KARACHI: Talks, debates, performances and activism all became a part of celebrating women and girls as the British Council and Southbank Centre’s two-day Women of the World Festival, WOW, got under way at the Alliance Francaise de Karachi here on Saturday.

“We are not brought up quite right. Women don’t even know when to complain as they are put in a box where getting power is inconvenient,” said Senator Sherry Rehman during an interesting panel discussion about ‘Identity and self worth’.

“Women who seek power are seen as pushy but powerful women are also attractive,” she pointed out.

“Power must be exercised from the home and make its way to your space in public. Women spaces are shrinking. Exclusion makes them shrink. You have to create opportunities and also take power, because power is never given. When it comes to women empowerment, it has always been two steps back and one step forward. Power and opportunity won’t walk up to you, you need to see it for what it is and you need to grab it,” she explained.

Two-day Women of the World festival begins

Chris Hunt, British Council’s Sindh and Balochistan director, also a panellist, said that he had always tried to remain conscious about the power dynamics.

“I give people space. I also create spaces where people can raise their concerns and speak up,” he said, adding that to some extent men were blind to this as they value capability. But, he also pointed out that power dynamics lay beneath capability.

“I remember I was in school when our headmaster said that he had done grocery shopping for his wife. But he told us that when he told her that he had done grocery shopping for her, she corrected him and said that he had done it for them not her. That’s inclusivity, that’s bringing everyone to the table,” he said.

Earlier, WOW’s founder and Southbank Centre’s artistic director Jude Kelly said in her keynote address that the first step for women and girls was to challenge the idea of their not being as important as men and boys.

“When I was 15, I felt excited about life. I didn’t realise then that society had an organised way of disseminating power, women had less power than men,” she said.

“When you hear things like you don’t matter as much as the men, your big dreams for yourself become smaller and you start apologising for having big dreams,” she said, adding: “When you have less power in your relationships, in your jobs and in your finances, it leads to a world that is uneven and unbalanced.”

“I realised my dreams because hundreds of years ago some people sat around and said how to educate girls? How to get women to vote? So we were given more power by others. And now I am also giving back by celebrating women. WOW was started 10 years ago by me and today it has grown into this extraordinary movement in 27 countries. WOW in Pakistan was started last year. Power for girls and women here is unsinkable,” she said.

The day offered many more moments to prompt people especially women and girls to ponder. There were other panel discussions on ‘Gender and work’ and ‘Women in science and technology’, documentary screenings, literary readings, inspirational talks by Maliha Hussain of Mehergarh, storyteller and educator Hiba Masood and showbiz personality Atiqa Odho.

The WOW festival concludes on Sunday (today).

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2017