Events reviewed:

Johanna and Me

Female Genital Mutilation 

 

Supported by Bloomberg and hosted at The Southbank Centre, Women of the world Festival (W.o.W) celebrates the successes of women and also discusses some of the most pressing topics regarding women today, including female genital mutilation, sexuality, sexual violence and modern feminism. W.o.W festival features talks by some of the worlds most prominent figures, such as fashion designer and business woman Vivienne Westwood, education activist Malala Yousafzai, and Ronnie Spector, of the 60s super girl- group The Ronettes.

Founder and director of the festival Jude Kelly says: ‘The idea of a woman being the leader is still, I think, something people have to double-check. There’s always that “Can she do it?” As soon as you ask the question, the possibility is that the answer can be “no”. The fact that you ask the question simply because she is a woman is one of the problems. I don’t feel like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder,I’ve had a fantastic career, but I felt that because I’m in a senior position it’s important not to be on the fence. I like being able to make younger women feel they’ve got an ally – women should support other women.’

Johanna and Me:

Jónína Leósdóttir, wife of former Icelandic prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, discusses her experiences of being married to the first openly gay head of state with novelist, playwright and founder of The Baileys Prize for Fiction, Kate Mosse

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Though Jónína Leósdóttir was speaking about her 30 year relationship with former prime minister of Iceland Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, she is not merely the wife of a previous world leader, she is an established writer and journalist. Jónína has also written a book about her and Jóhanna’s 30 year relationship, in which she talks about having to keep their relationship a secret for so many years.

Both Jónína and Jóhanna were married (to men) with children when they first met, but Jónína recalls feeling drawn to Jóhanna from almost the instant they met. At the time when Jónína confessed her feelings to Jóhanna, they had engaged in very little conversation. However, she states that the feelings were so strong that, despite not knowing if their relationship would ever develop, she felt continuing in her marriage with her then husband would have been dishonest, and filed for divorce very soon after revealing her feelings to Jóhanna.

Jónína shared some very personal and deeply emotional stories during the talk, one very moving story centered around a family photograph. Though Jónína and Jóhanna had been involved in a relationship for many years by this point, and most of their close family were aware of this, Jónína was still not invited to be involved in the family portrait. Instead, by Jóhanna’s side, was her son’s short-term girlfriend of merely a few months.

Jónína states how just talking about this event still deeply upsets her. It is memories, such as these, which have fueled her passion to write a book about their 30 year relationship. In response to critics asking her why she has only now decided to talk at depth about it, she says there is still so much progress to be made, in regards to the acceptance of the LGBT community within society. As Jónína says, there are ‘many shades of grey to homophobia’, and just because people may not make homophobic opinions public, does not mean they are not thinking them. The laws that have been put in place to protect the gay community can also be revoked, as we have witnessed in other European countries, so it is essential that we remember how important it is that we continue to protect these human rights.

Highlights:

  • ‘Just talking to her, I knew I loved her’
  • There are many shades of grey to homophobia
  • Sometimes we need encouragement to be courageous

Best quote: ‘Me and your father hoped you were just drinking buddies.’ – Jónína Leósdóttir’s mother on Jónína and Jóhanna’s relationship

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Female Genital Mutilation: 

Efua Dorkenoo from Equality Now, co-founder of Daughters of Eve Nimco Ali, journalist for The Evening Standard Rosamund Urwin, and Executive director of FORWARD Naana Otoo-Oyortey discuss FGM with Lynne Featherstone MP, who outlines a new government programme that aims to reduce the practice by 30% in at least 10 countries across Africa over the next 5 years, chaired by journalist and author Hannah Pool

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‘Can we end FGM in a generation?’ was the question that was posed to the panel. FGM has been very popular in the media recently, and previously I had steered clear of the topic. I had made this decision consciously, as I knew very little about the practice, and did not feel comfortable learning about it through the western media.

These concerns were addressed by the panel, and I was surprised to learn that many people have avoided talking about FGM for similar reasons. Many people like myself, who are only now learning about FGM, might fear of offending other cultural or religious groups. However, as Efua Dorkenoo stated, FGM is not a religious practice, it’s core purpose is the control of an entire gender by reducing women’s sexual pleasure through the removal of the clitoris. Despite what some might argue, FGM is not at all similar to male circumcision; Lynne Featherstone MP says that the male equivalent would be to totally remove the penis.

Individual’s, mainly white/British, might also find FGM disengaging because they reject it as being a part of their culture. The panel discussed ‘FGM tourism’, where globalisation has seen the procedure used in Britain, as well as many other areas of Europe, America and Australia. Though FGM may not effect you personally, it might be effecting your neighbours, or even your daughter/niece/sister’s classmates. However, this then brings forth the issue of FGM inciting anti-immigration rows, or as Nimco Ali likes to put it, the Daily Mail test. It is very easy for us to point the finger at other cultures, but as we do this, many other young girls become subject to this horrific procedure.

As I have stated previously, FGM has been discussed at length in the media recently, and there is concern that this new bandwagon might fall off the radar of current events. People may even start to feel FGM fatigue, as begins to dominate much of the media. However, Nimco Ali argues that we should view FGM as a women’s issue, not a cultural issue, and thus we should prioritise the safety of young girls. FGM creates a sisterhood – it happens because we are women, not because of where we are from. Nimco Ali ends this event with advice to other survivors of FGM, she says: ‘what happened to you was wrong, but there is nothing wrong with you.’

Highlights:

  • An estimated three million women undergo FGM every year
  • Currently no U.K prosecutions, in relation to FGM
  • FGM is a women’s issue, not cultural
  • Discussion about FGM raises awareness and breaks down traditional social norms

Best quote: ‘How dare you talk about your “bits” on national television’ – Naana Otoo-Oyortey.

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