AVA (WOWser) – Caught in the Net

On Saturday, the first event I went to was ‘Caught in the Net’. It was a sort of informal discussion with five women who work within the STEM industry (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). As a hopeful future female scientist, I was very keen to see this event. We had a variety of women on the panel from Heather Williams, the founder of Science Gurrl to Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a space  scientist. Lots of them had worked as teachers at some point in their lives. It was a really inspirational event. I’ve never really been able to hear lots of different women tell me about the many different exciting aspects to careers in science and completely disregarding the stereotype that women don’t ‘do’ science. One of the speakers, who had been switching from different science degrees and being an actress, made it clear that you can keep doing something creative (like drama, which I really love) as well as science, which got me really excited (she managed to do 19 productions while she was studying her natural sciences degree!) All of the women also pointed out that science is also a creative subject. Science is about creating things, substances and ideas. It was great to be surrounded by a group of women who all had the same passion for the subject. We discussed how we needed to make my generation and younger generations of girls even more enthusiastic about science. They all agreed that schools needed to give girls a better idea of the large variety of jobs available with a scientific degree, and that the curriculum should be more exiting and engaging for all young people and make it easier for them to relate to the subject. Science relates a lot to us, even though sometimes that is not made very clear to us while we’re learning it. The fact that Maggie Aderin-Pocock has dyslexia, something I also have, and is still an incredibly successful and brilliant space scientist and astronomer with a degree from Imperial, made me even more confident that I would be able to do any science degree I wanted.

The talk was really great and I loved hearing from all the women. It proved that science can be a fascinating subject to study, and that we need more women and young girls to realise this.

Shanutai (WOWser) – What is Rape?

What is rape? Sexual harm, nothing big? No it’s a serious matter, people are getting raped left right and centre and no one is doing much about it. Today I went to a discussion called Rape and its where these women told us about their stories and in most of them, as soon as they got raped they didn’t go to the police. This shows that they might have been scared of the consequence and didn’t want to go to court and see the person that raped them. One of the women that was speaking said something that really made me think “is it rape if it’s from your boyfriend?” Rape is rape no matter who done it. Rape is something that happens all the time and this needs to stop. Girls need to find the confidence to go to the police if they have been raped because living knowing what has happened to you can make things worse. I think there should be help lines or workshops about rape and how dangerous it is and to give people information that if they do get raped they should instantly go to the police, rape is a big problem and it needs to stop.

Martha (WOWser) – Ruby Wax

I went to see Ruby Wax’s one-woman rambling ponder on life and all its difficulties with very little prior knowledge of her aside from that she had suffered from mental illness in her life and she was open and funny about it in her shows. She was immediately an endearing presence, without trying too hard to please the audience, as if she knew instinctively how to satisfy an audience without even having to try.

Anita (WOWser) – Sum of their body parts? Sat 9th Mar

On Saturday 9th March, as one of the Wowsers (young ambassadors for the WOW festival) I attended a talk on women in the media which focused on how newspapers, television and other forms of media have seriously negative impacts on women and society. The speakers included a journalist, a correspondent for ITV London Tonight, a BBC newsreader and the women’s editor for the Guardian. I found the comments about women in the media very engaging, particularly Ronke Phillips, the correspondent for ITV London Tonight who had some interesting thoughts on women’s position in the media. She commented on how it is seen as acceptable for an older man to be partnered with a younger women as a TV presenter on a news channel, however if it were to be the other way around, it would often be seen as humiliating for the women. The audience was encouraged to consider why this arguably boring stereotype of women in the media being reduced to nothing but the ‘sum of their parts’ or in other words their figures and their imperfections, still exists and what can be done to stop it. With only 22% of women in politics, it’s astounding to think that they deal with a significant amount of daily criticism targeted at their age, the recent weight lost or gained or even their hair colour. After listening to the panel on women in the media as well as several other talks about feminism in the Middle-East and pornography, they left me inspired and enthusiastic to promote women’s equality even further. Gender equality is still a problem in every country in the world and without it being taken seriously (and this does not mean humorlessly!), it’s very hard for female equality to improve and for women to be looked at as more than their parts, but as who they are. Therefore everyone come to the festival!

