In accepting her Honorary Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2020, the British actress Helen Mirren said, “When I began work in film, out of maybe a hundred people on set there were, if I was lucky, three women at the most. That is changing, but not yet enough.”
She went on to describe her appreciation of this progress: “The only reason I want to continue in this brilliant industry is to witness more of that change that I find so liberating and so exciting.”
In recent decades, women in culture have increasingly moved out of the shadow of their male counterparts. But the road to greater gender equality remains steep and rocky. Not enough has been achieved since 1982, when the American artist Isabel Bishop was quoted as saying, “I didn’t want to be a woman artist. I just wanted to be an artist.”
On the contrary, we have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on public life have hit the cultural and creative sector hard and reversed much of the progress made so far. There is growing cause for concern that the success achieved by women artists and other women in creative fields could be wiped out by the effects of the coronavirus. The pandemic has made persistent gender stereotypes and inequality more visible and in many cases reinforced them. The issue of gender equality in culture is too important to put off until after the pandemic is over.
Fortunately, more and more people are realising that gender equality is not simply a favour to be granted to women, but that it is instead essential for enhancing the cultural diversity that unites us. So it is fitting that the EU’s motto is “United in diversity”. To be truly united in diversity, however, we must draw on the full potential available in our societies and not exclude half of our creative population from shaping our future.
With this in mind, we, the culture and media ministers of Croatia, Germany and Portugal, want to work with our European colleagues – in the framework of our three countries’ presidencies of the Council of the European Union – to develop innovative ideas and measures for culture. We are using the chance offered by our successive Council presidencies to put the topic of gender equality on the agenda of European cultural policy for the first time.
Together with our counterparts in the ministries of culture and media of all the other EU member states and with the EU institutions, we will seek ways to make it possible for women artists to pursue their vocation without having to overcome discrimination. Part of this effort is ensuring the equal representation of women in management and leadership positions. Many of our committees already have equal representation, but that is not enough. We want to increase the visibility of women in the cultural and creative sector by promoting the equal representation of works by women in exhibitions, museums, galleries, theatres, festivals and concerts. This is the only way to break out of rigid and confining gender roles.
A good example is the exhibition “Fighting for Visibility: Women Artists in the Nationalgalerie before 1919”, at Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie from October 2019 to March 2020, which displayed masterpieces by women which had been in storage at the museum for decades, finally according them the recognition they deserve.
Portugal, as part of its Presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2021, is planning an exhibition at the BOZAR arts centre in Brussels dedicated to women artists from the beginning of the 20th century. This cultural project aims not only to promote the work of women in the arts, but also to enhance the debate about the role of women in art and culture.
Croatia has taken on board the importance of this issue and has been developing projects in the field of culture and media. Among its most recent and notable projects is the comprehensive media platform “Women and Media”, launched by the Agency for Electronic Media. This seeks to empower and inform women; to educate the public and raise awareness of the position of women in society; to increase the media visibility of women; and to erase the harmful stereotypes to which women are subjected.
If we do not want the current generation of women artists to have to wait for decades to receive the recognition they deserve, we must act together now. Countless outstanding, talented and innovative women artists, actors, directors, curators, musicians and women in other creative fields can make an enormous contribution to diversity in Europe. Let us take advantage of the opportunities that result! Let us benefit from the additional potential and perspectives these women offer! Let us do our part to ensure that culture and the arts use their widespread appeal and exemplary role in the service of equal opportunity and gender equality!
Graça Fonseca (49) has been Portugal’s Minister of Culture since October 2018. She studied law, economics and sociology in Lisbon and Coimbra and was Secretary of State for Administrative Modernization from 2015 to 2018. She is a member of the Portuguese Socialist Party and the country’s first openly homosexual member of government.
Monika Grütters (58) has been Minister of State for Culture and Media in Germany since December 2013. She studied German language and literature, art history and political science in Münster and Bonn and has been an honorary professor in Berlin since 1999. She has been a member of the German Bundestag since 2005 and was also state chairwoman of the Berlin CDU from 2016 to 2019.
Nina Obuljen Koržinek (50) has been Croatia’s Minister of Culture since 2016. As State Secretary for Culture and Media, the non-partisan violinist, linguist and political scientist for these areas led the negotiations on Croatia’s accession to the EU. Prior to this, she had completed her doctorate on the effects of international integration on a country’s cultural policy.