The Women of the World (WOW) events at the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival, ran a session titled WOW Bites. Six women from diverse backgrounds telling a story in 10 minute bites each. I was one of the full house. The stories ranged from life as a young, female, Islamic, oil rig engineer, to the life threatening situations of women trying to get an education in Pakistan.
Introduced by Jude Kelly, who among many other things, is the artistic director of the Southbank Centre; Britain’s largest cultural institution. The session began with Melissa Lucashenko.
In an article in a coming Griffith Review, Melissa talks about poverty in Queensland. She spoke of a young woman, a Yugoslavian refugee who died at the age of 27 of diabetes. She spoke about her abuse, the trauma, the batterings from her partner, and how she saw herself as “Nothing but a piece of shit.” A story that has to be heard and read in full.
Yassmin Abdel-Magied who at 16, founded Youth Without Boarders gave the next talk. She started with a poem, or was it a song? Sung to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s massive 1978 hit, I Will Survive. Yassmin rearranged the words to talk about empowering women; she had everyone smiling, and she can sing. She spoke about how humour breaks barriers and encouraged people to, “Be your version of strong.” It was a joy-filled resilient talk. Below you can watch Yassmin in an ABC interview. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-04-26/male-dominated-zone/4654826
Christi Mansfield, an Australian leader in philanthropy and social investment took the podium next. And it wasn’t long before she had audience members in tears, and herself. She talked about how she set up the Sydney Community Foundation, and also about discovering two young women who had started a prostitution ring in south-western Sydney. They had girls as young as 12 working for them and selling their bodies for as little as 10 dollars. She also gave us some figures that astounded me. Women invest 90% of their money back into their families. It’s only 30% for men. “Philanthropy will make a difference.” This is her motto, and belief, one she is changing lives with.
Audette Exel, founder of the ISIS Group. Part of the group is the ISIS Foundation who support people in poverty in Uganda and Nepal. Audette’s bright and enthusiastic talk bubbled with optimism and passion. Her motto of “Business as unusual” is how she gets things done. Audette believes and is living proof that “Business can change the world.” She spoke of a child she found in Kenya, a boy, Bosco, and how her foundation has helped turn his life around. And about what a bad dancer she was. At Least, that’s what Bosco thought when he saw her dancing to some rap.
Elaf Khaleel spoke with precision and directness about willpower. Elaf as a younger woman, wanted to become a doctor. So much so she practiced on her younger brother. She is at school now, redoing some of the things she already completed in her birth country of Jordan. She is aiming to become a doctor, and she will make it, because as she said, “Willpower is like a shadow, it is watching over me.” Undoubtedly, she will be treating many of us in years to come.
Maheen Bhutta, a young Australian woman talked to us about education, and education in Pakistan. Particularly about Malala Yousafzai, a school student and education activist who was shot by the Taliban. A targeted attack, because she advocates education for women. Like Malala, education is Maheen’s dream. And she wants to see that education is achievable for all the women of the world.
What I learned out of this session is that if we are all going to live together as one race of beings, men must change their attitudes towards women. We must listen to women, support women, and not hold them back in any way. If men continue to hold women back, there is no hope for equality or fairness on any level, in any society.
Here is a link to the event http://www.swf.org.au/component/option,com_events/Itemid,124/agid,3636/task,view_detail/