Lift the Lid: 23 Voices was a 10-week podcasting and journalism course co-hosted by LEEDS 2023 and Creative Lives, providing participants with the skills and confidence to create their own media about the culture that matters to them. In this article, Claire Tuton writes about the WOW Barn.

If you think sexism doesn’t still exist, you’re wrong. From gender pay gaps to female genital mutilation, evidence of misogyny and sexism still exists across the globe. And yes, that includes the West.

The WOW Foundation, founded by Jude Kelly in 2010, exists as a glimmer of hope. They aim to build, convene and sustain a global movement that believes a gender equal world is desirable, possible and urgently required. Their commitment to the cause takes the form of events celebrating the achievements of women and girls and challenging them to think differently for a better future.

The impact has been huge, with the foundation reaching over five million people across six continents. This year, WOW came to Leeds with the ambition of breaking down barriers in the construction industry. In May 2023, 300 women, girls, and non-binary people - many who had never picked up a tool before - erected the WOW barn in just 24 hours on Cinder Moor.

The achievement was marked by the following celebration on 13th May, including talks, culture, music, food, workshops and more, all inspired by the dream of an equitable world; one where all women, girls and non-binary people have the space, time, support and permission to live their dreams.

But why does this matter? Why should we care?

Women are still second-class citizens, that’s why. Despite improvements in the western world, according to the National Office of Statistics, in 2022 women were paid on average 14.9% less than men in the same job.

It is not unusual for women to face gender-based discrimination and violence and suffer from misogynistic attitudes and sexist policies that restrict their autonomy over their own bodies.

Case in point, the World Health Organization estimate that about 1 in 3 women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

The truth is no country has yet achieved full gender equality.

Still need more convincing?

In the construction industry, there are more workers called ‘Dave’ than there are women, with only 1% of skilled trade people identifying as female or non-binary in the UK.

This is just one of the many reasons why the WOW barn project was so important. The issue isn’t a lack of want or capability from females and non-binary people, it is a lack of representation and support towards them being recruited into this area of work.

The disparity is reminiscent in the seemingly progressive art world too. According to a report by The Guardian, for every £1 fetched by a male artist’s work, one by a woman gets a mere 10 pence, and its value plummets further if she signs it. A bestselling art book, often used as a textbook for students, Gombrich’s The Story of Art, mentions just one female artist in its 688 pages, according to Mary Ann Sieghart, host of a BBC documentary on the gender gap in art.

Even the must-see movie of this year, Barbie, takes a real stab at the patriarchy, shedding much needed light on the issues women face. In the film, Barbie’s society is run by women, with a strong black president in power, a justice system populated by passionate lawyers and media led by a female journalist. When Ken takes a spill at the beach, it is Dr. Barbie that comes to his rescue. How else could it be in this fantasy world?

So it’s a shock to the system when Barbie leaves her home behind and ventures into the real world, where the patriarchy rules and she is reduced to being a thing, objectified and controlled by men.

But the key to Director Greta Gerwig’s message is found at the end of the film, where Barbie makes the decision to live in the real world, rather than stay in her pink fluffy utopia. She chooses the difficult path to become an advocate for change, rather than staying comfortable.

This is why foundations such as WOW are so hugely important and how projects like the WOW barn make an impact. Not only do they spread awareness of the glaring issue of inequality, but they take steps towards resolving them.

As Anna Turzynski, producer of the WOW Barn said in my podcast about the project, “Gender equality is a huge systemic global issue that we were not going to fix by building a barn in a bit of wasteland in Leeds, unfortunately. I think what we set out to do and why it was so important was to change opinions and to start conversations in a specific sector.”

And while the WOW Barn has now been built and the event long over, its legacy remains. If one attendee has since been empowered to pick up a carpentry tool, or to apply for an opportunity in a male-dominated industry, progress has been made towards building a gender-equal utopia.

Interested to find out more? Check out my podcast on the WOW Barn

Hi, I'm Claire. I currently work as the digital content officer at the Royal Armouries museum. I've previously worked as the Student President for Leeds Arts University. Working with the Students Union, I helped to plan and deliver campaigns and events. I graduated from Leeds Arts University with first-class honours in Visual Communication in 2021. Now, as part of the Interpretation Team, my primary focus is creating a range of digital interpretative content using the media of film, animation, and photography. Published online and in museum galleries, they are one of our most effective and engaging ways of sharing stories with visitors. Outside of work, I enjoy playing violin and saxophone, walking my dogs and getting my hands messy with anything creative! Claire Tuton, Lift the Lid: 23 Voices participant