International Women's Day on March 8 reminds us that gender roles and cultural heritage are closely linked. Gender assignments are obvious when it comes to intangible heritage: recourse to "tradition" determines the distribution of roles and power relations: who has the authority to decide what is "good" and "bad", who is "allowed" to carry out craft techniques, educational- and care-taking activities (and leadership functions) and pass them on to the next generation? Religious practices and permission to enter religious sites are also subject to gender-specific differences. However, gender roles are not "set in stone". Due to cultural and economic backgrounds, the path to equality and equal treatment is being taken at different speeds (and leads sometimes to setbacks). However, radical changes in gender roles are often the result of tragic events: in times of war, when men fought as soldiers, and in unjust regimes, women were called upon to do jobs (e.g. in industry and on the railroads) that had previously been reserved for men. (The traditional distribution of roles was also redefined in agriculture).

Even if cultural heritage makes a significant contribution to gender identity, we must not forget that customs are not always in favor of women: during carnival time (with appropriate disguises and hidden behind a mask), debauchery or even violence against women and girls has so far been euphemistically disguised as a socially necessary "use of restraint" (which, at least in Austria, is less and less tolerated by the police and courts). Forced marriage and child marriage as well as genital mutilation of young women - although these acts are justified in some cultures as "intangible heritage" - are unacceptable human rights violations. In any case, UNESCO made it clear in its 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage (Article 2, paragraph 1) that only practices that conform to human rights enjoy protection under the Convention and are worthy of being passed on to future generations.

Peter Strasser

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