Source : Evening Standard

A three-day celebration of women kicks off at the Southbank Centretoday with the official backing of the Duchess of Cornwall.

The Duchess showed her sisterly solidarity by welcoming festival stars including singer Annie Lennox, campaigner Bianca Jagger and author Kate Mosse to Clarence House to show support for the WOW – Women of the World event.

PR executive Lynne Franks, lawyer Helena Kennedy, psychoanalyst Susie Orbach, Band of Gold screenwriter Kay Mellor and writers Kathy Lette and Joanna Trollope were also among who met the Duchess yesterday before joining the programme of mentoring workshops, comedy, music, readings and debates on everything from prostitution to fashion. The festival runs until Sunday.

Organiser Jude Kelly, the Southbank Centre’s artistic director, admitted she was “thrilled” the Duchess had thrown her weight behind what is now intended to be an annual event. It was strange no such festival already existed even though it is now a century since the first International Women’s Day. But Ms Kelly said: “The zeitgeist called. It’s time.”

Annie Lennox, who is performing with Paloma Faith and Kate Nash in the Royal Festival Hall tonight, said it was important for women to have a more united voice on women’s issues and women’s rights.

“Perhaps this is a good sign of a larger groundswell, a re-awakening of the issue of feminism and what that word really means,” she said. “It’s time for us to really grasp that word and re-address it. It’s not about anything that’s anti-men.”

Kathy Lette said the Mad Men television series about advertising in the Sixties showed advances had been made. But Lynne Franks, who is presenting an ethical business forum at the festival, said: “If you look back at the last hundred years, it’s alarming how little we have moved forward. But there are now women of all ages all over the globe saying, Let’s create a new future because we can’t go on like this.”

Bianca Jagger called for “a non-violent revolution” to improve on the current statistics where only 1 per cent of properties are owned by women and there were only four females in the Cabinet. “We should take a lesson from what is happening in the Middle East and what women are trying to achieve there,” she said.

Despite fears that younger woman spurn the label feminist, Fatima Begum, 17, from festival participants the Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets, said: “Feminism is very much alive for the next generation. We’re going to be taking on the torch.”

A Palace aide said: “The Duchess offered to host a reception for WOW because she wanted to celebrate the positive contribution women have made and continue to make in so many aspects of national and international life.”

She appeared herself at the Southbank Centre to present the Orange Prize for women’s fiction last year and has adopted other women’s causes including supporting female victims of sexual assaults.