WORDS

With Glastonbury fever whipping into a mud-flecked frenzy down at Worthy Farm as we speak, a group of hard-working, passionate women are adding the finishing touches to one of the most controversial additions to the festival this year – a female-only venue called The Sisterhood.

Reacting to the male-dominated line-ups that have become synonymous with UK festivals, The Sisterhood will only feature female performers, including musical headliners Dream Nails. There will also be a full programme of talks and debates, including the festival’s first black women’s forum featuring speakers from WOC blog gal-dem.

But why is the introduction of an exclusive space causing such a riot in comment sections worldwide? While some argue that a female-only venue will be valuable breathing space away from the everyday harassment that’s become commonplace in our society (and often enhanced at festivals), others believe that women choosing to segregate themselves from men is creating a worse gender imbalance than ever before.

We caught up with Shangri-La creative director and Sisterhood producer Kaye Dunnings to hear her view, directly from the snug new Glastonbury site.

What is The Sisterhood?
The Sisterhood is a lounge, it’s a place where women can be together away from the [male] gaze – because we want to, and because we can. We’re making a great party happen, with lots of workshops and general amazing energy. I feel like all the work I’m doing here is one huge political action.

What is the venue’s manifesto?
That it’s an inclusive space, and it’s intersectional. You can’t fight any cause unless you’re doing it in that way. We’re not all working together unless we are all working together. It’s clearly needed when you see all the press that it’s had so far and the amount of women that have come forward to tell us how excited they are, and that they’re looking forward to Glastonbury even more now.

How did The Sisterhood’s stage at Glastonbury come about?
I’m the creative director of the field, and it was my idea to have a venue that doesn’t allow men in. I felt like it would really empower all the women that are here and that it would really work with [Shangri-La’s] theme of media hell – I didn’t realise how much media hell it would actually cause! It’s gone worldwide, and there’s lots of angry people. We’ve created something we didn’t expect. I thought the other things we were doing here might cause a bit more fuss, not the fact we’re hosting a really lovely lounge for ladies. I thought what we’ve done with David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch might cause more of a stir, but I guess people haven’t seen that yet!

How else does The Sisterhood fit into Shangri-La’s theme, “Media Hell – Truth and Lies”?
Although the media has taken it way too far in lots of ways, it’s become a positive as well. I think there’s a shift going on, and the Sisterhood has brought up a lot of issues for a lot of people. It’s interesting what’s happened with the Stanford rape case and how a woman has been painted in a positive light in the media. That’s never really happened before, usually it’s [the woman’s] fault. It’s really exciting for us, too – it’s asking us how to deal with this, the door policy… how do we do it? The only rule is that no men are coming in – anyone else is completely welcome. It is still a secret venue, so it depends if people can even find it in the first place!

How do you go about picking out the acts that will appear at the stage?
The Sisterhood is one of the most underfunded and under-resourced venues in probably the whole of Glastonbury, so we’re using women that are already onsite. A lot of people that are coming to DJ are volunteering. We’ve called upon all our sisters that are already here to join in the fun and celebrate with us. It’s been really organic. We’re looking out for some really well-known acts to do a gig in the venue – we want Adele to come and sing us all a lullaby, or PJ Harvey to do an acoustic set! I think it would be amazing for them, too, to appear at a venue that’s only for girls. None of the performers we’ve got on have ever performed to an all-female audience. I think that’ll be really different and exciting for them.

Tell us about what women can expect when they drop by The Sisterhood at Glastonbury.
There’s going to be a ceremony for Jo Cox, the politician that was murdered, at 4pm on the Park Stage on Wednesday, and then we’re going to march down from the Park to open the Sisterhood. The whole festival is completely supportive of what we’re doing, so Emily is going to come and open the venue for us.

We’ve got a lot of workshops talking about how women can be empowered, in activism as well as a lot of other things. We’ll be teaching people how to change a tyre, but also how they can ignite a big political action, and everything in between.

A lot of this is about women seeing each other’s work – a lot of the time we get pitted against each other and it’s bullshit. We want to support and promote each other. There’s lots of strengths women have over men and one of those things is that we’re supportive of each other – we’re not trying to fight each other. There’s no judgement of what you look like or where you’re from. All we’re trying to do is keep the tribe together. And women are always the heads of all the tribes, running things!

Find the Sisterhood in the Shangri-La Field at Glastonbury (if you can!), and check out their Twitter and Facebook for updates

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