The power of storytelling

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Group of women, seated and smiling

by Caroline Crawford

When I was growing up in Gambia, women were the sole bearers of oral tradition and were responsible for educating girls and women in their communities. They disrupted patriarchy by passing on land rights and history through stories of the past. Last weekend at WOW that same power of storytelling was tangible throughout the festival.

I saw parallels in the experiences of the Gambian storytellers and the panelists at Southbank Centre. Two very different parts of the world but all women became agents of change by sharing their authentic experiences with other women. As I reflect on my time at WOW, I’m blown away at how sharing and listening with other women is liberating and empowering.

An audience watching a panel of womenWomen of different cultures and movements can only develop stronger ties through sharing and listening. Every story becomes connected.

Elif Safak, Nimko Ali and the other panelists at ‘Activism without Borders’ took up space in their communities by being agents of change. All the women on the panel had unique experiences that were part of a greater collective of issues that women and girls face. There is an African proverb that Nimko said at the end of panel that stuck in my head: ‘to go fast, go alone. To go far, go together’. For me the proverb encompassed the power of women coming together.

The most important education we can give to other women is the guidance and knowledge on how to use our voices. Charlotte Church told us she was able to learn how to shape her voice from singer to activist by learning from other women who shared their stories.

At the ‘how to get elected’ talk, MP’s from all major political parties exchanged with the audience their experiences of being female politicians.

We listened as Tulip Siddiq told us about being accused of bringing ‘down the whole of womankind’ by leaving a debate in Parliament for a snack. In that safe Two women hugging in front of a poster for WOW Londonspace in a room in Southbank Centre, we became her support network as she told us about the daily barriers she faced as a woman in politics.

Storytelling can become revolutionary when it gives testimony to suppressed voices. Brittany Hazelwood, from the African American Policy Forum, talked about social media being a platform to share stories. Campaigns such as #SayHerName uplifted the story of Black women in the male dominated police brutality narrative. Stories by women disrupt one dimensional narratives, which is precisely why they’re so vital.

After WOW I feel people need to have more frank conversations about what we can do to undo gender roles. Feminism teaches us that politics is infused everywhere and change can come when we utilise our voices in the right way. To get the conversation really going we have share our authentic experience and take on that role as a storyteller.


Caroline Crawford 2 Caroline is our fantastic new Enterprise and Engagement Officer! Caroline grew up in seven countries and is passionate about the social and economic empowerment of women. When she’s not busy networking and developing our #youngwomenscotshop she is spotlighting African creatives online and saving up to go on holiday to see her family in West Africa. Tweet her @CAr0_Crwfrd

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