The UIS is developing innovative measures to determine the contribution of women to culture.

In every society, women are guardians, creators and consumers of culture, but they still face barriers that prevent them from playing an equal role in the cultural sphere.

UNESCO’s standard-setting instruments provide a springboard for the implementation of cultural policies that promote gender equality in culture. However, there are few reliable measures to assess progress towards globally-recognised goals and aspirations.

A recent report by UNESCO, Gender Equality: Heritage and Creativity, calls for strengthening the evidence base “through regular and systematic collection and dissemination by national statistical offices of sex-disaggregated data in all areas of the cultural sector…”

Overcoming sparse data

While the availability of data on culture is improving, disaggregation by sex is rare. To bridge the gap, the UIS is taking the lead in helping policymakers adapt existing survey instruments, while developing new internationally-comparable surveys to better capture the extent of women’s role in culture, including issues related to access, participation and contribution.

The 2009 UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics Handbook no. 2: Measuring Cultural Participation provides useful guidelines for developing or improving survey instruments to measure private and public participation in cultural activities. For example, cultural participation surveys can measure activities such as reading at home or going to the theatre, and can offer insight into the barriers women face in the consumption or creation of cultural assets.

The UIS is also developing a cultural employment survey, based on a pilot survey conducted in 2013. The survey will collect sex- disaggregated data to assess the size of the cultural employment sector in a country, including the share of women in cultural occupations.

What current survey tools can tell us

For the moment, the most widely- available instruments to measure the role of women in cultural employment are labour force surveys and censuses, which can be quite revealing when analysed through a gender lens.

By way of example, the UIS analysed a 2012 micro dataset drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census data in order to shed light on gender and cultural employment in the United States.

Some findings from the UIS analysis reveal that: 

  • Almost 6% of the total workforce in the United States is employed in the field of culture.
  • Most men and women in cultural occupations have at least a university degree, but women with university degrees hold the larger share of cultural occupations compared to men. 
  • Almost 45% of employees in cultural occupations are women; a percentage that is slightly below the share of women in the total labour force.
  • Salaries tend to be low. Women and men in cultural occupations are more likely to hold a second job.
  • Cultural work tends to be precarious. One in four women employed in the culture sector are self-employed.

These findings show that it is possible to gain insight into gender equality in the cultural sector using existing data; however, to support gender-sensitive cultural policies, more needs to be done to fill the data gap.

To that end, the upcoming survey of cultural employment will improve the coverage of cultural employment data.

The survey aims to make cultural employment data internationally comparable, and eventually to provide trend data to benchmark and measure gender equality in cultural employment.