Palestinian women tweet to the world

In the small West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, south west of Ramallah, housewife Manal Tamimi photographs soldiers using her mobile phone as she dodges teargas canisters – before tweeting them to the world. At the other side of the village baker Umm Samer sits in her kitchen baking her lovely pastries and posts pictures of her produce on Facebook to sell them and make a living.

Palestinian women have taken social media by storm: using it for advocacy, women’s rights, marketing their products, or as a tool to voice opinions, which would otherwise be veiled by social, cultural and traditional restraints.

BBC Media Action

Recognising the role social media is playing in Palestine, BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development charity, has put great emphasis on integrating social media into its project in the Palestinian Territories.

Our participatory audience-driven debate programmes provide ordinary Palestinian people, (particularly disenfranchised youth), with multimedia platforms (radio, television and online) where they can debate the political and social issues with key decision-makers and hold them to account.

Currently BBC Media Action in the Palestinian Territories is producing two debate shows Hur Al Kalam (‘Free Speech’), and Aswat Min Filisteen (‘Voices from Palestine’). They bring the Palestinian audience together with politicians, leaders, and decision makers to hold them to account in an open debate on issues that affect the peoples’ lives.

One aspect of the project is to introduce social media to the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC Media Action social media team is working hand in hand with PBC’s social media team to develop the station’s Facebook page, and is creating social media  guidelines for the station, as well as using social media for production.

BBC Media Action has engaged women via social media tools and research for the programmes. Our research officer Al’a Radi told me how they make the debate programmes relevant to women, “When choosing the topics we want to use in the shows,” she said, “we ensure that Palestine TV, along with our research team, conducts research about the chosen topics with relevant women’s organisations and experts.”

Our Project Manager Raed Sadeq, says Palestine TV already covers topics that interest women; what BBC Media Action wants is to involve women in all aspects of the production process, “We have the flexibility in our programmes to cover women’s issues,” she says, “but we go further, by having women politicians and experts as part of the panel and present in the audience, whatever topic or issue we raise.”

More women on Facebook

One of our objectives in the social media team is to engage more women in the debates and issues raised on the Palestine TV Facebook pages. Prior to BBC Media Action’s involvement in Palestine TV’s social media, the majority of the followers on Palestine TV’s web pages and Facebook pages, were men. However we have noticed an increase in the number of women engaging on the page – especially when our programmes raised issues of interest to women such as marriage in Palestine and the health sector. Our next show will be dedicated to Palestinian women in celebration of International Women’s Day.


In the past year Palestinian women have become a recognisable presence on Twitter – focusing on political activism and advocacy.  Activists – the majority of them women – have created networks inside and outside Palestine to support each other and have created social media campaigns to tie in with actions on the ground.

When it comes to ascertaining accurate numbers of Twitter users, things get complicated. Palestinians are scattered inside and outside Palestine and most of the computerised analytical tools categorise users according to their IP address. The numbers we have only cover the West Bank and Gaza so Palestinian women living in refugee camps in Lebanon or Palestinians living in Haifa or Nazareth are categorised as Lebanese or Israeli. 

With that in mind BBC Media Action conducted primary quantitative research, analysing social media usage in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Social Media Tool WB +Gaza Male Female
Facebook 71% 73% 69%
YouTube 58% 40% 39%
Twitter 39% 60% 56%
MySpace 21% 22% 20%

For more information on BBC Media Action: bbcmediaaction.org

Ashira Ramadan – social media specialist with BBC Media Action


Ashira Ramadan is a social media specialist with BBC Media Action living in Jerusalem Palestine. Ashira received her post graduate degree in broadcast journalism from University of the Arts London. Ashira spoke at Women of the World Festival 2013 as part of WOW Bites – a series of bite sized talks.


Is there another way to talk about porn?

Sat near the front of a packed auditorium in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the women behind me are booing, jeering and, on occasion, heckling.

Most of their taunts were directed at Martin Daubney, former editor of lads’ mag Loaded, who was talking part in a discussion on porn, along with my good friend Chitra Nagarajan (of Black Feminists) and anti-porn activist and academic Julia Long. Chairing the controversial debate was Helena Kennedy QC. 

