Special Meeting of Women Ministers of Culture

Women's Voices and Cultural Understanding

Special Meeting of Women Ministers of Culture

Reykjavik, Iceland, 29 & 30 August 2005


Photo: Participants

Laura Deal, Eftehia Katsareas, Bonnie Cohen, Michal Cafrey-Yardeni, Alisa Moldavanova, Mahnaz Afkhami, Blanca Ovelar, Smt. Renuka Chowdhury, Cherie Booth, Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, Tanja Karpela, Katerina Stenou, Camilla Gunnell, Askalu Menkerios, Dr. Annette Pritchard, Ólöf Ólafsdóttir, Laura Liswood, Shahnaz Gazi, Lynn Bean. Photo: Gunnar Vigfússon

The Government of Iceland in cooperation with The Council of Women World Leaders hosted a Special Meeting of Women Ministers of Culture in Reykjavik, Iceland, on 29-30 August 2005 on the theme Women's Voices and Cultural Understanding. The meeting was chaired by Thorgerdur Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Minister of Education, Science and Culture. The meeting was arranged in honour of Iceland's former President and first Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who celebrated her 75th birthday in April. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir served as President of the Republic of Iceland from 1980 to 1996. She was the first woman in the world to be elected Head of State in a democratic, national election.

In addition to an opening address by Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and UNESCO's message by Katérina Stenou, Director of the Division of Cultural Policies and Intercultural Dialogue, the following keynote presentations were given and discussed by ministers.

  • Cherie Booth QC, presented the results of the World Economic Forum report on "Women's Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap" where women's education, economic status and power is compared on a global level.
  • Iranian born human right activist Mahnaz Afkhami gave a speech on Women's Cultural Rights. Afkhami was a minister in Iran before the revolution. She has been in exile for 25 years.
  • Dr. Annette Pritchard, Director of the Welsh Centre for Tourism Research, presented her study of Gender, Globalisation and Tourism Cultures focusing on the exposure and role of women, a minority in leading position in tourism.

After lively discussion by ministers, their representatives and guests the meeting agreed to the following:

  1. Women Ministers of Culture from countries around the world, agreed on a meeting in Reykjavík, Iceland on 29-30 August 2005 to form an International Network of Women Ministers of Culture (WMoC) to draw attention to and combat the persistent inequality and injustice inherent in the cultural status of women in all societies that present a major hindrance to economic and social progress around the world. The International Network of WMoC will through concerted efforts give force to women's voices as producers and communicators of culture in their different societies and consider how culture impacts women's lives.
  2. Minister Thorgerdur Katrín Gunnarsdóttir offered to chair the network in its initial phase. State Minister Smt. Renuka Chowdhury of India offered to host a meeting of The International Network of WMoC at an early opportunity. Facilitated by the Secretariat of the Council of Women World Leaders The Network of WMoC will i.e. work in connection with UNESCO ministerial meetings as well as regional meetings of ministers of culture to focus on gender related issues. The Network of WMoC will facilitate exchange of best practice experiences, based on statistical information and promote exchange of personnel between ministries. Most importantly The Network of WMoC will draw the attention of male ministerial colleagues as well as leaders in the business community to these issues. The World Economic Forum offered its assistance in communication with business and media leaders.
  3. The report from the World Economic Forum on Measuring the Global Gender Gap, presented at the meeting, gives authoritative statistics and analytical results of the glaring disparities worldwide between men and women in:
    - access to health care, reproductive facilities, integrity of personal rights and safety;
    - educational opportunities and attainment;
    - political participation and participation in community and national decision-making
    - economic participation and opportunity, remuneration, professional advancement and access to managerial attainment and decision-making.
  4. The Nordic countries all score high on this international comparison but in none of them has the gender gap been closed. There remain substantial differences in work remuneration and access to managerial attainment, political participation and decision-making. Domestic violence where women and children are in majority as victims remains a persistent problem in all countries of the world. While there are more problems in many countries with traditional cultures great leaps have been made recently in several developing/emerging countries such as India, Bangladesh and Eritrea giving increased economic and political rights to women leading to visible economic and social progress. This sends a very hopeful sign to the rest of the world.
  5. While the issues and the width of the Gender Gap differs greatly between regions and cultures the underlying reasons remain fundamentally the same. These emerge from gender prejudice, social stereotyping, family and social pressure, submission to patriarchal tradition and fear of male reprisal often protected by legal repression and misguided ideologies masquerading as religion. All of these are aspects of cultures that define the position of women in societies across the world.
  6. The meeting points out that while the current position of women in all societies is defined by the cultural tradition in each case, experience already shows that given the opportunity women have the capacity to drive cultural change that ultimately will redefine societies and therefore their own status. By becoming aware of their rights and finding ways to speak out against gender injustice at all levels women have an opportunity to move cultures and societies forward and thus change their own status. The meeting recognises that this is a long term and complex process and fraught with difficulties and even danger in some societies but it can be given strong impetus by the networking and mutual learning by women leaders world wide.
  7. The meeting draws attention to the unused opportunities - stored in the vast untapped resources that are to be found in women's intellectual and physical capacity across the world - for generating social and economic progress through education and the cultivation of societal and cultural values that are fundamental to global peace and harmony.
  8. The meeting concludes that the global community is still working with one arm in addressing the problems and opportunities arising from globalisation. The absence of women in decision-making often leads to imbalanced policies and decisions that do not serve the needs of women and men equally. In order for women's voices to be heard there must be structural changes in organisations both at national and international levels taking into account the needs of women to allow them fulfil their gender role while contributing professionally and intellectually. The combined but different perspectives of women and men are needed to resolve most of the pressing issues of our times. Therefore the meeting calls upon women and men leaders in all countries and all international organisations to join forces in cultivating the common human values that are fundamental to preserving life through equitable economic and social progress and thus preserving global peace and harmony. Importantly, culture understood as "ways of living together" becomes an ideal means of building bridges between people transcending traditional, political opposition and stereotypes.
  9. In this context there has to be a fundamental change in recognizing the cultural rights of women in all societies. No social or political philosophy or religious doctrine can be perpetuated and used to deny women their fundamental human rights on equal basis with men. This view needs to be forcefully voiced in international fora and media and through organisations like the United Nations and UNESCO.

The Secretariat of the Council of Women World Leaders is requested to follow up on this message and facilitate the establishment of a permanent network of women leaders working together with men leaders to promote the necessary cultural change needed to give women their fundamental human rights and equal place to men in all societies. Finally the meeting calls upon the press and media world wide to carry this message and help promote the necessary social critique to facilitate the much-needed cultural change on a worldwide basis.