Source: Time Out

Last year, to celebrate the centenary of International Woman’s Day, Annie Lennox founded Equals, a coalition of over 30 organisations unified by a common cause – to promote gender equality. Equals also teamed up with the Southbank Centre’s WOW: Women of the World Festival and Lennox performed with a crew of forthright females that included Paloma Faith, Kate Nash and VV Brown. Now, Equals Live returns to participate in WOW – a three day festival of live music, debates, comedy, films and more. Lennox will curate another special live event with Critics’ Choice Brit Award-winner Emeli Sandé, grime-pop star Katy B and electronic soulster Jess Mills. We eavesdropped on Scottish singers Lennox and Sandé as they discussed empowerment, sexism in the music industry and reclaiming the word ‘feminist’.


Emeli Sandé ‘Have women’s issues and gender equality always been important to you?’

Annie Lennox ‘Women’s issues have always been a part of my life. My goal is to bring the word “feminism” back into the zeitgeist and reframe it. I would love to see young men and women embracing this word, and saying we want to see the empowerment of women.’

ES ‘My dad is from Zambia and he always made me and my sister feel very capable, and that you should be able to do anything regardless of where you come from or what sex you are. But I did study medicine, and there was a distinct view that women should be GPs and guys should become surgeons, because women are going to have a family to look after. In the music industry I’ve found there’s rarely a woman who has her own music studio, or a room of her own. I’m a big fan of Virginia Woolf’s essays about how important it is to have a real space of your own. I’d like to see more women behind the scenes in publishing and management.’

AL ‘My issue with the state of women became incredibly stimulated when I was visiting developing countries and it became obvious that women bore the brunt of so many things in society. They haven’t got anywhere near the first rung of the ladder in terms of their own legislative empowerment or personal protection. You were studying to become a doctor and that would’ve been unheard of only a century ago. I want to see women having those opportunities globally.’

ES ‘Creating some kind of identification between women in the west and in developing countries is important so we can see the similarities between us. On another note, nowadays there’s so much overt sexuality in music, especially regarding women. Do you feel like that’s progress, that they’re liberated or do you think it’s a step backwards?’

AL ‘When I see something innovative that doesn’t rely on a sexual cliché, it’s so refreshing. I’m not against sexuality and sensuality being expressed; Beyoncé is a really sexy, sexual woman, but she does it with such good grace.’

ES ‘When people say, “We’re being brave by doing this” or, “We’re being ourselves”, the majority of the people being inspired by these artists are young girls. Young children buying the music are seeing that that’s how they’re successful. Also, I do feel it’s a shame that women seem to be in competition with each other. We don’t think that we’re more powerful together and if we just support one another, then we’ll have leverage.’

AL ‘I loved meeting the girls [last year]. What I got from them was their vivacity, enthusiasm and awareness of gender issues. And that feeling of being together under the same umbrella for an evening. No, we’re not competing with each other, we can benefit from having this camaraderie.’

ES ‘I was quite surprised to see that Britain is only 16th in the list of gender equality. Why do you think we’re so low down?’

AL ‘I think people in Great Britain are a bit jaded sometimes. Women should be more engaged with the issue of gender and equality. It seems like it’s gone on to the back burner – we’ve come this far but there’s nothing left to do – but when you see some of these facts and numbers, you’re shocked. There’s so much more to be done. That’s why I think women’s magazines have got fantastic potential to influence young women’s minds in a healthy way and that really should be on the agenda.’

ES ‘Which feminists from the past have inspired you?’

AL ‘The person who inspired me the most was a friend of mine, Anita Roddick. I know that Anita wasn’t known to be an ardent feminist but she truly was. She was all about women having power and supporting women. She was a businesswoman who was hugely successful and incredibly inspirational and vibrant and can-do – yes I can. Yes we can. And I loved that about her.’

Time Out ‘Recently there’s been some discussion about how there’s a lack of protest music in popular culture these days. Is it important for you to write lyrics that go beyond pure escapism and address more pertinent issues?’

AL ‘When I look at the majority of my own songs they really came from my own sense of personal confusion or need to express some pain or beauty – they were coming from a universal and personal place. I would have loved to have been a more politically based writer but I didn’t feel I had that skill set. ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ [by the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin] is a very anthemic song and it’s self explanatory, but that’s a rarer song for me to write. There are some incredible songs like ‘Biko’ by Peter Gabriel which became the essence of what apartheid had brought and it was a personal story. Or when Sting wrote ‘They Dance Alone’ about the women who had lost their sons in Chile. When I heard those songs I felt very inspired, but those songs are few and far between. They’re so great that they’re challenging to write.’

ES ‘Do you feel that music can open people’s eye across the world? We get caught up in our own bubble with what’s happening in the west and we don’t feel that connection with people around the world. Even though the world feels like it’s getting smaller it feels like we’re still very separate.’

AL ‘I think music is the most phenomenal platform for intellectual thought. It’s a language of it’s own. We can all speak in different languages and have different cultures but we hear music and it connects us together which is such gift for human kind.’