On the occasion of the European Year of Cultural Heritage, this session will highlight how heritage and creativity can be key drivers of community development and women’s empowerment. Over the centuries, women have contributed to shaping values, expressions and ways of being. They have been powerful actors in safeguarding and transmitting tangible and intangible heritage and in promoting cultural diversity. Some traditions and promoted cultural values have led to social inequality, segregation and discrimination; on the other hand heritage and creativity have offered and still offer precious keys to activate social change and innovation, giving voice to women’s diverse stories and promoting their economic, social and cultural rights. The panel will aim to adopt recommendations to foster synergies between policies for gender and the mainstreaming of the cultural dimension of development and international cooperation through cultural heritage valuing.
- Gender inequalities have long persisted in the cultural sphere, determining who participates in, contributes to and benefits from culture.
- Transforming harmful cultural norms requires more people in the arts to raise their voice and challenge the status quo.
- We need a shift from viewing culture as an obstacle to women’s rights to one of ensuring women’s equal enjoyment of cultural rights.
- The European Commission and other international institutions should put greater pressure on governments to let women’s voices be heard, no matter how tough or difficult the message.
How can we harness culture to empower women? This was the central question posed to representatives from the arts, leading cultural institutions and national ministries of culture.
Cultural heritage shapes our identities and everyday lives. It is not only found in art and objects but also in the stories we tell, the food we enjoy, and more. Gender inequalities have long persisted in the cultural sphere, determining who participates in, contributes to and benefits from culture.
A Belgian-Congolese singer has been at the forefront of the global movement to celebrate African culture and heritage. She described how, growing up in Brussels, African art was often referred to as primitive and racism prevented people from appreciating African traditions.
Her music has helped bring the sounds of Africa to the world, encouraging African women to become “queens” who embrace and defend their blackness, celebrated by supportive men. For her, transforming harmful cultural norms requires more people in the arts to raise their voice and challenge the status quo.
The European Commission was proud to share its own brand of cultural transformation through female entrepreneurship. In Burkina Faso, a project supporting the production of ethnic textiles for international export is expected to generate thousands of jobs for women artisans. With independent incomes, these artisans are becoming inspirational champions for other women in the arts and business. Ministers from Burkina Faso acknowledged the European Commission’s contributions on behalf of all the women beneficiaries.
UNESCO has long recognised the role of culture in promoting inclusive social development. A UNESCO representative said we need a shift from viewing culture as an obstacle to women’s rights to one of ensuring women’s equal enjoyment of cultural rights.
These rights include the right not to participate in any ritual, custom or practice that contravenes the human dignity of girls and women, regardless of cultural justifications.
Investing in art and culture may appear to be a luxury for many developing countries. But not for Cuba. The Minister of Culture believes that maintaining Cuban heritage is a necessity and invests in artistic programmes with a positive message for women, in contrast to the aggressive sexism and objectification of women in pop culture.
Culture is also about freedom of expression. Films with a controversial gender message are banned in certain countries. The European Commission and other international institutions were urged to put greater pressure on governments to let women’s voices be heard – no matter how tough or difficult the message.
Women in Africa need to take back control of their cultural narratives. Too many stories are told by outsiders or men with their own agendas. Women can be Africa’s storytellers with empowering pro-women messages that can uplift and inspire the continent.