International Women’s Day 2022

March 8, 2022, 11:03 am

Today, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. The European Commission, first time in its history is planning to mark the day by proposing EU-wide legislation to make it mandatory for national governments to get tougher on violence against women and domestic violence. This fresh initiative comes as several EU Member States are still lagging behind in the ratification of the 2011 Istanbul Convention, a charter laying out international standards and rules to protect women, claiming it will erode alleged “family values”.

“On this Women’s Day my heart goes out to all Ukrainian women,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted this morning. The situation of women and girls in the war-torn country, following the aggression by the Kremlin, is in the spotlight also during the plenary session of the European Parliament, that today hosted the Ukrainian writer Oksana Zabuzhko to deliver a keynote address.

This evening, on the margins of the informal Culture Ministers meeting in Angers (France), a Forum on gender equality in Europe in the culture, media, research, science and digital sectors, will also take place, organised by the French Presidency of the Council of the EU.

Despite considerable progress, gender disparity in the cultural and creative sectors continues to persist. The EU Member States had identified gender equality for the first time as a priority for action in the current Work Plan for Culture 2019-2022. In June 2021, the Open Method of Coordination working group of national experts on the topic published their report on gender equality in the CCS, focusing on both the role of culture in promoting more equal societies, as well as on how to achieve gender equality within the cultural ecosystem. 

On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit women the hardest, threatening to roll back decades of fragile progress on gender equality, Pearle* argues. As one of the fields most affected by the health crisis, the live performance sector has left women in a particularly precarious situation: the impact of the pandemic and the recovery as an opportunity to foster gender equality have recently been discussed in a webinar of the “Gender Equality Thursdays”.

Generally speaking, works of women artists are underrepresented in the permanent collections in Europe and the US. Auction sales are no different – female artists’ works sell with a remarkable discount compared with men’s. Women artists still face significant difficulties to fully and freely contribute their artistic vision or hold positions of responsibility in the arts and cultural sectors.

The European Theatre Convention (ETC) major study on gender equality and diversity in the European theatres had similar findings. Women were found to have less secure contract situations than men and be “less present at the top of the hierarchy”. Men remain more visible than women in theatre programmes and dominate the “prestigious positions” of playwright, director and technical staff, while women hold 70+% of the positions of “costumes” and “hairdressing”. 

The Voices of Culture platform – the space for a structured dialogue between the European Commission and the cultural and creative sectors – also addressed the issue in its recent publication. The “Gender Equality: Gender Balance in Cultural and Creative Sectors” brainstorming report reiterates that gender stereotypes and sexual harassment are still widely taking place, while the access of female artists to resources and to the art market is often limited. The conditions on the labour market make women artists particularly vulnerable, especially in relation to labour segregation and social rights related to pregnancy, maternity, and pensions – a point that Culture Action Europe, together with the independent researcher Mafalda Dâmaso, further examined in the background analysis for the European Parliament on the working conditions of artists and cultural workers. A European Parliament Briefing shows that women’s place in arts and culture has not matched their ambitions and skills. “Women in arts and culture − Artists, not muses” highlights the weak position women held in an already precarious cultural sector. According to the paper, the pay gap can reach 30% for women musicians in Europe, while among the 10% of those working in the field of art and culture with the lowest income in France, 57 % are women. Women only account for 27% of the 1% with the highest revenues.

Women are strongly represented and even overrepresented in the CCSs, or at least in some fields of this sector. However, despite what one could think when looking at their quantitative superiority in public cultural institutions or programmes of higher education in culture management and the arts, the creative sector is far from offering equal opportunities for women and men. The barriers found in the creative sector for women are not different from those observed in other economic sectors. Women still remain underrepresented in the leadership and decision-making positions, as shown by the “Gender Inequalities in the Cultural Sector” report, published by Culture Action Europe in 2016.

Take this opportunity to re-watch the debate Culture Action Europe organised on this topic in 2017.

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