Women of the World Festival (WOW) is an annual art and science festival based in London. The festival is considered a global women’s movement launched by British director and producer Jude Kelly in 2010, Artistic Director of the South Bank Centre, one of the largest cultural centres in Europe, on the centenary of International Women’s Day.
It is a space for women to speak freely about all issues – including those that should have historically been silenced. As a global women’s movement, the festival seeks to inspire new generations of young women and girls.
The festival takes place in early March around International Women’s Day, and takes a frank look at the obstacles women and girls face, whilst discussing solutions for change.
The festival is held at its headquarters in the South Bank Centre, where it was established, while also held in other locations, such as Cambridge, Hong Kong, Australia, New York, and Egypt. It sponsors lectures, discussions, and performances on a range of topics with a clear commitment to open space for the experiences of women and girls from the cities in which it is held. To date, the festival has visited more than 23 countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa, reaching more than two million people.
The WOW festival provides a good platform for promoting equality and defending women’s issues, as it has three main pillars. One of these is artistic works that discuss women’s issues, the second being a forum for women’s issues that brings together activists from different countries. The third pillar is undertaking workshops that include a large number of trainees from young activists and artists who are interested in women’s issues.
This year, the festival celebrates the history of women who have been overlooked by history, even though they have made history and have also been able to change the lives of women in general.
Although historians ignore these influential women, their works remained to bear witness to their history and also to open the door for writers and creators to explore the history and rewrite it again.
The festival emphasises this theme in the 2021 session by presenting Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia as one of the festival’s activities. It opens the door to a hot discussion about the biased disregard by male historians of prominent female figures in history for being revolutionaries, and they opposed the prevailing values and traditions that led to the marginalisation of women in those early periods of history.
Emilia Bassano was one of the first women to publish a volume of radical and feminist poetry in the sixteenth century. This volume was one of the first published collections of poetry written by a woman in England.
Emilia began her literary writing through religious writing, as it was the only way available to a woman with literary aspirations. Despite this, Emelia developed her literary writing and addressed thorny political issues, the most important of which was the position of women in society and the roles assigned to them.
She reminded her readers of the important role of women in Christianity and emphasised the position of Christ in favour of women’s rights.
She declared her primary feminist perspective with a statement aimed at empowering women, saying, “Men, who forgetting they were born of women, nourished of women, and of they were not of the means of women, they would be quite extinguished out of the world, and a final end of them all, do like vipers deface the wombs wherein they were bred.”
This statement is considered the first feminist statement in history, and women’s movements used to repeat the words of this statement in their feminist speeches. They also attributed it to other feminist personalities, due to the lack of sufficient historical information about the true owner of these words.
Anything about Emelia has been erased from the memory of history, leaving only her works that attest to her existence, to the point that some critics and historians claim that Emilia was the true character of Shakespeare and concealed her name as a woman so that she could publish her literary works at that time.
This mystery surrounding Emilia has made her fertile material for writers to rediscover history and fill its gaps. This play was presented at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for the summer of 2018 and transferred to the West End in 2019.
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm emphasised in a preface to the published version of the play, “It is not an accurate representation of the Renaissance in England. It is not a historical representation.”
He has also insisted in many interviews on the fact that this show should be seen as a dramatic narrative of a woman whose story has been erased from the archives of recorded history. This is a form of resistance to discrimination against women and an attempt to bridge the gaps in women’s history.
The WOW UK Festival 2021 will take place on 1-2 March, with online events every day. The archive recording of Emilia’s run in the West End will be also available to stream online, in partnership with WOW Festival, to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March 2021.
Dr Marwa El-Shinawy, PhD in American Theatre and member of the Higher Committee for the Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre (CIFCET)