One of the comments that promoted booing in the audience was Daubney’s assertion, ’All the women that appeared in all the men’s mag were paid well, they wanted to do it. Our big cover girls got paid more than I did. These weren’t victims.’ Of course, statements like this are guaranteed to wind up some feminists if they are among those ideologically opposed to porn.

Despite beginning with that justification of Loaded – and arguing that lad’s mags were never porn, Daubney went on to admit that over the years they have become more porn-like. A magazine today would be too hardcore to sell on the ‘middle shelf’ five years ago.

And then Daubney proceeded to explain how his views changed once he had a daughter. When he was asked if he’d be happy for his own daughter to appear in the pages of his magazine, he admitted: ’I felt duty bound to say “yeah, yeah”, but I was lying. When I became a father I looked differently at this magazine sector.’

He decided to leave men’s magazines three years ago, as a direct result, he says.

Perhaps this isn’t a wholehearted transformation – Daubney now writes for The Sun and the Daily Mail, and he spoke quite dismissively particularly in response to one question about banning Page 3, which he called a ‘side issue’. (Incidentally, Page 3 is nowhere near the top of my agenda for change, so I can’t entirely disagree, but his manner was a tad rude.)

Daubney seemed to savour the booing and heckling, but some of the audience members who also had their contributions jeered at as well, might have not enjoyed the experience as much. Even though Kennedy told us that in years passed she’s chaired debates on porn that have seemed to be on the edge of actual violence, I thought this was dispiriting.

As a counterpoint, however, it’s also interesting to look at what happened when Chitra spoke. Based on an informal survey of members of Black Feminists, she gave some insights into why black women are not generally even involved in or invited to these debates. She talked about the racism that crops up in porn; listing common tropes and stereotypes, and calling for a more nuanced discussion. I’m not going to even attempt to summarise her many points – hopefully her speech will go on the Black Feminists’ blog soon.

Her points were well made – but then systematically ignored by the other speakers and the audience. Which is a shame because in all the many debates on porn I’ve heard, I think this is the first to address these topics. Although I am admittedly biased, I have to say I found hers the most interesting contribution from the panel, as it provided some nuance. No-one even really responded to or engaged with her points. 

She was barely called upon to participate in the discussion, which rotated through some well-trodden arguments: should porn be banned, or, on the other hand, can porn be feminist. Is porn always abusive.

The temptation seems to be to rehearse the same arguments again and again. People take sides, reach for their talking points (in the case of Daubney, even when he seemed no longer to fully believe them himself!), and dismiss the views of the ‘opposition’. As those who were in the room experienced, often this dismissal can be very loud indeed.

There were some genuine exceptions in the audience: one woman entertainingly spoke about her nostalgia for the porn of the 1970s and 1980s, with its pubic hair; she’s tried anal sex a couple of times, she informed us, but didn’t like it much. Another woman, who works at a sexual health clinic, spoke about the affect on teenage boys who become desensitised to porn to the point of experiencing erectile dysfunction at only 16. One woman spoke about her experiences making feminist porn. About the effect of porn on young people’s ability to function in relationships. One mother of a teenage girl noted that, yes, teenage boys today have access to a lot of internet porn and it’s much more hardcore than before. But in other respects, those teenage boys seemed more sensitive and to like women more than teenage boys did when she was young.

Can we learn to listen to each other more, and talk less? What room have we left for people changing their mind. For dialogue? For a more nuanced conversation?

I think the level of heckling is actually linked to Chitra’s unsuccessful attempt to move the conversation on. 

We need to allow for a genuine dialogue. Dialogue doesn’t involve talking over each other. But it should allow us to ask some different, perhaps more nuanced questions. Or we will be stuck forever in this loop.

Listen to Pornography: A Women Of The World Festival debate:

The Role Of Men

Last year Jude Kelly mentioned that she felt the WOW Festival could do more to encourage men to attend, and to involve men in the discussions taking place there. She felt that it was important that we, as women and feminists, engage with men more to see how they could help us. This year, that definitely seems to have become a focus on the programme as several of the sessions sought to bring men into the conversation.

