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Single issue campaigns were not enough to achieve gender equality. It required all genders to recognise and combat systemic injustice, according to founder of the Women of the World (WOW) festival Jude Kelly.
Ms Kelly, one of the leading figures of the British arts who launched the WOW global movement and festival in 2010, told QSuper there was a growing sense of purpose among both women and men to address gender inequality.
“You can have individual campaigns – around domestic violence, around sex discrimination at work – but unless you join all the dots together and look at everything across women’s health, legal rights, and domestic fairness, then you’re trying to tackle the problem item by item.
“It’s far more powerful if women and men recognise that this is about systemic power and systemic injustice. And that’s the thing that needs to be understood.”
Ms Kelly was the high-profile artistic director of Southbank, the United Kingdom’s largest arts centre, for more than a decade. She said WOW evolved from a sense of frustration 10 years ago at the suggestion that gender inequality was an historical idea because equality had been achieved.
“I was meeting young women 10 years ago who were actually being told there was no need for this anymore, that we had got there and that we were pretty much equal.”
Ms Kelly said while younger women were reluctant to fight for equality because they were being told they’d never had it so good, successful older women often didn’t want to associate themselves with the idea of struggle because they thought it was demeaning.
“And, of course, I was meeting lots of women who were just bewildered – because they were experiencing sexism and they were experiencing inequality and, because everyone was saying to them there was nothing wrong with society, they were feeling personally inadequate. And that was the saddest thing – they were taking it all on themselves.’’
The United Nations report, Progress of the World’s Women 2019-2020: Families in a Changing World, released on 25 June 2019, supports the contention that women’s rights have advanced over the past decade. However, it found gender inequality and discrimination continued to exist even in families. It found, for example, girls in one in five countries do not have the same inheritance rights as boys, women in 19 countries are required by law to obey their husbands, and around one third of married women in developing countries report having little or no say over their own healthcare.1
Ms Kelly said she started WOW to celebrate that women had come a long way, and acknowledge the achievements by women and girls across the world. But it was also to say that in all areas of women's lives – domestic and public – there were still issues to solve.
“I said, “so let’s not pretend that we haven’t got things to do, let’s not hide behind individual success,” she said.
Ms Kelly said WOW was, “not a private club for feminists.”
She said it included all genders. “I always say, ‘If you’re a woman or know a woman it’s for you’.”
She said WOW received thousands of messages from men who said participating in WOW opened their eyes to gender inequality. “They say they had not thought ever about it before, that they never had permission to think about it before, and now they do,” she said.
She said men could step up as gender equality was the responsibility of all genders.
“You say something about women, and men may have thought, ‘that’s got nothing to do with me’. Or there may have been a feeling that women were cross with men.
“But it’s not a problem with men it's a problem with distribution of power. We don’t want men to solve it for us, but we are not going to get gender equality unless all genders are in agreement that this needs to be done and want to be involved.”
It's also critical that white heterosexual women recognise that other discrimintions – racial, LGBTQ, disability, class bring additional issues around power and uneven distributions.
Equal pay for equal work and eliminating discrimination from the workplace were among the top ticket items for gender equality in the workplace, but businesses could go further, Ms Kelly said, including equal access and opportunities. “Businesses don’t only have to do things based on the bottom line – they could do things because they were part of a civic society and that it’s not just about profit.”
She said the arts sector was not immune from discrimination and inequality. And Ms Kelly said she too had experienced setbacks and sexism due to her gender.
“We say that art tells the histories of humanity. But the truth is, it’s stories are of men, or white men. I love the arts in all sorts of ways. But the arts is as prone to bias and discrimination as any other area,” she said.
However, she said, arts had a special role in helping achieve change and showing what equality could look like as the arts were for everybody.
She’s on Q is a series of events that connect and encourage Queensland professional women to improve their financial wellbeing.
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The views of the author are not necessarily the views of the QSuper Board.
1. United Nations, 25 June 2019, Progress of the World’s Women 2019-2020: Families in a Changing World, at www.unwomen.org
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