Cartridges Law, with an all-women partnership currently at the helm, were thrilled once again to support WOW Exeter, attended this year by more than 700 people. Exeter is one of 10 lucky cities outside London to host the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival, which took place for the second year at Exeter Phoenix, RAMM and Exeter Library over the weekend of 13-14 October.
The Festival, founded by Jude Kelly, has become a global phenomenon stretching five continents over the past 12 years. WOW Exeter 2018 had a brilliant lineup of arts, panel discussions, training and workshops, all celebrating women and girls and exploring the barriers and solutions to creating a gender equal world.
We asked Cartridges Law Partner Bridget Garrood and Trainee Solicitor Nicola Hall to tell us about their favourite moments from the festival.
Bridget reflected on the panel discussion Suffrage Centenary: The Road to Gender Equality, which honoured the centenary of some women gaining the vote in the UK in 1919 and debated the point at which we now find ourselves on the road to gender equality and how far we still have to go.
“Although I have been an activist for gender equality myself for nearly 40 years, in all frankness I think I would have been a Suffragist rather than a Suffragette.”
Bridget was not alone in hesitating over this.
“When asked who believed they would have had the courage to be a suffragette, only a few hands in the audience shot up. All of us were immensely grateful however for the courage and sacrifices which so many women demonstrated in order to achieve that vital first step 100 years ago.”
Nicola attended Invisible Illnesses: Time to Listen, chaired by local GP Dr Lucy Loveday. As someone who suffers from M.E. and endometriosis, Nicola knows all too well the extra challenges faced by people with invisible health conditions who may work full time or support families alongside managing their illness, and who are often misunderstood or unsupported because they ‘look ok’.
“I was particularly struck by one panelist who said she was grateful when she had to start using oxygen, as it meant her illness wasn’t invisible any more, and others started to treat her with more compassion. No one should have to be grateful for their health deteriorating.”
As a family law Solicitor Bridget has assisted many clients in standing up to abusive partners, so she felt privileged to participate in Behind Closed Doors: Domestic Violence. The panel explored what ‘gaslighting’ means as part of the coercive control “toolkit” of many perpetrators of domestic violence (DV). Speakers included women from SAFE and SPLITZ, local services who skilfully support survivors of DV, including very many children who experience DV in their households here in Exeter and beyond. There is also groundbreaking work going on in our city to break the cycle of abuse which can pass down the generations – including work with the perpetrators of abuse who may themselves have experienced DV and other appalling trauma in their own childhoods.
“We also heard from a writer and activist, who is herself a survivor, that deaf women are at far greater risk of DV than the hearing community but can find it even harder to disclose and to access support services.”
More information about domestic violence and abuse, and support services, is available from Devon County Council.
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Thanks to sponsorship from Cartridges Law the WOW marketplace was a big feature of this year’s festival, providing a great place to hang out between events, meet community groups and women’s organisations, check out the local artists selling crafts, and enjoy the amazing food made by a group of women from Syria.
And, as well as the fantastic panel discussions, there was plenty to keep everyone entertained throughout the festival with a packed programme of events from yoga and rugby to theatre and music!
WILD! – a performance by Katie Villa and Laura Mugridge based on their Wild About Birth project – was a real high point of the weekend for Bridget.
“The show not only spectacularly entertained us from the first glitter bomb to the final but glorious debunking of those platitudes we all say to new mothers, it managed with great originality to open a privileged window on the disparate, sometimes hilarious, and often terrifying realities of childbirth.”
Another highlight of this year’s event had to be the contribution of the WOWsers, the festival’s young volunteers, who were not only an awesome presence in their sparkly capes, but also contributed to panels throughout the weekend and worked together to create a new piece of work that was showcased at the festival.
Bridget explained, “They had planted common sexist statements on luggage tags all around the venues and invited us to come up with our best ‘sassy comebacks’, which were then shared with the festival audience. It was inspiring and thought-provoking to hear the voices of Exeter’s young people represented so incisively.”
Exeter is part of a growing international community of WOW festivals, with the first event in South America to be held in Rio de Janeiro in November. The WOW Foundation is currently in the process of applying for charitable status and will help to grow the global movement towards gender equality through festivals, leadership and education programmes, advocacy and celebration. You can find more information and sign up to hear about the latest news and events at thewowfoundation.com