Interviewed by Aurélie Doré
Meet our Talent, Gabriel Brunnich Dunand, UNESCO Project Manager, in charge of the International the Fund for the Promotion of Culture (IFPC). In this interview, she talks about her commitment to women’s rights, children’s rights and education, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on access to culture, and how data can be used to create gender-sensitive policy and address gender gaps.
Can you describe your current role as UNESCO Project Manager, in charge of the International Fund for the Promotion of Culture (IFPC) and share one of the major initiatives you have supervised?
I have been working at UNESCO for the past 14 years. I am currently a Project Management Officer for the International Fund for the Promotion of Culture (IFPC), which has supported the production and organisation of cultural and artistic projects all over the world, with a focus on gender equality and sustainable development through culture. The Fund has supported over 30 projects around the world, ranging from drama and dance theatre in Palestine to the first African circus arts festival; from peace building theatre in Sri-Lanka to a collaborative environmental art project in South-Africa. There is a lot of diversity within and between the projects, and that has been exciting to see.
I also am responsible for chairing the Fund’s Administrative Council meetings, which means presenting all the findings of the projects, the financial situation, and the strategic direction of the Fund. For the past two years I have also been Secretary of the Working Group on IFPC, which is a consultative mechanism involving Member States, the Fund’s Administrative Council and the UNESCO Secretariat, to rethink the strategic direction of the Fund. I feel proud to have been able to accompany this challenging process, including communicating with the more than 190 stakeholders involved, and to play a part in restructuring the governance of the Fund.
Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” Why is ensuring access to culture for all citizens so important and what can be done to make this a reality?
Cultural rights, which can be described as the right to have access to culture, to participate and enjoy culture, are human rights. Whether we are talking about museums, heritage sites, traditions being passed from one generation to another, or artistic creation, culture has the power to inspire, transform and inform us. Especially in time of crisis, it has a unique role as a coping mechanism and in helping us to become more resilient.
During Covid-19 we have seen how much having access to culture and being able to enjoy culture is often dependent on having access to digital communication tools and networks. The digital divide has been exacerbated by the pandemic. From one day to the next, our reliance on digital communication tools to work, learn and engage with others skyrocketed. Those who have limited, or no access to such tools have effectively been excluded from participating in the online events that have been organised during the pandemic. A concerted effort is needed by governments and the private sector to address the digital divide and internet infrastructure gaps: access to digital tools is a key part in making sure that everyone has access to culture.
Culture has the power to inspire, transform
and inform us. Especially in time of crisis,
it has a unique role as a coping mechanism
and in helping us to become more resilient.
Women, who hold a higher proportion of precarious jobs in the arts and culture sectors, are particularly vulnerable to social and economic insecurity. What in your view can governments do to address the gender gaps in the cultural and creative industries? What has been the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on culture professionals, particularly women?
Women hold a higher proportion of precarious jobs not just in the cultural industry but across sectors. This is partly due to the disproportional amount of time women spend on care giving and domestic work, which has the double burden of being unpaid for the most part, as well as often being invisible when it comes to policy making.
In my view, the only way to reduce the gender gap is to create policy with a gender perspective in mind. And whether it is about culture, education, or health, it all starts with data. We need good data to understand how and where people spend their time. Sex-disaggregated time-use data is particularly key in this sense as it informs policy makers in determining where investments need to be made.
In times of crisis, vulnerable and marginalised communities are often hit the hardest. The UNESCO report “Gender & Creativity: Progress on the Precipice”* notes that without gender sensitive data and policy, Covid-19 could actually have an exceedingly long and regressive impact on gender equality. This is an issue that needs to be addressed now, or else the long-term effects of Covid-19 could be very harmful to the progress that has been made in recent years. Since 2021 is the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, I hope it can be a turning point. If governments take the opportunity to invest in and collect data through a gender perspective, policy can be developed in a gender sensitive way that takes into consideration the reality of all people.