The need to involve men actually arose early on Friday in the panel on International Activism. Valerie Amos (UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief coordinator on the Millennium Development Goals) was speaking about violence against women and girls and how this was a major barrier to the Millennium Goals being achieved. She clearly stated that men needed to raise their voices on this issue, not just to show support for women, but to lead other men in change. Jude Kelly agreed, admitting she finds herself ‘baffled’ when hearing about some violence against women, having a moment where she wonders if men do hate women (just a moment – it’s clear that she doesn’t). Although most men would never commit such acts, it’s important that they speak out against those that do. When women speak out on these issues it’s assumed to be important to them because they’re women. It needs to be important to all of us.

This point that men need to speak out came up time and again throughout other sessions on Friday and Saturday. The Guy’s Guide to Feminism session saw Michael Kaufman (co-author of the book of the same name and co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign) pick this up. He clearly stated that violence against women is an issue for men. It happens to women they love – mothers, sisters, daughters, friends – and this should be something that they care about. He worries that violence against women makes some women suspicious of all men and his anecdote of women crossing the street late at night to avoid him sounded familiar to me. Crucially however, he said that men look to other guys to define what being a man is. All men must speak out as silence could give the impression that they’re okay with what’s happening. In fact one of the stated aims of the White Ribbon Campaign is that silence allows violence to continue. This must end.

Kaufman did admit that since most men broadly support equality (even if they wouldn’t call themselves feminists) they don’t speak out or engage in it. Another of the WRC’s aims raises the point that collective responsibility is required, but that it’s not about guilt; it’s not about men feeling guilt as men because of the violence that exists against women. It is, however, about men taking the opportunities presented to them to speak out and create change; men need to accept that responsibility.

Kaufman had a number of other interesting points to make in the Guy’s Guide to Feminism session. While funny and light (reading extracts from the book that set the tone) it’s clear that he feels very strongly about campaigning for change. He also spoke about the use of language and how it can be used to make women ‘disappear’. Describing women as ‘my lovely assistant’ (rather than capable for example) or using terms such as cavemen, mankind, chairman or postman – even when referring to women – just erases women completely. Women are diminished by being referred to as girls or chicks, especially in workplaces. Being aware of this may stop men from using these terms.

He also, interestingly, discussed the opportunities that feminism brings for men to transform themselves. He feels that the ‘macho’ culture is damaging to men and is something that feminism directly challenges. From birth, boys are bombarded with messages about what it means to be male and are openly humiliated if they don’t live up to this – boys don’t cry, don’t throw like a girl, play through the pain. However, these ideals are impossible to live up to. All people need love, nurture and connection but men cannot admit this. Men are left with massive internal conflict in trying to live up to these images.

When women challenge these ideals, as feminists do, it can leave men confused and angry. If this behaviour isn’t what it means to be a man, then what is it that still makes them men? Some men however can and do embrace this as an opportunity and a positive move towards transforming men’s lives.

Kaufman brought some of these points with him into the Conversation Between the Sexes panel, which was at times entertaining and at times somewhat uncomfortable to watch (Jon Snow and Shami Chakrabarti seemed to particularly butt heads, even when agreeing with each other). Jude Kelly did ask why more men don’t speak out about other men’s behaviour. Kaufman replied that he felt it was out of fear of appearing as if they are not a ‘real man’. He was optimistic that this was changing though. Jon Snow also commented that men could learn a lot from a festival like WOW as he couldn’t imagine men gathering to address issues in this way. It’s interesting to note that Jude did announce that Southbank Centre will be holding a Festival of Masculinity in January 2014 (that should be interesting!).

Kaufman’s last point, about what men need from women in order to change, did feed back into something I also heard in a few sessions over the weekend (so far). He noted that the nature versus nurture debate is shifting and that gender is something we learn. Our brains are shaped by our families, and we become gendered. He felt that men needed encouragement to reshape what it means to be men by transforming fatherhood. Increased parental leave would help but we also need to recast ideas of motherhood. Women need to accept that men can also nurture and allow them to fulfill this role.

