A new report launched by UNESCO highlights the need for policy measures to reach gender parity in the cultural and creative industries, despite recent progress in promoting gender equality.

The report titled ‘Gender & Creativity: Progress on the Precipice’ explores existing, and at times widening, gender gaps in the field, notably in the context of Covid-19, and calls for a new commitment and transformative actions to promote gender equality.

The digital divide remains a pressing concern, with women disproportionately facing obstacles to access digital tools for artistic creation and distribution, including digital music platforms, online tutorials, and sound-mixing software. For example, it is estimated that worldwide, 250 million fewer women than men use the Internet, and women still represent only 21 per cent of performers in electronic music festivals in Europe and North America, said UNESCO in a statement.

“From the technological perspective, the digital gender divide is leaving women and girls behind in all areas of political, economic, cultural and social life, resulting in isolation and limited access to tools and reliable information. Achieving gender equality will mean overcoming these vulnerabilities, and this is especially so for women working in the cultural and creative sectors,” says UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

The report also highlights innovative gender policies, measures and programmes from around the world that can serve as a model for policymakers.

According to UNESCO, gender equality is fundamental to ensuring a genuine diversity of cultural expressions and equal opportunities in artistic work and cultural employment.

Qualitative and quantitative data, however, reveals that women and gender diverse artists and creators continue to face numerous barriers, including unequal access to decent work, fair remuneration, and leadership positions.

In Uruguay, for example, it is estimated that women occupy 25 per cent of managerial positions in public and private cultural organisations, 24 per cent in Montenegro and only 3 per cent in Mali.

In Indonesia, a recent study shows that while female professionals are advancing in the film industry as a whole, they are still largely underrepresented in creative decision-making roles, representing only 20 per cent of scriptwriters, 19 per cent of producers and 7 per cent of directors. In France, where women direct 34 per cent of visual and performing arts organisations subsidized by the Ministry of Culture and 43 per cent of museums, only 9 per cent of directors of the 100 largest cultural enterprises are women.

The report also examines the safety and well-being of people of all genders in the workplace. Women and gender-diverse artists and creative professionals continue to be the targets of harassment, bullying and abuse. In recent years, the digital environment has become the new frontier in the fight for gender equality and artistic freedom.

According to Lisabona Rahman, founder of the Sinematik Gak Harus Toxic (Cinema does not Need to be Toxic) campaign in Indonesia, “The prevailing demeaning attitude towards women is the source of harassment and abuse and as long as men continue to dominate powerful positions in the industry and perpetuate heteronormativity, it will not end.”

The overwhelmingly negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on gender equality is well-documented, from the rise in gender-based violence, disproportionate absence of girl children from online classes, to female professionals’ limited eligibility for social and economic assistance. Although women have played a key role in responding to the crisis, gender inequalities have widened across the board, says UNESCO.

According to the report, without the systematic application of a gender perspective to policy responses, Covid-19 could have a long-lasting regressive effect on gender equality in the cultural and creative industries, as women are disproportionately represented in culture and other sectors most affected by the pandemic.