Carla Donson says when you ask most women who inspires them, they don't choose a famous person.

The organiser of La Fiesta women's festival, says being inspired by people you know, inspired her to create the festival.

"I had this thought - what if everybody in Whanganui got to know some of the amazing women that I've got to know over the course of my work," Donson said.

"So I had this crazy idea to run this festival and I made a list of all these women that I wanted to contact to see if they'd be keen to get involved - and every one of them said yes."


The list grew as those women then recommended other women to take part as well.

"What originally started out as being a week became 10 days."

Eleven years on and the festival has grown further, to 75 events. This year's festival starts on February 9 and runs to March 8 which is, appropriately, International Women's Day.

"It's a national public holiday in about 30 countries around the world. In some it's a holiday for women only and it's raising awareness about gender inequality," said Donson.

Held in various venues throughout Whanganui, the festival celebrates women, community and ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

"The festival is so diverse. People can come along and join in the knitting group or they can go and see the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band at the Opera House, which is in the festival programme this year."

Donson says the message of the overall event is simple.

"It's really just saying to people there are amazing local women here doing incredible things who don't realise how incredible they are and this is your chance to meet them."

"Last year Carla approached me about possibility of facilitating a show around Mana Wahine," exhibition organiser Vanessa Buerger said.


"I had a good chat about that and got really excited about having a multi female show with a strong multi female narrative running through it."

As a social columnist for the Whanganui Midweek newspaper, Donson knows that even in these modern times, the f-word - Feminism - brings negative comment.

"I get asked every year if it's okay for men to join - of course it is!

"We have a number of men who regularly attend the festival and we welcome those conversations. This idea of having an open invitation to the community is really what La Fiesta is about."

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