Relevance of gender in the policy area

Culture can be defined as the systems of knowledge shared by a relatively large group of people. Cultures are shaped by people, and people are shaped by cultures. It is a dynamic interaction. In this broad context, cultural policy is the area of public policymaking that governs activities related to the arts and culture. Such policy governs a sector of immense complexity, embracing a range of activities. These extend from the preservation and restoration of natural, historical and cultural heritage to museums and exhibitions, activities in the arts (music, theatre, etc.), entertainment, media and e-culture platforms.

Gender aspects are relevant both in relation to the broad definition of culture as a ‘social construction’ and to the way in which cultural policy is designed and implemented. This is true for several reasons. First of all, cultural rights are human rights, and as such are the rights of both women and men. Across all areas of culture, human rights are a precondition for enriching cultural diversity and enabling human creativity. The right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The promotion of gender equality and the combat against gender discrimination are twin goals of the EU, including in the cultural field. More significantly still, "gender, culture and rights intersect in intricate and complex ways, and cultural rights must be understood as also relating to who in the community holds the power to define its collective identity".

Second, gender is intrinsically linked to culture. The socially constructed roles of women and men are culturally determined, and differ in time and place. Gender is a cultural and social construction, defined by the power relations between women and men, and the norms and values regarding ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ roles and behaviour. Therefore, collective beliefs about ‘typical male’ or ‘typical female’ roles might contribute to the creation of stereotypes that may limit or enable opportunities for women and men to act within their cultural context. For instance, the horizontal and vertical gender segregation of the labour market is an example of structural gender inequality as a result of centuries of gender stereotyping and discrimination. People’s lives are embedded in a cultural context that is structured along these asymmetric gender roles. Individual women and men can accept or resist these socially constructed roles: ‘Culture and tradition can enable or obstruct, and be oppressive or liberating for different people at different times. There is nothing sacred about culture, and value judgements need to be made about which aspects of culture to hold on to, and which to let go of’.

In addition, traditional and social media play a relevant role in shaping gender roles within societies. With regard to cultural policy specifically, this may contribute to gender inequalities and discrimination in the production of cultural content. As acknowledged by EIGE’s Review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in the EU Member States: women and the media, media content is often characterised by a stereotypical portrayal of women. This may also be due to women’s limited access to the creation of media products and to decision-making in the media and culture industries.

Third, patterns in culture consumption and participation differ considerably between women and men. A field study from 2007 shows that gender is a significant factor in the context of participation rates in cultural activities. Accordingly, men dedicate much more time to watching sports than women (53% of men versus 29% of women). On the other hand, women are more likely than men to have read a book (74% of women versus 67% of men), been to the theatre (34% of women versus 29% of men) and visited a public library (37% of women versus 32% of men) over the previous year.

Furthermore, the reasons for not participating in cultural activities are also significantly different for women and men: men (30%) are more likely than women (23%) to cite lack of interest as a reason for non-participation, while women (31%) are more likely than men (26%) to say that expense is an issue. Family responsibilities are also an important factor in explaining low participation rates, as they may "impede cultural engagement most likely via the demands this places on a respondent’s time. We see this from the fact that 52% of those living in a household of 4 or more persons say that this can be a barrier, compared to 30% of those living alone".

Fourth, women represent the largest share of graduates in the arts and humanities, and generally speaking, graduates in these disciplines tend to work in the cultural and creative sector. In some countries, evidence is now emerging that women are becoming increasingly attracted to the creative industries. In the UK, for example, "designer fashion in particular appears to be one of the creative sectors [that is] especially appealing to women in terms of employment opportunity and new venture creation".

Despite the relevance of gender equality in the cultural sector, there are several gender gaps hampering women’s equal participation in this field. These are as follows:

  • gender stereotypes in the cultural sector
  • segregation in the cultural sector labour market
  • limited participation of women in decision-making positions.

