History of the Festival
— Anne Mobbs 12.9.2011
I set up the Oxford International Women’s Festival in 1990.
I called a meeting of women from local community groups and the trades council and we formed a Collective to ascertain what kind of events women would like to put on. It was a success right from the start and the City Council were delighted at the publicity it generated. The Collective included women from local Black and Asian community groups who put on their own events. The Festival also gave profile to community groups such as Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse and Oxon Women’s Aid which was important to the women in the Collective. The first Festival included Thalia Campbells’s exhibition of 100 years of women’s banners and over 100 banners were hung in every public space in the Town Hall which created a real stir!
Over the years, Waterstone’s, Blackwell’s, Modern Art Oxford, and the museums all joined in and put on annual events which enabled the Collective to include Germaine Greer, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Yoko Ono in the programme. This meant that the Festival attracted around 10,000 people annually. Virago, the women’s publishers, put on several annual events in Oxford and Jenni Murray of Women’s Hour helped to fundraise in the Oxford Union when the Festival was short of money one year. One spectacular year, the Victoria and Albert Museum sent wall hangings from the Mughal Tent Project to hang in the Town Hall. These were made by Asian women from around the UK as part of local community projects and encouraged our local banner workshops.
Over its twenty-two years, the Oxford International Women’s Festival has provided scope to women artists, theatre groups, and community organizations, and has encouraged creative and political development. It has raised issues which concern women from different countries and the problems they face. A particularly memorable moment was the Seeking a Place of Refuge evening in the Town Hall when actress Diana Rigg read from a book of poems by local women refugees published by the Women’s Festival. The Lord Mayor held a reception as part of the event for all women refugees involved in Asylum Welcome. A truly international women’s occasion.