International Women’s Festival in the Pacific Northwest

The scent of lavender wafted from one of the many vendor tables lining the hallway of Gaiser Hall as people milled around, chatted and helped themselves to a lunch of seitan sandwiches, quinoa and salad. The ring of a Tibetan singing bowl radiated through the room, calling for everyone to gather back to their seats to welcome the next speaker on stage.

About 300 people, mostly women, attended the second annual International Women’s Festival Pacific Northwest on Saturday, a day full of women speakers and “Circle Chat” discussions designed to “connect women with the tools they need to flourish and prosper in all aspects of their busy lives, giving them a sense of empowerment,” Executive Producer Brecia Kralovic-Logan said.

The Women’s Festival originated in Santa Barbara in 2007 by Patty DeDominic, but has spread to other cities, states and countries. These include Arizona, Cayman Islands, Ireland, Shanghai and Toronto, according to Kralovic-Logan.

Nine women speakers took the stage to share their stories and lessons learned from their life struggles. This year’s theme was “Cultivate, Create, Change.” Among them was Cecelia Towner, a mother and founder of the Vancouver Black Lives Matter group. She used her experience as an incest survivor and her constant fight against racism to explain how to use pain for personal growth and to change the world.

“It seems that there was a tremendous pressure to positivity-away the pain that we felt during these past election times, but not discussing painful things lets them continue,” Towner said.

“Honest conversations about messy things creates positive change. Most of us recognize that we couldn’t have made the headway with rape culture and domestic violence without demanding to be heard. And even with all our voices and hard work, we still have so far to go.”

Tickets cost $29 for students and $59 for everyone else, with all the net proceeds going towards the 2016 Pebble Rebel Award Winner. The Pebble Rebel Award is given to one woman in the Pacific Northwest for work on environmental issues, homeless issues, education, employment services and other community support.

Last year’s winner was Michelle Bart, the co-founder of The National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation, a non-profit organization that assists in rescuing missing kids and adults, collects and distributes bras globally and holds conferences and presentations against violence and exploitation.

Donna Bart, Michelle Bart’s mother and social enterprise director of NWCAVE, said that all of the money will help victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.

“Some goes to the Gift of Lift and to programs that do things like help get the word out when there are people missing and finding housing for victims. We try to network with as many organizations and women’s groups as we can,” Donna Bart said.

This year’s Pebble Rebel recipient was Lynette Johnson, founder of Soulumination, a non-profit organization that offers free professional photography for families that have children or parents with life-threatening conditions.

Included in the ticket price was a continental breakfast by Katie’s Gardening and Latte Da, a “plant-based” lunch by Simply Thyme Catering and Heidi Ho and an afternoon snack of cookies and cupcakes. During the breaks, attendees visited the vendors and artists in the hallway of Gaiser Hall and Penguin Union Building.

The night before the festival, attendees gathered in Foster Auditorium for the screening of the documentary “Femme: Women Healing the World,” and a Q&A with the film director Emmanuel Itier. Although the movie featured interviews with over 100 influential women, Itier said the movie isn’t about feminism.

“It’s not about women or men. It’s about us coming together — the celebration of partnership,” Itier said. “I don’t think it’s about being a macho versus a feminist. I think it’s about being humanist.”

Clark’s Diversity Outreach Specialist Rosalba Pitkin attended the festival, but said she wished the event would have been more inclusive and held true to its name of being “international,” since the vast majority of the audience and speakers were white women.

“The experience is wonderful and it’s great to have a support group, but I think it’s important to include other women and the experiences of women from other countries, of other ethnic groups, ” Pitkin said.

Diana Perez, a friend of Pitkin who also attended the festival, said there should be more outreach to other communities to create an inclusive event.

“I think the key thing is for their planning committee to have more diverse people who are embedded in the community and outside the mainstream circle if they truly want to reach the various richness of communities that we have in southwest Washington,” Perez said.

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