Arts and Culture

Women of the World festival celebrates local and global talent at first ever Manchester event

Celebrating women, girls and non-binary people, the WOW – Women of the World – festival came to Manchester for the first time over the bank holiday weekend.

The event took place at Factory International in Aviva Studios over two days and three evenings with more than 50 pop-up stores in the marketplace area, experiences, talks, performances and workshops led by talent from across Greater Manchester and beyond. 

Speakers included Australia’s first woman Prime Minister Julia Gillard, actors Maxine Peake, Sophie Willan and Zawe Ashton, author and former hostage Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Manchester legend DJ Paulette, the Deputy Mayor of Kathmandu Sunita Dangol, broadcaster Gemma Cairney and author Chimene Suleyman.

Saturday stage at WoW festival, Manchester

On Friday evening (24 May), singer Melanie Brown took to the stage to talk about her memoir, Brutally Honest, with author and journalist Louise Gannon. 

The Spice Girl shared her lived experience of domestic violence and campaign work with charity Women’s Aid, including her current petition calling for the Judicial College to commit to compulsory ongoing training in family courts.

She said: “I was scared of speaking up about my own experience for so long in case I wasn’t believed but if this helps just one person, it’s worth it. 

“One question I used to get asked a lot in interviews was, ‘Why didn’t you leave sooner?’ but it’s not that simple. 

“So many people in that situation don’t have anywhere to go or don’t have the confidence or support to just up and leave.” 

When speaking candidly about coercive control, she explained that most victims aren’t aware of what is happening to them until after they’ve left the relationship.  

“It doesn’t just happen overnight – it’s very subtle. By the time I’d left, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had to get to know myself all over again. 

“For years, I’d been told what I could wear, who I could see and what I could say.” 

Brown is patron of Women’s Aid and was made an MBE in 2022 for services to charitable causes and vulnerable women.

Mel B and Louise Gannon speaking at WoW festival Manchester

Alongside the festivities, the festival hosted a branded double decker bus featuring various family activities and a quiet library area for attendees to use. 

Founder, Jude Kelly CBE, told Mancuian Matters: “I founded the festival 14 years ago as, at that time, I was meeting so many girls and women who were saying, “Oh I’m not a feminist, I don’t need to be a feminist”. 

“But they had all these issues, from online porn, anxiety attacks about body issues, attitudes to do with housework and childcare … it went on and on. 

“I was always saying that that’s because men are not treating women as equals and we’ve got to change that. 

“So I started the WoW festival because I wanted women to celebrate the fact that girls and women and non-binary people actually have been doing the most amazing things throughout the whole of history but just not really [having it] documented, attributed, valued and often it’s deliberately obstructed. 

“Let’s talk about everything, let’s have no taboos. Let’s discuss all kinds of things – menopause, periods, domestic violence, sexual harassment, infertility, the lot -because we can only solve things if we acknowledge that they exist.”

“Manchester rocks and we’re glad to be rocking with it!”

WoW festival bus at Factory International Manchester

Namibian artist and activist Ina-Maria Shikongo exhibited a new installation commissioned by The Commonwealth Foundation, linking the stories of women and children in the fight for climate justice globally.

She said: “I come from a climate justice background and am a very vocal activist.

“Because of my work, I need to decompress which is why I make textiles, because it’s relaxing and it helps me to process things differently. 

“I use art as an extension of my activism sometimes so with this piece, we are celebrating the strength of a woman. 

“I am comparing the woman to certain elements of nature – this one is the mountain because that’s how strong a woman is. I compared women to a tree as well because a tree protects, it gives shade and oxygen – it nourishes. 

“None of us would be here if it was not for women.”

Namibian artist and activist Ina-Maria Shikongo

You can find out more about the WoW Festival, their work and upcoming events here on their website

If you or someone you know has been impacted by domestic abuse, there is support available. You can contact Women’s Aid by email at [email protected] or visit their website for live chat options and further support –

All images – Lisa Valentine for Mancunian Matters

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