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What I learned at WOW this year

Every year the WOW Festival at London’s Southbank brings together some of the world’s most inspiring women to take a closer look at the issues affecting women globally and celebrate the leaps being made to tackle them. 

This year, three ICS returned volunteers who have been campaigning for women’s equality were there to participate. Here, they tell us what they thought.


Ailish Breen, 26, volunteered with Balloon Ventures in Kenya in 2015. When she returned, she launched ‘Bon Homies’, a women’s network in Manchester, and leads a monthly ‘Lean In’ circle. She says, “I had an amazing time at WOW. As soon as I arrived I felt an incredible buzz and exciting energy in the air - the space was filled with women of all ages and from all backgrounds.”

Ailish Breen at the Southbank Centre WOW Festival
Ailish Breen at the WOW Festival at London's Southbank Centre
I was so inspired to see all of the women who are getting involved in activism, especially young women. It made me feel motivated.
Ailish Breen

“I listened to a panel on diversity in organisations involving some powerful business leaders, an exciting talk on sexist education systems and a discussion about being an LGBT woman in the workplace. I'm glad an event like WOW exists and I hope that the buzz that was there and the momentum that is growing around women's rights at the moment continues to grow and effect change.”

Crossing borders

Nathalie Botcherby, 23, volunteered with Restless Development in Zambia in 2016. She was later involved with WOW’s sister festival in Cambridge, selecting themes and speakers and is currently studying for a Masters in International Development at SOAS in London.

Nathalie Botcherby, 23, volunteered with Restless Development in Zambia in 2016
Nathalie Botcherby, 23, volunteered with Restless Development in Zambia in 2016

“I really enjoyed the WOW Festival. A personal highlight for me was the “Women Crossing Borders” session with Hana Assafiri, the founder of Speed Date a Muslim, and Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector. I loved the approach that was taken towards borders, and the way that global restrictions on migration inhibit women’s equality around the world.”

Eleanor Frost on placement in Tamil Nadu, India
Eleanor Frost (left) on placement in Tamil Nadu, India.

A truly global event

Eleanor Frost, 20, was in India, with Restless Development working on issues of menstrual and sexual health. As part of her role at Citizens UK, she presented a report to the Mayor of Mansfield on women and loneliness in her Tamil Nadu community, and was a youth delegate to the Global Family Planning Summit in London last year.

“This was my first year at WOW so I really didn’t know what to expect. I had been involved with projects combating isolation and homelessness in my local community. I continue to feel passionate about it, and it featured in my action at home. So I jumped at the opportunity to attend a panel event on women and homelessness. The panel featured a variety of women who are instrumental in increasing the provision of help and support, with both policy and public engagement.

"I felt part of a movement which has momentum."
Eleanor Frost

“I also attended panels on mental health in women, the media portrayal of women and also a one-woman drama performance depicting a story of rape. The festival was full of women of different generations, classes, races, backgrounds; it was a truly global event where equal weighting to women’s voices was given.”

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Funded by the UK Government

ICS is funded by the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID) which leads the UK’s work to end extreme poverty.

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