WOW 2015: Annie Lennox talks to Jude Kelly

While famed for her music, Annie Lennox OBE, 60, is also a tireless campaigner on the issue of HIV/AIDS and its impact on the lives of women and children across the globe, awarded an OBE in 2011 for her charity work fighting AIDS and poverty in Africa. She joined Jude Kelly at this year’s Women of the World Festival to discuss the humanitarian issues women face every day and why she wants to make a difference…

You have such a successful career as a music artist, but changing the world through practical and political frameworks is a real concern of yours?

I can’t change the world personally, but I want to be a change agent. I’m too fortunate and privileged not to contribute. It would be a terrible waste if I just decided to go and get my nails done every day, which I could do – not to put that down because that’s a fine thing if you can do it!

What was the trigger to your activism?

I was very fortunate to become a mother and that’s a massive turning point for any woman or girl. The first thing that happened in my experience of motherhood was my son being still born – that woke me up to the world. In hospital, I received a newspaper that said there had been a massive earthquake and 5,000 families had perished in a nanosecond and I thought, I feel so fragile here’. I started to see I’m part of this human race.

When I then had the opportunity to go into the developing world, I met situations where mothers and babies had died and women who were to deliver babies on the floor outside, not in the hospital. I started thinking, ‘Why wasn’t it me?’ I was just privileged, so I wanted to make a difference.

In the next set of Millennium Development goals, each will include an issue about women’s empowerment, which is a massive change. Do you feel your work is getting results?
I do feel encouraged, but I don’t put that down to my work, I put it down to the collective. In the past, I’ve felt tremendous despair – what can be done? But becoming engaged and involved in issues, you start to become part of the solution rather than the despair. We are all part of this world and we can make tremendous change. I think now one of the major challenges is to start to make a shift and dispel this nonsense about the F-word and charge it with compelling value.

What is your attitude to feminism?

When I was much younger, the word feminism was very intimidating to me. I wanted to align myself with that stridency, but I also felt that I wasn’t good enough because I liked lipstick and clothes! I think that’s been a bit of a challenge for many of us. Fortunately, a lot of things have changed since then and there a lot of people in the world who want to revalue feminism.

For more information, visit southbankcentre.co.uk.

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