UNESCO calls for more structured cultural policies promoting gender equality at the 2019 FESPACO

The 26th edition of the Pan-African Film and Audiovisual Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) was held in Ouagadougou from 22 February to 2 March,  2019. UNESCO, with financial support from the Swedish Government, took part in the 50th anniversary of FESPACO and focused on equality and diversity in African cinema, including female representation in the film industry, where gender inequalities prevail.

50 years of FESPACO, where are the women?

A round table entitled "50 years of FESPACO: 50-50 for women" was held on 26 February 2019.  UNESCO’s Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, Burkina Faso’s First Lady, Sika Kabore, Rwanda’s Minister of Culture, Espérance Nyirasafari, and Burkina Faso’s Minister of Culture, Arts and Tourism, Abdoul Karim Sango were in attendance .

"I am pleased that the issue of women, especially women filmmakers, is on the agenda at FESPACO. There are women directors who have left their mark on the history of African cinema, but who remain unknown," Audrey Azoulay pointed out. "Together, we want to think about a more structural policy to support African cinema by having a complete and global vision of the entire film industry."

Rwanda’s Minister of Culture stressed the need for legislative frameworks that promote gender equality, as is the case in Rwanda, where women represent 50% of government and 61% of members of Parliament. "Rwanda believes that the participation of women in all sectors of the country is essential. To this end, the Constitution recognizes gender equality as a fundamental principle. It even requires a quota of at least 30% in decision-making bodies. Why not apply similar measures in the cultural and creative industries? " she asked.

Female film directors Nadia El Fani (Tunisia), Jihan El-Tahri (Egypt), Monique Mbeka Phoba (DRC), Rahma Benahou El Madani (Algeria), and Sylvie Nwet (Cameroon) presented various recommendations at the Yennegas Assembly, held on 24 February, 2019. These recommendations included: organizing seminars on the history of women in African cinema, establishing quotas for women in film selections, setting criteria for funding African cinema that give priority to films in which women hold key creative positions, etc.

Closing the round table, Sika Kabore, the First Lady of Burkina Faso, said: "We have women directors who master their profession, but who are aware of the socio-cultural barriers that prevent them from flourishing, such as the status of women, the prejudices linked with professions generally reserved for men, the gender neutrality of financing mechanisms, and a lack of knowledge of legal and tax texts. Most cultural policies in Africa do not really take gender equality into account. It is time to commit to equality and diversity in African cinema.”

As part of its effort to promote the work of women at FESPACO, UNESCO also presented Alimata Salamberé, the first president of FESPACO’s organizing committee in 1969, with a distinction award, on 4 March.

 "Re|shaping cultural policies"

On 28 February 2019, a public discussion on the 2018 Global Report Re|Shaping Cultural Policies was held with the Secretary General of Burkina Faso’s National Commission for UNESCO, Aristide Dabire, the Secretary General of Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism, Lassina Simpore, the Director of UNESCO’s Dakar Office, Dimitri Sanga, and the Secretary of UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions, Danielle Cliche. 

On this occasion, the national contact point for the 2005 Convention, Patric Lega, presented the Burkina Faso’s various achievements in implementing the 2005 Convention at the national level. He highlighted the decentralization of its cultural policy, the establishment of the Culture and Tourism Development Fund, and collaborations with Burkina Faso’s Chamber of Commerce to promote cultural and creative entrepreneurship. He also noted that Burkina Faso is the second largest contributor to the International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD) in the African region.

This event was followed by a "Create|2030" debate with four IFCD beneficiaries working in Cameroon, Mali, Madagascar, and Senegal’s film industries.

During the debate, the four beneficiaries discussed the impact of projects funded by the IFCD. Malawi, for example, the IFCD funded the Strategic Plan for the Development of the Film Industry (2015-2020) led by the Malawi National Commission in collaboration with the Film Association of Malawi. This lead to the adoption of a Cultural policy in 2016. Since then, Malawi put a funding mechanism in place to support cultural entrepreneurs and artists.

In Senegal, the project MobiCiné led by Culture Waw enabled the creation of six film projection teams, each with a projectionist, a communication officer, and a coordinator. This project, which is currently underway, also makes it possible to digitise African films that are broadcast and provide greater access to local communities.

In Madagascar, the T-Movie association set up training courses for young film students. These courses include theoretical modules and practical workshops in production techniques and direction. The project has led to an increase in short films in Antananarivo and has allowed young people to learn about different professions in the film industry. The project, which will end in June 2019, also aims to create an online database in collaboration with the Office Malgache du Cinéma (OMACI).  

In Cameroon, the project, which ended in 2012, has enabled the digitization of certain cinematographic works from Central Africa. In total, 400 films are listed in the Central African Image Bank (BIMAC).