Issues of gender inequality in the policy area

Gender equality policy objectives at EU and international level

Policy cycle in culture

Click on a phase for details

The gender dimension can be integrated into all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle, visit EIGE's Gender mainstreaming platform.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples of mainstreaming gender into cultural policy. The resources are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle that they may serve.


Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in the cultural sector



The key milestones of the EU culture policy are presented below

Current policy priorities at EU level

Culture has been recognised as a European competence firstly by the Treaty of Maastricht (1993), which states that ‘the Community shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common heritage to the fore’ (Art. 128). The Lisbon Treaty (2007) reinforced Europe’s competencies around culture (Art. 167 Lisbon Treaty), with the inclusion of more references. Since then, the EC and the European Parliament have set out to recognise the cultural sector’s value, also considering cultural issues into other parts of Commission activity such as innovation policy. For regional policy, the communication on regional policy contributing to smart growth in Europe (COM (2010) 553) highlights the role of culture and creative industries. They are described as being in a ‘strategic position to link creativity and innovation’ and as catalysts for structural change in many industrial zones and rural areas. They have the potential to rejuvenate their economies and contribute to a change of the public image of regions. In fact, culture is one of the intervention areas funded under the 2014 – 2020 ERDF. The 2014 – 2020 ERDF regulation foresees that

"in order to maximise their contribution to the objective of supporting employment-friendly growth, activities supporting sustainable tourism, culture and natural heritage should be part of a territorial strategy for specific areas, including the conversion of declining industrial regions. Support for such activities should also contribute to strengthening innovation and the use of ICT, SMEs, environment and resource efficiency or the promotion of social inclusion." European Commission, Regulation (EU) No 1301/2013

The 2007 EU cultural agenda foresees the following priorities for EU action in the cultural field:

  • promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue
  • promotion of culture as a catalyst for creativity in the framework of the Lisbon Strategy for growth, employment, innovation and competitiveness
  • promotion of culture as a vital element in the EU’s international relations.

These priorities are further developed within the 2015 – 2018 Work Plan for Culture, which sets the main priorities of action for policymaking in the cultural field:

To address these 3 main priorities, the Directorate-General for Education and Culture (DG EAC) has undertaken several initiatives under the European agenda for culture in recent years [1]. The agenda for culture was the basis for the Work Plan for Culture 2011 – 2014, which provides 6 priority areas for culture under which specific activities will be pursued:

  • Cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and accessible and inclusive culture: This area includes issues such as cultural participation by disadvantaged groups, and support to culturally inclusive cities.
  • Cultural and creative industries: This area includes the promotion of culture in local and regional development, support for cultural and creative industries, and the development of cultural tourism and the establishment of the European Creative Industries Alliance.
  • Skills and mobility: DG EAC plans to identify different types of successful creative partnerships as a basis for a policy handbook to promote such partnerships, and to develop a good practice manual.
  • Cultural heritage: The work includes the digitisation and mobility of collections and the development of a toolkit on the fight against trafficking of cultural goods.
  • Culture and external relations: This area particularly focuses on the implementation of the UNESCO Convention on Diversity of Cultural Expressions by EU and partner countries beyond the EU.
  • Culture statistics: Improvement of sampling of data on mobility of artists and culture professionals, and of methodologies, to contribute to a new edition of a Eurostat ‘pocket book’.

A funding programme, Creative Europe, will run between 2014 and 2020. The culture sector can be an excellent conduit for improving relations between Member States, as well as furthering social inclusion. The agenda thus contributes to both the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs, and satisfies Europe’s commitments to international agreements such as the United Nations Conventions on Culture. Europe 2020 is about delivering growth that is smart – through more effective investments in education, research and innovation – sustainable and inclusive.


For example, the Council Work Plan for Culture 2008 – 2010 defining the culture-related initiatives to be carried out at national and EU level between 2008 and 2010, followed by the Work Plan for Culture 2011 – 2014, adopted on 2 December 2010.

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