Models of fatherhood cannot be underestimated (where fathers are present). In the International Activism panel Ziauddin Yousafzai, father of Malala Yousafzai, spoke about what he did as father that allowed Malala to be the girl she has become. In Pakistan, having sons is important – the birth of daughters is barely celebrated. Men are known by the achievements of their sons but he described himself as ‘lucky and fortunate’ to be a man who is known by his daughter. So what did he do differently to other fathers? He says he did nothing but honour her as a person and treat her with respect. He said for too long women have been happy to be the strength behind men (behind every great man is a great women) but we should be side-by-side. Crucially he said there are three things men should do for their daughters – honour them, trust them and educate them. Wise words that certainly seem to have worked with Malala.

In The Keys To The Castle talk, Angelique Kidjo picked this up in relation to her own childhood. Every year her extended family would come to her parents (well, her father – her mother was considered to have no say in the matter) and tell him that it was time for Angelique to marry. Every year her father would tell them that no-one would tell him what to do in his own home and would insist that Angelique continue in her education. Even as she began to perform and singing became her passion her father told her that she could only continue singing if she continued attending school. The difference that education can make in a girl’s life in Africa is well documented but not all fathers feel able to take such a strong line, or believe it’s right.

So is there a role for men in helping to bring change in women’s lives? It’s clear that there is. They don’t necessarily need to call themselves feminists or be on the streets with us protesting. They don’t even need to attend WOW with us! They just need to take steps in their own lives – how they speak about women, how they relate to other men, their example of what it means to be a man and how they raise their daughters (and sons).

Too nice for self defence? No you’re not

Have you ever been followed home? Have you ever been shouted at on the street? Attacked? Raped?

I would have to say yes to some of these questions, and so would many women reading this, as the statistics show*. In all these cases, what happens is always the aggressor’s fault. That, I hope, goes without saying. There is no secret key which victims can turn to avoid these things happening.

Today’s session on self defence at the Women of the World festival was, however, a revelation.

It was led by Debi Steven – if you saw her walking down the street, the shortish South African might seem unassuming. You would be wrong – she’s an experienced martial artist, and fluent in what she calls ‘the dance of pain’. She runs an organisation called Premier Self-Defence in London. As it quickly turns out, that’s very apt – many of her techniques are about seeming unthreatening at first, but being able to tap into aggression and violence if necessary.

She asks us near to the start of the session, ‘Could you pick a brick up and smash it into another human’s face?’ Some in the audience are visibly shocked.

Most of the attendees of this session are younger women – that is no surprise. Even though women of all ages are harassed and attacked on the street and in their own home, there is a cluster of awfulness that young women tend to experience more, mostly from men. (Although, Steven says, it’s not impossible that you might be attacked on the streets by a teenage girl or a woman.)

Steven says that her aim is to ‘teach nice people to have no respect and go flat out’ – obviously, only in the worst scenario, if you can’t escape!

She has a number of practical tips: trust your intuition, if a situation feels threatening, it probably is so get away.

In a threatening confrontation on the street, don’t be confrontational back, don’t issue a command like ’go away’ – stroke the ego of the aggressor instead. If someone comes at you saying, ‘you looking at me?’, rather than say no, you might pretend you thought you recognised them from some realistic situation, like, for example, the gym. Say anything to get away and de-escalate the situation.

We ‘get to’ experience the trainers getting in our face, shouting at us, trying to intimidate us – it was actually quite scary, even though we knew it was an act.

Then we move on to a physical demonstration: as in trying out Debi’s defence techniques on four male volunteers. We do not, as a whole, really put much welly into, for example, slapping the volunteers on their carotid artery.

By the time we’ve worked through slapping, kicking, elbowing and screaming, however, it has changed. There’s no ladylike holding back – we are, as a group, unrecognisable. Seeing an elegantly dressed woman enthusiastically kneeing one of the trainers (he was holding a padded block!), I feel a little bit liberated. And that’s only after a taster session – the usual classes are about four hours long.

Feminists, many of us, are pretty pacifist. Women, all of us, are socialised to think of ourselves as weak and men as overwhelmingly strong.

One story that Debbie told stands out for me; she teaches a self defence class in a girls’ school to a group of 13 year olds. Every year, some of her make volunteers come away with broken ribs.

*I’m blogging this live so I trust you’ll Google if you’re not familiar with the dreadful numbers.