Training and mentoring programmes, like WIL’s Women Talent Pool programme, are also key in addressing gender equality. Being able to meet like-minded women, to support one another in developing our professional skills, and have networking opportunities are all crucial.
Finally, general awareness raising on the importance of gender equality is another key piece of the puzzle. Organisations like UNESCO have a key role to play in making people aware about stereotypes and moving beyond them.
The only way to reduce the gender gaps
is to create policy with a gender perspective in mind.
And whether it is about culture, education, or health,
it all starts with data.
As well as culture, you have also worked on projects focused on women and education, including a mission at UNDP where you looked at the impact of rural energy access on women’s empowerment and an experience as an early years’ teacher at a school in the Bronx. Could you tell us more about your personal story and where your commitment to these issues comes from?
My first job, and probably one of the most life changing for me, was teaching preschoolers in a multiservice community centre in the South Bronx in New York Some of the children in my class lived in homeless shelters, some of the mothers were former drug users, and most of the children were dealing with the realities of urban poverty on a daily basis. This was compounded by a lack of access to quality health care, which is very common for marginalised communities. The air quality in the South Bronx is such that many children in this area suffer from some of the highest rates of asthma in the US. This is when I came across the concept of “environmental inequality” or “pollution inequity”.
The resilience of these children and their mothers, however, was truly inspiring. Nevertheless, I found that many of the public policies in place which were intended to help struggling families, were actually counterproductive. I felt the need to go back to school and to study public policy, so that I could try to impact societies on a more systemic level and address some of the challenges that were clearly beyond the scope of what I could achieve in my classroom.
I then moved to France where I got my master’s degree in political science with a focus on development studies. Once I finished my degree, I spent some time in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) where I collected data on the impact of energy access on women in rural areas. I also worked in Mali with an association called Djantoli, that focuses on preventive health services for young children.
All of these experiences crystallised for me how important it is to invest in women, not only for families but for society as a whole.
All these experiences crystallised for me how
important it is to invest in women, not only for families
but for society as a whole.
You speak three languages fluently (English, French, and Spanish), and your professional experience has taken you all over the world, including Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, France, and the US. The benefits of international experience have been well-researched and are typically described in terms of the advancement of intercultural skills and competences. How has your experience with and understanding of different cultures impacted your outlook, and career?
I’ve always loved studying languages, travelling and experiencing cultures that are different from my own. Being able to speak another language is a window to connect with other people. The travel I have been able to do through work and my studies has enriched my life enormously, expanded my world view, helped me question who I am and has opened my eyes to other ways of living.
That is one of the reasons why I have loved working at UNESCO. I am in contact with people all over the world, and I usually use two or even three languages each day. I really enjoy the cultural and linguistic diversity. I have also been able to experience what it is like to work with governments that are collaborating together to address topics like peace, sustainable development and gender equality, through education, culture, science and communication. Despite the challenges of intergovernmental processes, it has been very inspiring to see the progress that can be made!
After 14 years working in the cultural sector at UNESCO, I have also come to understand that doing the hard work that is in UNESCO mandate cannot be done by governments alone: the private sector has a key role to play as a partner and stakeholder. Having an open dialogue among different stakeholders is key, and at this point in my career, I am very eager to explore how the private sector can strengthen its role as a key partner and stakeholder in addressing issues such as sustainable development and gender equality. It is very heartening to see how the concept of corporate social responsibility has taken off in the past few years, and how even major companies around the world are considering the triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profits.
At this point in my career, I am very eager to
explore how the private sector can strengthen its role
as a key partner and stakeholder in addressing issues
such as sustainable development and gender equality.
In your spare time, you enjoy composing piano music. Is there a musical composition or artist that particularly moves you and why?
I love many composers. Frederic Chopin and Claude Debussy are among my favourites. Most recently however, I have really been enjoying playing Erik Satie’s Gnossienne n°1. For me, it is like a musical poem that expresses feelings and images that cannot be expressed through words.
Video edited by Nadège Serrero