The interactions of gender with the performance, enactment, practice and transmission of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) are complex and, to some degree, mutual. As a consequence, safeguarding approaches have the potential to impact on these factors in both positive and negative ways. Unfortunately, the safeguarding actions proposed for this heritage tend to miss the larger, holistic aspect of culture of which gender dynamics form a part. Not only do we express our gender identities through ICH, but they are also shaped to some degree by it, and this process can be affected by safeguarding practices and interventions. This underlines the necessity both of applying a gender-sensitive approach to safeguarding and, as this chapter seeks to demonstrate, for striking an appropriate balance between legal and non-legal (anthropological) experts in this process in order to ensure a sufficiently nuanced but well-grounded approach towards gender. Such an inter-disciplinary approach is a prerequisite for ensuring the proper and successful operation of UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage over the long term.
This chapter explores how far the 2003 UNESCO Convention for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH) can (and does) cover heritage of non-dominant and counter-culture social. It argues that a balance needs to be struck between State sovereignty and the need to recognize heritage meaningful to specific (often subaltern) social groups, many of which form a large part of popular and youth culture today. It examines the issues surrounding defining and recognizing such ICH and considers what they may imply for their safeguarding, in particular for the participative safeguarding model espoused by the 2003 Convention, taking the case of the gender dynamics of ICH safeguarding to illustrate these questions. It demonstrates the highly political nature of identifying and recognizing ICH elements and the complex and multi-layered character of the associated cultural groups and communities: which and whose cultural forms should be safeguarded as ‘ICH’ is a question that will need to considered over time as social attitudes change.