Last updated: 06 Dec, 2018

This research explores how gender equality can be promoted through the arts and creative industries.

Download: Promoting gender equality through the arts and creative industries - summary (PDF, 320 KB)

Download: Promoting gender equality through the arts and creative industries - full report (PDF, 667)


Throughout history, artists have been closely involved with, and influenced, social change.

Today, art and creative pursuits are being increasingly used to promote gender equality and acknowledge gender diversity around the world – with great success.

VicHealth’s Action Agenda for Health Promotion (2016–2019)
highlights the importance of gender equality as not only a fundamental human right, but also a key determinant of our health and wellbeing.

To explore how art can be used to help promote gender equality in Victoria, VicHealth commissioned a research team from The University of Melbourne and Deakin University to review international, gender-related arts projects. These reports document their key findings.

Case studies


The five case studies outlined here feature a sample of successful art projects that have promoted gender equality around the world, and may spark ideas and inspiration for projects and partnerships that could be developed by Local Councils in Victoria.   

These art projects were developed in a range of settings, including community health services, schools, the online gaming world, and council-run spaces, such as parks, art galleries, museums and sports clubs. They show how art and creative industries initiatives can promote gender equality, challenge ideas about gender and identity and enrich the health and wellbeing of our communities. In particular, they illustrate partnerships that think outside the box to stretch, develop and diversify art so it can reach a wider audience, have a greater impact and leave a lasting legacy. 

For more information on these case studies, the full range of art projects reviewed and more information about how art can be used to promote gender equality, read the full report (Promoting gender equality through the arts and creative industries).

The Fourth Plinth/Alison Lapper (2005–2007) View more

The Fourth Plinth was a vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. Because no one could agree on a fourth permanent statue, it was decided that the fourth plinth should feature temporary art installations. The City of London now manages the initiative, via the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, which is comprised of notable arts representatives.

One of the most notable and powerful artworks commissioned for the plinth was the 3.5 metre sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant by Marc Quinn, which was displayed from 2005–2007.

Alison Lapper, MBE, is a renowned artist and lecturer with a chromosome-related condition called phocomelia. This condition means she has short legs and no arms, and faces profound challenges and prejudices that she has fought to overcome to live as normal a life as possible.

Marc featured Alison because he felt she represented someone who has overcome their circumstances through ‘a different kind of heroism’. The statue contrasts with other statues in Trafalgar Square, which feature historical male military heroes.

Alison is naked and heavily pregnant in the sculpture, making its messages about gender even more powerful. The sculpture challenges social norms and expectations of gender, femininity, motherhood and disability. It also challenges our ideals of female beauty and physical perfection, by proudly displaying a different kind of beauty and physical form.

The sculpture gives Alison and Marc an opportunity to tell their stories through the artwork and subsequent media interviews. It brings attention to a woman who society and history wanted to forget. Alison represents a modern woman – strong, formidable and full of hope – and an inspiration to other women facing similar challenges.

The artwork was free to view in a prominent public space, and received considerable media coverage, which increased its accessibility and reach.

Marc stretched and upscaled the sculpture by allowing a large inflatable replica of it to feature at the 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony. In 2013, a similar replica was displayed at the Venice Biennale, the world’s largest non-commercial art exhibition. This exposure, plus extensive international media coverage around these displays, increased the artwork’s durability, reach and impact.

Alison Lapper Pregnant was created and promoted with support from the Mayor of London’s Fourth Plinth, Arts Council England, Arup Associates, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Haran Glass, Hare Structural Engineers, Moose Foundation for the Arts, the Trafalgar Square Hilton and the Independent on Sunday. This enabled Marc to develop and display the artwork, and share his messages around gender and disability with a wide audience, to create a legacy of understanding, acceptance and long-term social change.

De tu puno y lettra (2015) / Caritas de Mujeres (2011) View more

De tu puno y lettra (By your own hand) was a year-long Ecuadorean project involving a series of workshops on masculinity and violence, and a final performance. Conceived by American artist Suzanne Lacy, the project was inspired by another gender-related, UN-backed art initiative, Caritas de Mujeres. 

For Caritas de Mujeres, more than 10,000 Ecuadorean women wrote letters detailing their lives. Almost half of these letters mentioned family and sexual violence. Suzanne felt these letters were an unanswered plea for action, so extended this work to create De tu puno y lettra

The 350 men who attended De tu puno y lettra ‘adopted’ a letter from Caritas de Mujeres, not knowing who had written it, and used it to explore their understanding of family violence. They then worked with local artists, musicians, activists, mediators and Suzanne to create an hour-long performance at a Quito bullfighting ring. The performance involved the men reading out the letters, music, personal testimonials and ‘quiet’ reading of the letters in small groups. Some men moved between the audience and stage. This made them active participants in the audience, as well as co-creators of the project, to increase their engagement with the art and messages. 

De tu puno y lettra gave the men a better understanding of the ‘other’ by exposing them to the women’s experiences and inspiring empathy for them. It challenged their ideas of masculinity and the role of  men in relationships. In doing so, it stimulated long-term cultural change – combating rigid ideas of gender and inequality, and violence against women. The project also furthered the reach of the women’s stories, allowing their voices to be heard in new environments. 

The project was supported by The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, the American Embassy in Ecuador, the Agency of German International Cooperation, A Blade of Grass Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art, Diners Club and other financial and in-kind sponsors. This made it possible to run the project, and increased its reach and impact. 

A recording of the performance is available online, increasing its durability and accessibility. The project leaves a strong legacy – this recording continues to promote change around gender inequality and toxic masculinity, and enables these men and women’s experiences to be shared widely, to help prevent violence against women. The project also stimulated conversations about masculinity and violence among community groups, led to changes in medical school curriculum, and inspired academic research.


