Cultural rights have long been recognised as a pillar of human rights. According to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone should be able to take part in the cultural life of their community. The 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adds that governments should act to promote the conservation, development and diffusion of culture. 

These rights apply as much to women as to men. But too often, women find themselves disadvantaged, with less attention paid to their right to access and enjoy culture and knowledge, less attention to their own creative potential, and less effort to conserve their own heritage. They risk being ignored in the present, and forgotten in the future., especially in situations of conflict and extremism. The UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights, Karima Bennounce, has therefore chosen to focus on the particular situation of women as part of her mandate at the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Cultural heritage institutions – and primarily libraries – can play an active role in improving the situation. As experts in the way that information is collected, presented and used, they can understand the imbalances. As public service bodies, they have a particular duty to reach out to everyone, and provide services and support that help everyone realise all of their rights. 

IFLA’s Women, Information and Libraries Special Interest Group chose to focus its 2017 Satellite Meeting on libraries supporting women in conflict situations. This paper draws together lessons from this event for the ongoing work of the Special Rapporteur on women’s cultural rights. 

It highlights how librarians have sought to understand the particular needs of female victims of conflict in Uganda and Nigeria, the practical support offered by Greek librarians to refugees, and the vital work of libraries in Rwanda and India to ensure that women’s experience is properly documented for the future. Looking more broadly, two further sections explore how libraries can help rebalance the historical record by promoting entries on female subjects on Wikipedia, and re-examine some of the ethical concerns that should be borne in mind as part of preservation strategies. 

The paper is available to download as a PDF.