The venue was filled with positive energy and sanguinity, as attendees listened to panel discussions, took part in workshops, watched theatrical and musical performances and mingled with like-minded, passionate others.
Topics covered by the event included (but were not limited to): domestic violence and sexual assault, peacekeeping in conflict and disaster ridden countries, financial and hierarchical discrepancies in the workplace, conforming to society’s gender expectations, using adversity to build leadership qualities, the struggles of our First Nations women, destroying the provocative clothing debate, women in social enterprise, accepting vulnerabilities, the taboo of female masturbation, the legalities of being non-binary, women working in rural, remote and regional communities, unravelling sex myths, living with a disability, the rise of blockchain technologies, and the media’s role in gender equality.
To say I learnt a lot would be an understatement; my mind is overflowing with information and inspiration, as I’m sure every other attendee's is. I’d love to share a full summary of every session I sat in on, but for the sake of keeping this article under 10,000 words, I’ve narrowed down my thoughts a little.
Here are five of the many important messages I took away from the weekend.
1. We must remain optimistic.
“Optimism creates energy, and energy creates change.” – Jude Kelly, Founder of WOW
As hard as it may be at times, staying positive about the future of women’s rights is essential if we want to succeed. Let every story of devastation or despair make you stronger; use your own experiences as fuel to fire more empowerment.
Jude says she created WOW Festival with hopes of “generating optimism and unleashing the energy that makes action and change possible”.
She certainly succeeded, as anyone who stepped through the Powerhouse doors over the weekend would bear witness to. It’s truly amazing what happens when you gather women from all walks of life, give them a platform to stand on, and place a microphone in their hand.
2. Focus on changing the things in your reach.
“Be awakened by the things happening on your street, to the members of your community.” – Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, Fijian Activist & Coordinator of femLINKpacific
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of the issues facing women around the world today - so much so that you might feel helpless as if your contribution to the fight doesn’t count. It does. You just need to choose your battles and prioritise the ones in proximity to you, as they’re the ones you will have the most success winning.
In the Refusing To Be Silenced session, Sharon spoke alongside three other international conflict reporters about holding your government accountable. They stressed the importance of finding out where your taxpayer dollars are going and fighting against it. Write to your local MP, sign petitions, join rallies – whatever it takes for your voice to be heard.
3. Include males in the conversation.
“We need our male accomplices to be part of our voice – we can’t just speak survivor to survivor.” – Virginia Haussegger, Director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation
A question that arose a few times throughout the event was “how do we talk to the good-willed males in our lives about the injustices we face, without them feeling like they’re being attacked?”
Principal of Nudgee Boys School, Peter Fullagar, discussed this with Virginia in the #TimesUp session. They agreed on the importance of involving your male friends and loved ones in these conversations so they can a) feel trusted and b) understand. However, it’s not an easy chat to spark. Oftentimes, women will feel too nervous to open up to the men in their lives, while the guys avoid the discussion for similar reasons. Peter says to bridge this gap, we need to encourage men to share their own stories more, so they will feel comfortable speaking up with women. Which brings me to my next point…
4. Know that it’s okay to be vulnerable.
“While being unbreakable is worth celebrating, women shouldn’t have to spend their whole lives practising resilience.” – Jane Caro, Feminist Author & Social Commentator
Showing vulnerability is something that has been stamped with shame for both sexes for far too long. Human emotions are supposed to be raw; we’re designed to feel defeated, sad, lost, confused and angry. Yet somewhere along the way, the act of revealing these negative feelings to anyone bar your own reflection has become reprehensible.
Australia’s Commissioner for Mental Health and Founder of Loving Out Loud, Nicole Gibson, spoke in a WOW Bites session about how we need to accept our predisposed human nature before we can move forward into equality. She said the simplest way of doing this is by being vulnerable, and showing others they can be too.
5. Keep sharing stories.
“If nobody speaks, nothing will change.” - Soroptimists International, Speaking Truth to Power
Some of the most prominent historical revolutions started with one or two people speaking up and sharing their stories. If telling yours is too tough, be a voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves. The refugees scrambling for safety; the mothers and children on the run from power-driven men; the victims who are no longer with us.
We all know the media does a stellar job of selective reporting – but in an age of social media sharing, your voice can be just as big. Share the stories you feel are important, and encourage your pals to do so too. As John Farnham sings (and a large crowd at the festival belted out), “You’re the voice, try and understand it. Make a noise and make it clear. We’re not going to sit in silence, we’re not going to live with fear”.
A massive thank you to Jude Kelly and co. for producing this fantastic event.