Reviewing Cultural Heritage from the Perspective of Gender

Did you know that a person’s biological gender can affect their equal participation in the field of culture? Encouraging gender equality, in fact, is playing a significant role in cultural heritage protection and the promotion of cultural diversity. Let us share some examples, so that you can take a few glimpses of this complex topic.

Gender and World Cultural Heritage

Gender Equality: Heritage and Creativity, published by UNESCO in 2014, mentions that restricted entry is one of the most striking problems regarding world heritage sites. The World Cultural Heritage List (WCHL) includes sacred sites: sites whose traditions, history and rituals are recognized as having outstanding universal value. However, in many cases, sacred sites will place restrictions on women’s admission. Would this be a violation of the relevant United Nations convention on discrimination? For example, the inclusion in the WCHL of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountains Range(one of the world cultural heritage destinations in Japan), is objected to by some civil rights groups due to its restriction on women entering certain areas, arguing that it violates UNESCO’s priority task of promoting gender equality globally.

In addition, the phenomenon of gender limitation can also be found in the inheritance of cultural heritage, as many practices of intangible cultural heritage placed restrictions on gender historically. Since ancient times, China, as many other patriarchal societies in the world, has shown its male-leading pattern in the inheritance of both tangible assets and intangible cultural heritage: the inheritors were mostly male-dominated, which made many cultural heritages permeated with rich gender stereotypes. The Tibetan art Thangka, which was listed as China's national intangible cultural heritage in 2006, has 12 representatives, but all of them are male (according to the information listed by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China). Due to the disparity between men and women in the previous Tibetan society, few women could receive education and learn Thangka. Fortunately, today, with the progress of our society, the number of Tibetan women studying Thangka has gradually increased, and women therefore have the chance to paint their colors in the Thangka art world.

On the other hand, even though the role of gender in society is often considered as a stereotype by the standards of modern society, in some cases gender is the main role of giving birth to certain cultural heritage and also to its inheritance. For example, Macanese Gastronomy, which is listed as the intangible cultural heritage of Macao, is full of femininity. Because of the tradition of "Man were breadwinners, and women were homemakers”, recipes of Macanese cuisines had been passing down generation to generation between mothers and daughters in the family, and marriages between Portuguese and Chinese women in Macao had helped in promoting the fusion of Chinese ingredients, dishes and cooking techniques as well as Portuguese food culture.

Increasing the participation of gender in culture

What is worth thinking about is: how to preserve the original image and the core values of a culture, but at the same time, transcend the gender roles long-established by traditions? Would breaking the traditional gender boundaries affect the core values of a culture?

Based on the examples mentioned above, we can know that the gender limitation in culture did not come from the nature of a cultural item, but from the outcome of a traditional social construct. A cultural item itself is gender-neutral (which means it does not have any difference on sexes), however gender itself is fluid and defined based on social structure. With the changes in the status of both sexes in society today, it is natural that the participation of both sexes in cultural items has also developed accordingly.

For the sustainable development of a culture, the preservation and inheritance of a cultural heritage should emphasize more on its universal value to all mankind, and at the same time on actively building a policy framework for gender mainstreaming in the cultural field, especially on promoting cultural participation with the perspective of gender diversity. The road of cultural preservation is not limited to history. When society interprets heritage from the angle of gender equality, the world in the future will see this milestone we have built on the road.

This article is also published on Plataforma, released on 2021/11/26: (Please switch language preference to view the Portuguese version)

Translated by Alicia

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