Empowering women through arts

Rose Mangope. /Lauge Sorensen
Rose Mangope. /Lauge Sorensen

It's a fact that women tend to be under-represented in most industries, including the arts.

Beyond the statistics captured, women in the arts face unique challenges.

In SA, things are a lot better than they were decades ago when women were almost nonexistent.

National Arts Council (NAC) chief executive Rosemary Mangope is one of the few women who have emerged and claimed their position in male-dominated fields like arts and culture.

Mangope has been heading NAC that is tasked with promoting and supporting arts development in SA.

She says in the past 25 years, women have participated in developments of the arts and culture in multiple folds at different levels, both in leadership and supporting activities and initiatives.

Mangope said even though there were more women than men, the numbers tell a less optimistic story in the arts.

She said women in the arts were the kind of women who understand how crucial the arts can be in transforming the economic and social lives of people. Women who make a living through crafts like beadwork take it as a hobby, she said.

"Those women do not see it as an income-generating activity. Because when you ask them what do they do for a living, they would say I am not working," Mangope said.

"If one were to dig deep, you can see how many women would call this a hobby while it brings bread to the table. It is a contributor to the economy."

She added that as an institution whose mandate was to develop, support and promote the arts at all levels, NAC is advocating arts education in schools because it was exposing children to analytical experience and discipline at a young age.

Mangope believes that arts level the playing fields for all because it is about talent, innovation and creativity.

She said through the arts they were developing and empowering uneducated women in the rural areas. She said as much as many women were uneducated, NAC wanted to help them to unleash their creative talent.

In the past years, NAC and other arts institutions have been using the arts to develop and empower illiterate women in rural villages.

"Take someone like Esther Mahlangu that we defined as uneducated who has travelled the world through her artistic talent. So, education does not matter as much as long as the women have support and a platform.

"And I think there are many other women who are doing phenomenal work in rural areas. And 6% of the funding allocation goes to people to the rural areas."

Looking at women in arts administration, Mangope admitted there were many challenges as the industry was male-dominated. In terms of work effort, she said women were expected to have their heads and shoulders above the rest.

"The challenges that exists for women in administration are frivolous. They are there to make you shift your focus away from the ball. Women have to be 50 times more convincing, not in presentation only but in terms of implementation.

"Take NAC, our enhance strategy is totally different compared to before. There is a shift and evolution. For the longest time we have been providing grant funding but our mandate is deeper than that."

Mangope says the new strategy programme was looking at projects that were country imperative and those of social cohesion and nation building.

She says NAC is doing more of a funding impact and creative and innovative ideas of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

In moving forward, Mangope believes that a lot has to change as women are treated differently in society.

Looking beyond 25 years of democracy, she says that to succeed they need to be liberated from societal constraints.

"We need to emancipate women from societal pressures by allowing them to be themselves.

"The more vocal we become, the more we liberate younger generations through education and advocacy," Mangope said.

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