IWD: reflection and celebration

IWD: reflection and celebration

Katherine and Paul, Greenbelt’s Programme Manager and Creative Director, take time out to reflect on what International Women’s Day means for them and for Greenbelt.

Today is a day that we join with all those standing with women all over the world to celebrate their lives, loves, their change-making, creativity, generosity and their myriad achievements, from the local to the global. It’s a day of joy and celebration.

But, just as a side note …

Ahead of International Women’s Day (IWD), we took a look back through 45 years of past festival Guides here in the Greenbelt office, with the aim of picking out and celebrating some of the great women we’ve had the privilege to platform over the years. It was a sobering experience. The further back we went, the fewer women we could find. They just weren’t there. At least not in the pictures in the Guides.

Now, we’re a progressive and inclusive organisation and we’re alert to issues of justice (we hope). But this trawl back through our past programmes was a pointed reminder to us that IWD isn’t just a day for celebration, but also a day for acknowledgment and reflection. 

We’ve been on a long journey towards greater gender justice (#BalanceForBetter) on our bill and in our organisation and it feels like we’re getting there. We’re pretty sure we’re headed in the right direction, at least. But we know we‘re not there yet.

Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot (pictured above during Pussy Riot’s residency at Greenbelt 2018) might have been seen as the pinnacle of our honouring the struggle of women everywhere for equality. But Greenbelt has always been more about the journey than the destination; the climb more than the summit.

Behind the scenes, we can say that the majority of our small staff team are women. But at the same time, we have to acknowledge that, of the three senior staff, two are men. Meanwhile, our Board is relatively gender-balanced. Our present Chair of Trustees is a man, yes, but over the last 25 years we’ve enjoyed many more years with women in the Chair’s role than men.

And then there’s the work and thinking we’ve been doing in more recent years around gender identity and the way that our understanding, acceptance and inclusion of those on all points of the gender spectrum is playing into this. For the past two festivals we’ve hosted the Red Tent venue and programme – doing our best to get all the advisories for the sessions ‘right’. But we made mistakes and we recognise what a fragile and fraught thing it is to strive to ensure everyone is welcomed, valued and included.

Not forgetting of course, that gender justice is only one thread in our wider struggle for justice, as layers of oppression intersect and interact with one another to create complex webs that hold people back from flourishing in so many, many different ways. We know we need to get better at reflecting the intersectionality of our struggle for justice at the festival.

So, for us, while remembering and celebrating the wonderful women who have helped make Greenbelt what it is today – both on the stages and behind the scenes – we’re conscious that IWD is not a time for complacency, but for re-doubling our determination to work even harder to ensure that women are welcomed, included, safe, celebrated, honoured, respected, listened to and loved at Greenbelt always.

We’ve moved a long way even since the turn of the century to ensure the festival bill is gender-balanced – but we’re still not quite there yet. 

Last year on IWD we blogged about 10 wonderful women who’d rocked our world over Greenbelt’s 45 years. And it makes our heart sing to remember these iconic figures again. But this year we also find ourselves in more reflective mode. 

Not that we’re maudlin, of course! Over on our Instagram stories today we’re having fun with pictures from the past of women who’ve performed or spoken at Greenbelt. Take a peek.

The first names for this year’s Greenbelt bill will be announced later this month.