Gender Equality On and Off the Stage

Gender Equality
On and Off the Stage

Gender Equality in the European Live Performance Sector: Reflections & Resources

Gender equality and the commitment to achieving it has to be at the core of protecting and promoting diversity of cultural expression and decent working conditions in the sector. At the same time cultural expression that promotes gender equality can play a role in transforming individual and collective perceptions, eliminating stereotypes, and amplifying the voices of those who are still invisible or silent.

Gender equality is a core value of the EU’s fundamental rights [1] and a key principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Cultural rights are human rights that apply universally, irrespective of sex or gender. They serve also as a condition for the enrichment of cultural diversity. This is supported by other documents. For example, the right to freely participate in cultural life, to enjoy the arts, and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits is enshrined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The UNESCO 2005 convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions states that ‘Parties shall endeavor to create in their territory an environment that considers the conditions and specific needs of women’ (Unesco 2005).

Despite all these documents, declarations and political will, there is much work still to do with regard to gender equality in the creative sector. Structural inequalities that women artists and cultural professionals who identify as a different gender face are often stubbornly resistant. Many barriers still persist and the Covid-19 pandemic has, in many cases, worsened this situation.

Gender inequalities are linked to complex phenomena, with causes and implications that are not always readily apparent or easily tackled. Women still experience more difficulties in access to the labour market, leadership positions, and in terms of remuneration for work. Gender stereotypes appear stubbornly persistent. The gender pay gap in Europe averaged at around 14 % in 2019, broadly stable for several years [2]. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of this gap being smaller in the cultural and creative sector. This has further implications. For example pay gaps are amplified by, but also serve to reinforce, the gender care gap. Women are usually the primary caregivers for children and elderly relatives [3]. This means the burden of unpaid care work in families mainly falls on women. This implies that women often have difficulties re-entering the labour market after maternity leave and/or career breaks and they tend to accept jobs at a lower position or for lower pay. Even then, they still face the challenge of combining irregular working hours and care obligations. A further complexity is that women are single parents more often than men [4].

Another factor contributing to gender inequalities is a gender bias that often affects women’s careers in the Live Performance sector. Reporting often points to a situation where women tend to over-represented in less important and less prominent roles, but absent or under-represented in the higher echelons of management or the most prestigious appointments in the sector. Women more often perform in less prestigious venues. Female directors and creators often find themselves confined to smaller venues and audiences. There is an over-representation of women in less prestigious roles as coordinators, middle management, assistants, costume and stage design while more men work in more creative and technical domains of the cultural sector [5].

The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly amplified certain gender inequality problems, though fully quantifying these effects is still difficult at the present time. Nonetheless, it is already clear that there are several reasons why there was a heavier impact on women than men in the cultural sector. The pandemic has not only exposed the existing gender inequalities and injustices in the labour market but also intensified them. Women are more likely to be in temporary, part-time and other non-standard work contracts than men. This situation is even more difficult when being a woman intersects with other factors such as race, disability, low socioeconomic status and care work responsibilities.

The Resources listed below explore these complex challenges and have been a valuable source of information and insight in the course of this project. The good practice examples included in our database are an important response to these challenges, showcasing some of the good work that has been done in this area.


  1. Charter Of Fundamental Rights of The European Union, EU 2000.
  2. Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context — 2021 edition, Eurostat 2021.
  3. One illustration is provided by the Eurostat’s labour force survey data. In the last few years, looking after children or incapacitated adults and other family or personal responsibilities was a primary reason for economic inactivity indicated by around 30% of economically inactive women and just around 4% of men.
  4. Towards gender equality in the cultural and creative sectors. Report of the OMC (Open Method of Coordination), EU 2021.
  5. Employment in the cultural and creative sectors. European Parliament 2019.


Conor, Bridget; (2021), Gender Creativity. Process on the precipice. UNESCO

Christensen-Redzepovic, Else ; (2019). Gender Equality. Gender Balance in the cultural and creative sectors. Voices of culture.

Employment in the cultural and creative sectors. European Parliament 2019,

Gender Equality & Diversity in European Theatres. A study. (2021) European Theatre Convention (ETC)

Gender Equality Index 2020: Key findings for the EU (2020). European Institute for Gender Equality

Gender gaps in the Cultural and Creative Sectors (2019). European Expert Network on Culture and Audiovisual (EENCA)

Menzel, Amelie; (2021), Towards Gender Equality in the Cultural and Creative Sectors. Report Of The OMC (Open Method Of Coordination) Working Group of Member States’ Experts. European Commission

Lhermitte, Mark et all; (2021) Rebuilding Europe. The cultural and creative economy before and after the COVID-19 crisis. Ernst & Young

Policy Brief on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry (2020). ) International Labour Office (ILO)

Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context — 2021 edition, Eurostat 2021,

A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 (2020). European Commission

Warran, Katey & Welch, Graham (2019). "FROM BINGO TO BARTOK" Creative and Innovative Approaches to Involving Older People with Orchestras, City of London Sinfonia

Tackling the gender pay gap in the European Union (2011). European Commission

Tepper, Daphne; (2020). Achieving gender equality and promoting diversity in the European Audiovisual sector. Good Practice Handbook.

Violence and harassment in the world of work: A guide on Convention No. 190 and Recommendation No. 206; (2021) International Labour Office (ILO)