Tampon run (2014) View more

American high school students Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser created Tampon Run, a successful web-based video game, while attending Girls Who Code. The non-profit program helps girls become involved in the male-dominated web-based game development industry. A similar program called Code Like a Girl operates in Victoria. 

In Tampon Run, players collect tampons and fire them at others, all while learning about menstruation. Tampon Run was so popular, Pivotal Labs gave Andrea and Sophie pro-bono support to create a mobile version, which went viral. The 8-bit game is free to download on iOS and more than 500,000 people have viewed it. 

Tampon Run uses humour to de-stigmatise and normalise menstruation, so girls feel less embarrassed about it. Through the game, Andrea and Sophie wanted to raise awareness that in some cultures, menstruating women are isolated and stripped of dignity, and not all women have access to hygiene products. They also wanted to highlight the fact that while menstruation remains ‘taboo’ and ‘unspeakable’ in America, gun crime and violence is increasingly accepted. 

The game was influenced by several cultural and political events, including a 2013 reproductive rights demonstration in Texas, where state troopers confiscated potential projectiles, including tampons, pads and condoms, from people trying to enter a government building. However, the troopers didn’t confiscate guns, which are legally permitted in the building. 

After Tampon Run’s success, Andrea and Sophie were given unprecedented access to the US tech world and travelled around America talking about their experiences. They also wrote a book together, Girl Code, which won the New York Public Library Best Book of the Year in 2017. 

This project is a great example of engaging specific community groups to participate in gender equality arts initiatives targeted to their demographic. It also demonstrates multiple ways for artists to develop their work to reach more and varied audiences for greater health and social impact. 

Andrea and Sophie not only used their art to convey important and topical messages about gender inequality and social issues, but also successfully leveraged a corporate partnership to increase its accessibility, reach and impact. They stretched and scaled their art, making it more durable by adding other components, including public speaking, interviews and a book, to continue promoting their messages and engage with a wider audience for greater impact. They also maximised their reach and impact by leaving a legacy (the game and book) that can be enjoyed and remembered indefinitely.

The Women’s Mobile Museum (2017–2019) View more

South African artist Zanele Muholi created The Women’s Mobile Museum during her residency at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC) in America. The project supports ten local disadvantaged female emerging artists by giving them a paid residency, apprenticeship program and exhibition space. 

The women – chosen based on their desire to make art about their personal circumstances, rather than a portfolio – learn photography, video, graphic design, writing and public speaking, and produce multi-layered portraits that tour the state in a mobile ‘museum’. 

By questioning: ‘Whose portraits are represented in art museums?’ and ‘Who is art for?’, The Women’s Mobile Museum highlights the challenges disadvantaged women experience in art spaces, including a lack of resources and opportunities to showcase their work, and little or no access to education and professional training. It gives these women the chance to develop personally and professionally, and be seen, heard and remembered through their art. 

The women create art that represents their experiences of issues like love, loss, sexuality, racism, violence, sexism, body image, displacement, freedom and insecurity. This gives audiences a taste of what it’s like to be them, to elicit empathy and understanding of an ‘other’. 

Zanele accepted investment and partnership support to run The Women’s Mobile Museum from the PPAC and VIA Art Fund in Boston, giving the project more resources to reach a wider audience and have greater impact. 

While the project was already durable due to its art forms (e.g. photographs, paintings), the women have participated in public events and media interviews, and met with local museum curators, to increase its durability. 

The project keeps its audience in mind by creating an extremely accessible experience. The museum is free and, by being mobile, it physically brings art to parts of the community that might not otherwise experience it. It is also accessible to blind and deaf people, who can experience the museum through the braille and audio descriptions each artist recorded for their work. Artists are on site and available to answer audience questions and some pieces can be touched to further engage the audience. 

The artists and organisers want people to think of art as an attainable and valid career, and feel like what they have to say is important. They want to remind people that art should be done by, seen by and feature all people, removing its traditional Western, male focus to create a legacy of long-term social change.

Locker Room Talk (2018) View more

Locker Room Talk was an American memoir writing and storytelling art project run by the Too Much Information (TMI) Project. This non-profit organisation wants to empower its audiences and promote social, legal and political change by encouraging people to share ‘TMI’ – things they would normally keep private because they’re too embarrassed to reveal them. 

Locker Room Talk is a great example of using art to challenge masculinity and gender stereotypes, help people be heard and elicit empathy to improve understanding and acceptance. 

During the project, TMI held workshops for male football players at Kingston High School in New York. The workshops were designed to help the boys confront the dangers of the hyper masculine sport culture, redefine masculinity and find their authentic self. The workshop format enabled the boys to be active audience members and co-creators. 

Locker Room Talk encouraged the boys to open up in a way they may not have felt empowered to before. They shared and challenged their ideas of masculinity, and their environment, to create a more balanced, less ‘toxic’ idea of gender identity and equality. 

The project helped participants become closer to each other, feel less stressed about their feelings and experiences, and understand that other people are facing their own issues and challenges. In this way, it elicited empathy for and understanding of others. 

Locker Room Talk culminated in a live storytelling performance the boys put on in February 2018. The event was open to the public and free to attend. This, coupled with a documentary about the project – made in partnership between TMI and film and technology non-profit organisation Stockade Works – upscaled and extended the project and made it accessible to more people, maximising its reach and impact. 

Stockade Works will share the documentary widely, so the project’s messages can be communicated en masse to create real and lasting change. This and the changes in the boys’ ideas of masculinity, sense of self and responses to violence against women are strong legacies left by this project. 

TMI leveraged its partnerships with organisations, including Tides, Prestige Kingston (NY), 12 Months of Giving and Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, and support from several patrons, including Ulster Savings and BMW of the Hudson Valley, to run the project. Without this support the project would not have been as successful.