakistan and the rest of the world, there was a wide variety of programmes, ranging from musical gigs to food stalls to the areas where artworks were displayed, that had the visitors take a keen interest in the festival.

Jude Kelly, the founder of the festival, speaking on the occasion stressed the need for sharing experiences. She said WOW Karachi was a powerful addition to an international movement. “We hope to build upon its success as we aspire to achieve gender equality across the globe,” she said.

British Council Pakistan’s director of programmes Jim Booth said the aim of bringing WOW to Pakistan was to create conversations on the role of women and girls in the country in relation to such issues as social inclusion, education and health.

Taking part in a panel discussion, director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan I. A. Rehman said the government did not pay attention to the well-being of women.

Among the many distinguished women who were at the hotel to interact with their admirers was human rights activist Mukhtar Mai. Other personalities at the event included founder of Women’s Action Forum Nighat Saeed Khan, politician Kishwer Zehra, poet Attiya Dawood, writer Ghausia Salam, anti-FGM campaigner Nimco Ali and comedian Shaista Aziz. According to the organisers, more than 9,000 people, representing a cross-section of society, attended the festival.

Talking to Dawn, Zeenia Shaukat, who curated workshops on behalf of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) on the topics of women’s rights at the workplace, volunteerism and starting a business with limited capital, said: “Working for WOW was a very enriching experience because it allowed us to work with a set of dynamic partners that came from varied backgrounds and expertise, and at the same time WOW presented Piler with the challenge to talk on women’s issues outside the labour rights context. As an event, WOW’s significance lies in its theme of ‘celebration of women and girls’.

“Another strength of WOW is that it brought men at the centre of women’s issues. We had representation of men in our strands and we were very keen to engage them as audience too,” said Ms Shaukat.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2016