Women’s Rights and Equality in Art Education

Get Close to Opera is going to run a training week in February 2019 about Opera through #multipleintelligences #womenrights #disabilities and #immigrantinclusion.
It will take place in the beautiful UNESCO city of Matera, in the south of Italy, that will be the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

Today, European Network of Migrant Women introduces the thought and the principles at the heart of its training module: “Women’s Rights and Equality in Art Education”.
If you work in the field of Opera or Arts Education, participate in the #GCTO Training Week

Women’s Rights and Equality in Art Education

Underrepresentation of women in artistic fields has always been a question for feminists, women artists and art historians. Art history depicts various challenges women deal with while producing art in previous eras. It is clear that stereotypical gender roles, social and economic barriers have always held women back. Power imbalances women encounter in different fields have also affected their individual choices to be involved in art activities. In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf describes women’s difficulties in producing creative works at her times:

“…fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners… these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in”.

Having independence and the income essential to follow a career as an artist were not always enough, because most women still found it hard to be accepted to art academies and institutions due to ‘morality’ concerns of these institutions.

The lack of visibility of successful women artists goes hand in hand with the representation of women in artistic works as, on the one hand, ‘infidel’, ‘immoral’, and as such deserving to be punished by men, and, on the other, objects, most frequently sexual, without personal agency, desire or will.  In the art history women were mostly present as models, instrumentalised and misinterpreted by men. Women’s body was portrayed as pure and beautiful by and for the male gaze and that shaped ideal female beauty. Reproduction of gender roles and norms is indispensable with such representations. In short, the works produced by female artists were always neglected, while the majority of the nudes in art were female.

Despite this negative relationship between women and art in history, art is one of the most powerful tools in transmitting the message of feminist perspective by breaking down these stereotypes and creating equality. Art constructs and communicates identities along with changing the narrative. It can also introduce the world women’s point of view about their bodies and personal experiences. For these very reasons, raising awareness with regards to sex roles and corresponding gender constructs in society will help arts educators and practitioners to understand multiple challenges and inequalities women experience in different paths of their lives. Further to that, it is crucial to consider the intersection of these gender roles with ethnicity, race, class and religion and how it creates multiple disadvantages especially for migrant, refugee and ethnic minority women. This approach is important in understanding specific needs and challenges of these women and constructing teaching methodology regarding personal histories of learners.

Embedding this sensitivity will raise awareness about struggles of women in general, while at the same time it will provide art educators and practitioners with a sustainable way to embed both women’s rights and intercultural competence into their activities. By this way, art might help millions of migrant and refugee women to overcome traumas and hardships and rebuild their lives in European countries. These women can tell their stories and express their feelings through art, only if their needs are understood, and personal borders and boundaries are respected.

Get Close to Opera Project allowed us to recognise the role of opera and arts education in non-formal settings on the social inclusion of migrants and refugees. Through qualitative and quantitative research, we had the chance to explore training needs and challenges of arts educators in six European countries. Strikingly, we also found that training needs about women specific needs and gender equality were not emphasized by research participants. This finding highlights the significance of raising awareness with regards to women’s rights approach and further develop a framework about specific needs of (migrant/refugee) women for arts educators. Therefore, European Network of Migrant Women designs a training module to create a framework with a general set of principles guiding arts educators about the importance of embedding a feminist perspective in arts education by paying particular attention in responding the specific needs of migrants and refugee women in art and how to deal with sensitive subjects.


Sinem Yilmaz, Anna Zobnina