Gender equality in heritage management, conservation and capacity-building 

Gender equality in heritage management, conservation and capacity-building 

1 Agosto 2020 Off Di Direzione Rivista Siti Unesco

By Selma Kassen, International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, USA, ICCROM(From: World Heritage No. 78, 2016)


In modern society, gender equality is being discussed as an important part of the overall topic of human development. UNESCO took the initiative to include gender equality in its Priority Action Plan 2014–2021 as one of its two main global goals. As one of the flagship programmes of UNESCO, the World Heritage Convention was set up to safeguard the cultural and natural heritage of Outstanding Universal Value. But, within the current discussions on development, it is important that this protection takes place within a framework that assures that people of both genders have appropriate access to their heritage and benefit from its presence. Therefore, it is crucial to investigate potential inclusive gender-balanced approaches that offer mutual benefits to the site itself and to its entire community. The inclusion of as yet excluded community members should be seen as an opportunity to enhance the preservation of World Heritage properties, rather than a burden.

At the 20th General Assembly of States Parties to the World Heritage Convention in November 2015, a new policy on the integration of a sustainable development perspective into the processes of the World Heritage Convention was adopted. This policy was developed by the World Heritage Centre, in close cooperation with the Advisory Bodies and other heritage professionals, through workshops held in Germany and Viet Nam. The policy is important in that it places the protection of World Heritage properties within the larger context of human rights, equality and sustainability. Within this framework, the notion of gender equality falls within the second core dimension of Inclusive Social Development, and therefore takes into account the well-being and continuity of sites and their stakeholders.

Acknowledging the importance of giving heritage a function in the life of the community, the new policy states: ‘full inclusion, respect and equity of all stakeholders, including local and concerned communities and indigenous peoples, together with a commitment to gender equality, are a fundamental premise for inclusive social development’.

As an Advisory Body to the World Heritage Committee, ICCROM was a member of the working group that developed the new policy, and fully supports its aims and principles, including the importance of gender balance in achieving sustainability at heritage properties. In its role as the lead advisor for capacity-building issues, ICCROM has been very active in promoting inclusive approaches to management of World Heritage properties. For example, in the resource manual Managing Cultural World Heritage, ICCROM emphasizes the importance of a participatory approach that includes stakeholders of both genders, especially women, in the complete management cycle of a property, ‘in order to make this particular group visible and to harness their potential contributions, skills and needs while overcoming their difficulties’. The counterpart resource manual, Managing Natural World Heritage, authored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), sees the empowerment of women, among others, as part of crucial poverty alleviation strategies for World Heritage properties.

Following its mandate, ICCROM offers numerous capacity-building courses that seek to develop the skills and knowledge of heritage professionals in conservation and management of heritage sites. When choosing course participants, ICCROM always aims to create a balance between gender, geographical and professional backgrounds. Looking back at the attendance of the two regular courses on Conservation of Built Heritage and on Stone Conservation over the last eight years, it can clearly be seen that ICCROM has consistently provided significant opportunities for female mid-career professionals to improve their conservation skills and their international network of conservation contacts.

The number of participants is however not the only way in which ICCROM approaches gender issues. Course content is also developed to promote gender equality and full participation of all members of relevant communities. A recent example is the course on People-Centred Approaches: Engaging Communities in the Conservation of Nature and Culture, which took place from 5 to 16 October 2015 in Rome and the Bay of Naples in cooperation with the World Heritage Centre, IUCN and the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment. The participants, sixteen female and four male heritage professionals from nineteen countries, covered subjects relating to concepts and methodologies for involving communities in the conservation of heritage, and clearly touched on the subject of gender equality.

Another ICCROM programme that clearly confronted gender issues was AFRICA 2009, implemented between 1997 and 2009. In its earliest phases, the programme found that, as a result of various cultural and historical factors, there had been a gender imbalance both at the professional and management levels of Africa heritage institutions. Empowerment of women, therefore, became one of the key goals of the project. Women were not only identified as part of the target audience and programme beneficiaries, but gender balance as a whole was identified as one of its main objectives.

Over its twelve years of implementation, the programme ensured that between 40 and 50 per cent of the 375 participants trained were women. In addition, women held leadership roles in the programme, as part of the staff as well as participating within the all-important Steering Comm- ittee made up of directors of cultural heritage from the region. AFRICA 2009 also sought to highlight heritage conservation issues important to women and ensure that management plans developed as part of its courses and site projects were created with the full participation of female community members. Key issues such as gender equality with respect to social and economic benefits arising from World Heritage status were also discussed, and special attention was paid to those categories of heritage traditionally managed by women in the region.

While strides are being made towards gender equality within the World Heritage context, much more work still needs to be done. The recently approved policy on sustainable development is an important step, but ICCROM and partners must ensure that these issues retain a high visibility in training courses and other capacity-building activities of all types.