Breaking Gender Equality Barriers Through Art 

Gender equality is when people of all genders have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities. Equality is achieved when people are treated the same, regardless of what they look like, their gender, or sexual orientation. However, according to the United Nations, despite improvements over the last few decades, gender equality remains unreached. 

How many times have you witnessed inequality based on someone’s gender? What does it mean to you to be a boy or a girl? Should our gender change the things we are capable of doing? 

Gender equality can be understood a little better by looking at gender roles. Gender roles are customs and behaviours learned by a person as appropriate to their gender. Gender roles in society tell us how we are expected to act, speak, dress, groom, and conduct ourselves based upon our gender. For example, some societies deem as appropriate for boys to wear blue, and girls should wear pink at birth. Or how it seems natural and normal in some societies for girls to play with dolls and boys to play with cars. These are gender roles. 

We are not born knowing gender roles; these are learned as we grow up. In school, at home, by our parents, grandparents and peers, we learn how to behave. Peer pressure also perpetuates gender roles, and tv programmes portray how girls and boys should act in school and society. 

Thinking Cap On 

The next time you see a TV commercial for a new game, gadget, or toy, look at who the main character is in the scene. Is it a man? a woman? What are they doing? are they following gender roles? For example, most grilling or BBQ commercials feature only men. 

Gender Inequality and the Rise of Feminism: 

The link between gender equality and feminism is one to consider closely. Feminism based on equal rights for men and women is what gender equality is about. The conversation around gender rights often focuses on the injustices women face around the world. However, feminism at its core as a gender-equal view must focus on both men and women, boys and girls, being equal and having equal access to education, work, health and happiness. 

According to the UN, women are still facing higher barriers than men in accessing employment. When they do get a job, women are often excluded from decision-making positions. In 2019, women accounted for 41 per cent of managerial positions in South-Eastern Asia and 40 per cent in Northern America, but only 8 per cent in Northern Africa. Feminism aims to create more awareness about these issues to prevent them from happening and ensure equal opportunities for men and women become the norm. 

What does it mean for you to be equal to your peers? As a male or female, do you feel you can openly pick to play a particular sport at school without being questioned, mocked or bullied? If the answer is yes, congratulations, you have experienced gender equality. If the answer is no, then perhaps you need to evaluate why you can or cannot play in that team/sport. Speak with your parents and teachers to understand the reasoning behind this. Are there based on gender roles? 

Art Meets Gender Equality: Frida Kahlo 

Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacán, Mexico in 1907. By now, you have probably seen her face or art on social media, often next to quotes about gender equality and feminism. But who was Frida Kahlo, and why does it matter? 

Khalo openly spoke about the many taboos women in society faced in the early 1900s. Khalo also used her art to provoke reactions in society and expose the challenges women had to face throughout their lives. She was one of the first women to talk about gender equality and promote female independence. Frida Khalo opened the path to many other women to fight for their rights and ultimately get us to where we are today. 

“I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality”, Frida Khalo.

Khalo also refused to alter her features. These included her now-famous mono-brow and her faint moustache, both of which were labelled as inappropriate and “masculine”. She even posed in a family portrait dressed as a man, which was highly controversial in the early 1900s. 

Thinking Caps On

Now that you know more about Gender Equality, Gender Roles and Frida Khalo; Think about how would you portray gender inequality at school or community through art? This could be any art form, a painting, a sculpture, a poem or a song.