UNESCO celebrating women in the arts on International Women’s Day


© UNESCO/C. Alix
09 March 2017

Pioneering artists who have pushed back boundaries or become agents for social change were honoured at the International Women’s Day events at UNESCO Headquarters yesterday. Whilst gender equality is a top priority for UNESCO, the focus of this year’s celebration was on the creative sector. The official UN theme for this year was “Women in the Changing World of Work” so UNESCO also organised activities encouraging the next generation of young women.

The Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, Getachew Engida, opening the 2017 edition of the exhibition for International Women’s Day showcasing artwork from photographers, painters and sculptors from around the world, set the tone of the day when he remarked that “throughout human history, women have used their creativity in their quest for equality, justice and dignity” and that the exhibition was a further representation of that tradition. Based on the theme “creativity of young women in shaping our future”, the 11 artists whose work was displayed are not only renowned in their region and internationally, but have also been commended for their work relating to gender equality and social justice.

Co-organised by UNESCO and the French National Committee of UN Women, a dynamic debate gathered artists, musicians, filmmakers, cultural entrepreneurs and experts to address the challenges facing women artists, as well as to harness creativity to overcome gender stereotypes and achieve gender equality.

French Minister for Families, Children and Women Rights, Laurence Rossignol said “we are seeing serious threats to women’s rights worldwide and arts are an important vehicle to resist these threats.” Various female artists, including Deeyah Khan, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for artistic freedom and creativity, described the difficulties of being a woman in this profession. But Khan added that “freedom of women’s artist expression means greater freedom for all” and she praised the aims of the UNESCO 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression for promoting artistic freedom.

The exhibition and debate were topped off by a public concert of young French singer-songwriter Louane and self-described “feminist” male duo “Her”. Speaking before the concert, Victor Solf of Her said that without the women that they work with – particularly their manager and video-maker – they would not be so developed artistically and that it was important for men to be involved in promoting women’s equality in the arts.

Women in all spheres of activity

UNESCO does not only encourage gender equality in the arts, but in all spheres of human activity. This was the message of four female diplomats, journalists and musicians who have excelled in their field, during a UNESCO Campus attended by 400 young people. “To me, it is important to see how these women have succeeded and to understand the hurdles they have had to overcome. I hope someday to go into journalism and to know that I can do the job just as well being a woman” commented one young woman after the event.

To help young women like her, UNESCO also launched the 2017 Women Make the News campaign which aims to improve the representation of women both in newsrooms and in media reporting. The campaign is organized by UNESCO, with the collaboration of the Global Alliance on Media and Gender and UN Women, targeting editors-in-chief, journalists, bloggers, journalism schools, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations.

Female oceanographers also spoke to young people interested in careers in another field: marine sciences. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO organized an online conference to answer questions and encourage young people to join the profession.

The importance of educating girls and women

Education is at the heart of women’s empowerment and in recognition of this, UNESCO launched its second edition of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education. The prize honours outstanding innovation and contributions to this field by individuals, institutions and organizations.

Yet there is work still to be done, as the new edition of the eAtlas for Gender Inequality in Education shows. The eAtlas, created by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, shows that girls and women are making progress but they are still left behind at every level of education.  

Whilst gender equality has been a Global Priority of UNESCO since 2008, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has given new impetus to the promotion of girls and women’s opportunities. UNESCO strives year round to contribute to the achievement of the  SDGs of this Agenda to improve the economic, social and environmental conditions of women and men around the globe. Only through fully harnessing the talents of girls and women in all walks of life can we hope to achieve these goals.