International: Women’s Cultural Rights, Empowering and Transformative.

United Nations

Realizing women’s cultural rights can play a key role in ensuring that women’s rights are respected more widely. Farida Shaheed, UN expert in the field of cultural rights, proposed to shift the paradigm from one that views culture merely as an obstacle to women’s rights to one that seeks to ensure women’s equal enjoyment of cultural rights.

“I have received and gathered information on many obstacles to women’s cultural rights,” she said.

In her report to the UN General Assembly, Shaheed  said that in some countries, “solo female singing has been banned and restrictions have been placed on female musicians performing in public concerts.” These prohibitions, the report highlights, derive from the socially constructed rules of gender. Similarly, a particular instrument or song, the recounting of a particular story, or practising a particular craft or skill may be restricted to either men or women.

 “Women remain underrepresented in the fields of science, culture and the arts, even in countries with relatively long histories of formal equality,” Shaheed said. Some research suggests that women have an equal chance to get their papers published in peer-reviewed international journals only when the sex of the author (s) is absolutely unknown to the reviewers. Besides, although there are a significant number of female authors of literary prose or poetry, fewer women win literary prizes than men.

Cultural rights are empowering, for they provide individuals with control over the course of their lives, facilitating the enjoyment of other rights. A large part of the transformative aspect of cultural rights is being able to overturn presumed female and male characteristics and capabilities, which, to a large extent, determine the scope of activities that a man or a woman can undertake in a given society.

The realization of equal cultural rights for women would help to reconstruct gender in ways that transcend notions of women’s inferiority and subordination, thereby improving conditions for the full and equal enjoyment of their human rights in general. “This requires a shift in perspective,” said Shaheed, “from seeing culture as an obstacle to women’s human rights to ensuring women’s equal cultural rights.

She added that women’s perspectives and contributions must move from the margins of cultural life to the centre of the processes that create, interpret and shape culture. “Women must be recognized as, and supported to be, equal spokespersons vested with the authority to determine which of the community’s traditions are to be respected, protected and transmitted to future generations.”

In her report, Shaheed called on States take into consideration their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the cultural rights of women, on the basis of equality with men.

Cultural rights protect the rights of each person, individually and in community with others, as well as groups of people, to develop and express their humanity, their world view and the meanings they assign to human existence and development through values, beliefs, convictions, languages, knowledge and the arts, institutions and ways of life. They also protect access to tangible and intangible cultural heritage as important resources enabling such identification and development processes.

Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, everyone has the right to take part in cultural life.

On 10 December we celebrate Human Rights Day. This year’s theme is inclusion and the right to participate in public life.

8 November 2012