Author Statement

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of festivals that celebrate women, which are attended by men, women and children all over the world. I was excited to learn that these festivals exist since, in many places, women are considered less valuable than men, and in some places, not valuable at all; United Nations poverty and literacy statistics provide testimony to that disturbing reality.

Since culture shapes gender roles, societies deem very different characteristics worth celebrating as they honor the feminine spirit, observe women’s rites of passage, and commemorate women’s achievements. This book includes celebrations of women as mothers, athletes, killers, goddesses, providers, lovers, warriors and flirts. Still others praise women as the sources of wisdom, health and wealth.

Festivals that celebrate women all over the world have never been documented in a book before. It was a delicious task to decide which festivals to include. The possibilities were almost universally tempting. My selection criteria were artistic and subjective. I chose these festivals because they are geographically disparate, visually sumptuous and richly varied. The result is a sampling, not a survey and I hope others will continue the work I’ve begun.

Between 1999 and 2003, I photographed and interviewed at 17 festivals in 15 countries on five continents, arriving about four days before each event to document the final preparations. Some of these events are controversial. I tried not to judge them, just to record what participants and spectators experience.

To learn about the festivals, I interviewed musicians, singers, dancers, choreographers; food, balloon, ticket and program vendors; mask makers and costume designers, security guards and limo drivers, journalists, priests, mayors, governors, festival organizers, spectators and participants. Not to mention a Princess and a King.

To gain insight into the relationship between the festivals and gender roles, I asked local people to finish this sentence: “An ideal woman is….” and I interviewed local women to give readers a peek at their lives.
It is an honor to be the one to collect such inspiring evidence that women and girls are contributing importantly to their communities and our world. I am humbled to consider the possibility that my work might help shape our knowledge of one another and of ourselves.

Perhaps other women will discover perspectives that help them understand more about “why we are who we are---and what we can become.” As we witness the ways that cultures reward women for very different behavior, perhaps we can see how arbitrary gender assignments really are. As we look at the spectrum of women’s behaviors in other cultures, perhaps we will gather the courage to become more fully ourselves. How richly-dimensioned life could be if we exploded the limits of what our societies consider “appropriate.” How much stronger, more resilient and honest that would make us, and all of our relationships.

It would make my heart sing if this book could help women everywhere understand one another more completely so we can put to use our similarities--and differences--to tackle the problems that beleaguer our families: poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease, inequality, violence and environmental degradation. As we enter a millennium in which the distance between countries and people shrinks almost daily, I hope we will be inspired to capitalize on the opportunity to collaborate that has never existed before.

-Paola Gianturco

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