TENTH BIRTHDAY PRESENTS

Anthropologists say that gifts are part of some sort of exchange, as one gift always calls for a gift in return. You lose something, but you get it back in some form or another anyway. You give a bracelet, you get a necklace; you offer fish, you get potatoes in return. All traditional societies ensured that these exchange rituals were more or less balanced and losses paid for. This includes holidays and birthdays. You lose one year from your life and the presents help you forget that you are one year 'shorter'. Blowing out birthday candles is not just about extinguishing candles, it has other functions as well.
Festivals have their own method of celebrating. With festivals, 'one more year' does not mean 'one year less', as it does with people. When we celebrate City of Women's seventieth birthday, we will not be silently calculating whether it has ten or twenty years left. On the contrary, we will say: this is one festival that survived, because it is critical, interesting, up-to-date, entertaining - in one word, good. A festival with both tradition and a future.
Let's linger on the birthday metaphor a little longer: aren't 'balance sheets' a part of every birthday? Aren't we thinking about what has happened to us in the last year and, in the broader sense, what we have accomplished - and what we have not - in our lives? Aren't we all putting together all the pros and cons?
To summarise: ten years of the City of Women festival have offered 36 theatre plays and performances, 43 concerts, 49 film and video performances, 24 dance performances, 17 fine arts and photograph exhibitions, 16 discussion panels and symposia, 32 debates, readings, presentations and lectures, 10 workshops and - some of the elusive categories which slipped through the statistics - 1 visual-sound presentation, 1 digital dialogue, 1 communication project, and 1 street march. All in all, 231 'main' events and a large number of 'side bar' + events. A pretty number if they had been presents, given to us by artists with fresh, a little less fresh, famous or a little less famous names; yet always critical, interesting, entertaining women who have held a mirror up to the societies of this world.
But as Isaid at the beginning, each gift calls for a gift in return. What did those women receive in Slovenia during the ten years when City of Women featured 231 'critical, interesting, entertaining, etc.' events? Let's take a look at three different levels. First, politics: there are fewer women in politics than there were ten years ago. Nothing to worry about, I hear you say, women have nothing to look for in politics as they are today anyway. True. But: will politics change by itself, or is it waiting to be changed by people who feel comfortable within its surroundings? Second, health care: the health of women is deteriorating and with it - surprisingly? - the health care provided for women. Just think of the examinations, ordered once a year by experts, when politics paid for them. Both experts and politicians recently began singing an entirely different tune, even though the incidence of
cancer among women is increasing. And last, civil rights: all ways of weakening the welfare state affect women more than men: there is a greater percentage of women among the unemployed, which has been a novelty in the last years; more women have so-called insecure working relationships than men; and especially young women find it much more difficult to enter the job market than men; it is true, though, that both genders now have to work (equally) longer before retirement.
Let's also see what is happening to women who work in the arts: they are paid less than they used to be, they have less power and influence on the decision making process, among other things because they normally 'occupy the lowest positions in the hierarchy of the work force'. There are many artists, but how many of them are at the head of theatres, opera houses, philharmonics, domes of culture, galleries, publishing houses, the film museum, etc? A recent comparative study has shown that in Western and Southern Europe women represent an average of 23% of theatre directors, 20% of film directors, 25% of art museum directors, 15% of senior broadcasting production executives and 1% of conductors (www.culturegates.info). We have little data about Slovenia: There is an approximately equal share between actors and actresses (50:50), but how many of them are directors? Among self-employed cultural workers - one of the riskier forms of employment, which has already become dominant among the women of the developed world - the ratio between genders is much more even than the same ratio among the leading workers in leading cultural institutions.
And what about Prešeren Prizes, those cultural recognitions which are not only considered prestigious, but also connected with solid social benefits? Let's again take the last ten years under consideration: during this time the grand prize was awarded to 15 male and 2 female artists, the Prešeren Fund Awards were dealt out in a ratio of 45:13 in favour of male artists (in 2004 it was 5 male and 1 female artist). These prizes are a symptom: a symptom of a woman's cultural work, which becomes a symbol of the paid workforce in full.
Are we going to continue accepting gifts like these?

Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You...

Zoja Skušek
President of the Association for the Promotion of Women in Culture - City of Women