Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Clarence House. I must, if I may, just take a moment to salute the brave gentlemen here amongst this immense regiment of women – thank you for your support.
It’s a huge pleasure to see you all here today, a mix of familiar faces from last year, as well as new friends joining us for the first time, as we prepare for the 9th Women of the World Festival. I can’t believe that it is the 9th. I am immensely proud to be the President of WOW and to have this opportunity to celebrate your remarkable work. I always enjoy hearing your stories: stories of what WOW has meant to you; of your achievements; of the obstacles you have overcome; and of those you continue to face. As we all know, stories are powerful and there is no better storyteller than WOW’s founder, Jude Kelly. Jude has been telling stories throughout her life. I understand that, as a child, she would put on plays in her parents’ garden, inviting the whole neighborhood to attend. Later, of course, she went on to tell hundreds of stories as a theatre director and as Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, which she has now left to run the WOW Foundation full-time. Today, the stories she tells are the challenges facing women worldwide, helping us to think what a better world for us might look like and how it might be attained.
She and I have spent quite a bit of time together over the past year (a bit of a double act)! A flying visit to the WOW Festival in Brisbane, followed by a roundtable discussion on domestic violence across the Commonwealth, at last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, drawing out heart-breaking stories from women who had experienced abusive relationships. Then we were in a very hot Nigeria last Autumn, where we listened to women who were looking forward to setting up the first WOW festival in Abuja and later, in Ghana, we attended a WOW reception to hear about women’s achievements there. Across the Commonwealth, I have heard stories from Women of the World - stories that sadden; stories that anger; and stories that encourage and inspire.
From these stories grow conversation, debate and, most importantly, action. Over the last nine years, WOW has held 65 festivals in 15 countries, reaching over 2 million people. As we know, these festivals are both a joyous celebration of women and girls across the globe, and, at the same time, a frank examination of the issues that prevent them from achieving their potential.
We also have with us today five extraordinary women, finalists from the Daily Mail Inspirational Women of the Year Awards. Their stories are quite incredible, and I hope that some of you have had the chance today to meet Eileen, Victoria, Liz, Lorraine and Lisa. Their courage, determination and self-sacrifice are truly inspirational.
Ladies and gentlemen, one final story. I happen to know that, a few years ago, Jude was asked for a single piece of advice she would offer to women. I will close with this, which I think speaks for us all:
“Women need to say, ‘I’ve got one life, I’ve been given life, it has been breathed into me and here I am and I should use it for the best possible purpose’ - Whatever each woman herself defines that to be”.
Thank you very much.