Oxford International Women’s Festival is 20 years old!

Oxford Women's Festival LogoSo we managed to catch a few minutes with one of the organisers, Christine, to ask some questions….

I know this is really hard as an organizer but what are the highlights of this years’ programme? What are you most excited about?

The highlights are the re-introduction of the community events. Lottery funding has enabled us to support a series of events across the City, Spotlight on South Oxford, Rosehill, Strictly Come Barton.

On the international scene, two very special highlights. Bringing two women to Oxford from Leon, Nicaragua. Sophia Sanchez Sirias and Milagros Mairena Delgado, will be in Oxford for two weeks, appearing at a number of events, running workshops in schools.

Also, Hanan Bannourah, first women Union leader from Ramallah in Palestine

What are the challenges of programming an International Women’s Day festival like this one?

The challenge is to create a cohesive programme, from a disparate array of events; that is representative of all women in Oxford yet has an international flavour on a low budget

with too few core workers.

The festival has recently had funding problems, why did that happened, and how did you work around it? What advice would you give other women’s events in a similar position?

The funding problems weren’t new, they have been ongoing but did come to a head in 2008 as we received no funding from the City Council for the 2009 Festival. The reasons for this were two fold, their criteria changed and the Festival having lost many of the direct community links to a greater extent fell outside the criteria.

We had also maintained a very low programme entry fee for a very long time. It is a graded fee, commercial organizations pay more than non profit making but in either case it is an excellent deal. Where else would an organization/individual be promoted in 20,000 quality publications, enjoy distribution through the Scene (professional distributer) plus the Festival’s network, entry in the web and benefit from media releases to all local agencies? The fees of £20, £30 and £60 plus the income from the sale of advertising covers only a portion of the print run; it would seem good sense to review this for 2009.

My advice, start early, calculate minimum and maximum costs, review income streams.

Research Funding organizations, local and national, study their criteria and create a percentage of events or parts of the whole that will fulfill the criteria of the funding agencies. Use this as a base for the event. Gather together a small team that make fundraising their focus.

How has the festival changed over time? How does it compare with, for example, the first few festivals?

The Festival was original part of the Oxford City Leisure programme. To some extent it is a social history of women’s issues. Equality in the workplace, health issues, violence against women. Some have seen improvements e.g. childcare, some remain contentious issues e.g. equal pay.

Some members argue that the programme has become too frivolous and others feel it too serious and middle class. Any Festival designed to be representative of all women

will have these tensions. The aim is to get a balance of material that is inclusive of all women. The setting of a theme each year can help achieve this, allowing groups and individuals to interpret it to their own ends. Some themes are more successful than others. To succeed they need at best to be topical, memorable and broad enough to appeal and inspire.

There has been a lot of speculation about younger women being less involved in women’s events and campaigns, what is the experience of the OIWF?

I think young women probably have a different view of ‘Feminism’ to those of us that were on the front-line in the early sixties. This isn’t to say there isn’t a meeting point, it’s just that they are approaching it from different directions. As young women move into career, marriage and motherhood they probably begin to recognize some the common issues which were originally front line. It is essential women seek and find the shared objectives rather than differences; it is the synergy from the whole that will continue to move women forward.

‘A Girl’s Day’ was always a feature of the International Women’s Festival. We lost this some years ago, perhaps an aim for 2010 should be to re-introduce it.

What message would you want to give to all women out there about International Women’s Day events?

Marvel at the energy and ingenuity of women. Reflect how far we have come, celebrate these achievements and support and empower women in countries less comfortable than our own to achieve the education and skills to do the same. Demonstrate achievable role model status as an example for girls and young women.

The programme for the Oxford International Women’s Festival is available online here. If you are nearby do have a browse and get along to some events – it’s all very exciting!