For the past ten years White Ribbon Alliance has been building support and visibility at Glastonbury Festival in the UK – the world’s biggest open air music festival, with 200,000 visitors and 2,000 journalists from 70 countries.
Our team of dedicated volunteers has pasted stick-on ‘heart mum’ tattoos on the arms of festival goers while talking to them about how we keep girls and women safe in pregnancy and birth. We have ‘made a noise for mums’ with a record breaking drum roll lead from the stage by pop stars Rudimental, Lily Allen and Shlomo. We have invited celebrities and to have their photos taken in WRA photoframes, shared widely on social media, raising awareness of our brand and our issues. Our Global Champion Sarah Brown has joined us at Glastonbury with supermodel supporter Naomi Campbell. And then in 2016 we stood in solidarity after the murder of our colleague Jo Cox, MP, who had been instrumental in the strategy to win international support for maternal and newborn health.
This year the plan was to draw attention to WRA’s role in promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights by building on the growing momentum of the women’s rights marches around the world. We made an exhibition in our tent of the best and funniest of the placards – ranging from ‘Misters for the Sisters’ to ‘Speak out even if your voice shakes’ and ‘Girls just want to have fun-damental human rights’, inviting festival goers to come in and make their own before joining us on the stage of the Park field in our own #RESIST rally. We had some great conversations with visitors to our tent, sharing how WRA members around the world show such courage in speaking out and standing up for their rights.
Glastonbury has its roots in activism, from its earliest beginnings as an anti-war ‘CND’ Festival 40 years ago to its hosting of world figures including the Dalai Lama and, this year, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Unlike other festivals, it donates profits to charities – notably Oxfam, Greenpeace and Wateraid – and festival organiser Michael Eavis is deeply committed to progressive causes. Michael is a farmer and part of the local Methodist church, again with a tradition of social activism. His daughter and festival co-organiser Emily Eavis is a mother and WRA Champion. For the past ten years father and daughter have given WRA a valuable platform, and this year we used it to draw attention to the human rights abuses suffered by pregnant women and mothers who are asylum seekers and refugees in the UK – where our government now imposes charges which are deterring women from seeking safe and dignified maternity care.
We invited our partners in the UK’s Refugee Council to join us on stage. Emily Wood, a refugee from Zimbabwe, used to sing “How Great Thou Art” when she was detained in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre and this hymn happens to be a favourite of Michael’s – and to our delight he agreed to sing it with us.
So on Sunday morning more than a hundred of us gathered with our placards while Michael and Emily sang together in two languages – what a great symbol of solidarity and support for women around the world! She and other refugee and asylum seeking women also spoke on stage about how welcome they felt at the Festival, and if only that warmth could spread beyond Glastonbury.
As the hymn came to a close, one of our volunteers did a ‘streak’. (For overseas readers, this is an eccentric UK tradition in which a naked person dashes across a sports ground or other public space while everyone cheers at their audacious act of defiance). In this case our WRA volunteer, Rachel, body painted with the slogans #RESIST and FEMINIST, strode confidently onto the stage, punching her fists into the air while the audience cheered.
Far from the usual hurried scuttle, she took her time, championing the rights of all girls and women to make their own decisions about their own bodies. It was controversial – like women’s rights – and Rachel showed us what it means to be brave, strong and beautiful.
White Ribbon Alliance in the UK now moves forward with renewed energy to speak out for the rights of all girls and women, whoever they are, wherever they live.
Beyond the festival we will continue to bring people together to demand their rights from governments and leaders in the UK and across the world - get in touch for more info! Donate now to support the movement!