IN the 21st century it is a sobering thought that there is not one country in the world where there is gender equality.
It is one of the many reasons why Jude Kelly established the Women Of The World Festival (WOW) in 2011.
What began as a three-day event to hear discussions on the big topics affecting women and girls — domestic violence, sexism in the workplace and equal pay – it has now become an established annual event in the Southbank Centre’s calendar and is part of its core commitment to promoting equality for women and girls.
This year it celebrates with an expanded programme of events – beginning on March 1 – and an ambition to present the festival in all 53 Commonwealth countries by 2018.
WOW has been curated by Domino Pateman, working alongside Jude, and has as its president, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, a long term supporter of the event.
Over eight days and across the entire Southbank Centre site, it will feature more than 300 speakers and performers appearing in more than 200 events, many of them free with organisers predicting more than 20,000 will visit and take part.
It will again coincide with International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8 with a full day of talks, workshops and performances.
And proving its global reach and its success over the years, the line up brings together a stellar roll call of national and international names – from actresses to comedians, chief executives to emerging talent, representing sport to politics, fashion to education.
“The festival this year is going to be amazing,” Domino tells me. “It has grown over the years and we have an expanded programme with a real range of things on offer.
“This has in part been informed by a series of workshops and events we hosted where we asked people what they wanted to see and experience.
“We are very excited about it.”
The highlights of the festival are many. It kicks off on Sunday with The Woman’s Hour Debate in the Purcell Room and in the days following features a host of fascinating talks, debates and workshops, covering a multitude of topics.
Those taking part include the likes of novelist Kate Mosse, DJs Gemma Cairney and Lauren Laverne, journalist Caitlin Moran, singers Annie Lennox and Rebecca Ferguson, anti poverty campaigner Jack Monroe and civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabarti.
Sarah Millican and Sandi Toksvig will headline Mirth Control, the annual night of comedy and music inspired by great women and featuring the all women WOW orchestra and Liz Carr and Bird La Bird will present a one off night of cabaret and comedy.
As well as the fun side and the triumphs and promotion of women’s achievements there is an underlying serious side.
“Although we celebrate womanhood and all the good things that have happened over the years, we also need to investigate why there is still gender inequality in every country and what it is that stops women and girls achieving their full potential,” says Domino.
“Massive inequality still exists and this needs to change and we will be hosting workshops, talks and debates to explore that.
“For example, we will be looking at what the issues are that women in sport are facing through to some of the most awful things that can happen such as violence against women with talks by survivors of rape and domestic violence and a workshop on consent.
“Jude will do a talk on personal responsibility that really looks at this. Questions that will be asked include what level of inequality can women stomach?”
Elsewhere Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, will make the economic case for gender equality across the globe, Salma Hayek Pinault will present the UK premiere of her animation The Prophet and female MPs including Harriet Harman will go head to head at pre-election hustings.
There will also be the London premiere of The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe, a piece of verbatim theatre with four African women refugees to Australia recounting the true stories of how they survived civil war, kidnap and rape.
And proving that feminism isn’t just for grown ups or teenagers, there are Under 10s Feminist Corner workshops and How To Be Fearless seminars.
Many of what’s on offer will be free and on the last weekend there will also be a free children’s care zone available for day or weekend pass holders. Professional child care staff will be on hand to look after the little ones and a chill out film zone and arts and craft area will be available to keep them entertained.
"We are not surprised it’s been a success but this isn’t just for girls and women," says Domino. "Anyone and everyone should come along – men, women, boys and girls. It’s important that everyone is engaged.”
WOW Festival 2015 takes place across the Southbank Centre site between Sunday, March 1 and Sunday, March 8. Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk/wow for full listings.