According to Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, publishing business barriers exist for women.

Prior to International Women’s Day, she claimed that not enough is being done to address a gender imbalance in the industry while speaking at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

In a keynote speech at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi claimed that women are underrepresented in the publishing sector.

Sheikha Bodour claimed that not enough is being done to address a gender imbalance within the sector in a speech given on Tuesday as part of an event by Publisher, a group she founded to advocate for greater equality and diversity within the industry.

“We need to keep up the pressure for more equity and more diversity,” she said, ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, there are some outdated and persistent challenges that stem from a certain mindset and outdated practices, and it continues to amaze me that we still have to make the case and fight for balance within the publishing industry and to give more female publishers the chance to lead and make a difference.”

According to Sheikha Bodour, the publishing sector requires a concentrated effort to align itself with “the mainstream”.

This entails the development and support of more initiatives, including professional growth and networking opportunities, as well as new announcements of awards for women’s nonfiction writing from The Women’s Prize Trust in the UK.

“Female publishers have been given the wrong instrument all along, and despite playing to the full extent of our potential, it’s not enough, especially that we’re not playing in an even field,” she said.

“So we have to continue playing, but just as critically, we have to continue trying to change the instruments and ask for the right conditions and environment to grow and prosper.”

Contrasting truth and fantasy

In addition to a two-day conference with publishers from all over the world, Publishher celebrated International Women’s Day at the book fair by hosting an exhibition of international children’s literature works by female authors.
Italian publishers said that historically, women were underrepresented in the local industry when they spoke during a session examining the “status quo” within the industry.

“There was a recent event in Milan discussing women in publishing in the 20th century and we realised how they only played a marginal role,” said Mariagrazia Mazzitelli, editorial director of Salani.

“My mother-in-law, for example, was a great editor, but when she had her children, she stayed home and worked from there.

“Because of some of these conditions, we found it very hard to reconstruct a history of female Italians in publishing.”

When it comes to how women are portrayed in both tales and illustrations, says Monica Martinelli, founder of Settenove Edizioni, a publisher of picture books tackling discrimination and gender violence, a radical shift is required.

“Publishing ultimately reflects what is happening in society.

“One of the biggest problems both children’s books and all aspects of children’s education have is that women are represented purely through values and actions that are thought to belong to them,” she says.

Women are frequently given the role of the caretaker in these books, or, for instance, illustrations that show her grinning while she multitasks at home, are examples of this.

“Not all women are happy when they are doing so many different things at once because they are often in a situation where they had no choice but to do so.

“We should show the reality in that women can also be tired, have negative emotions and feel that life can also be a struggle at times.”

According to Beatrice Masini, editorial director of Italian publishing house Bompiani, finding that balance is no simple task.

“What I find a little problematic is the notion of an ‘issues book,’ in which the authors sit down and decide what issues to raise in the book before creating the story,” she says.

“It immediately loses its authenticity. Those issues should spring naturally from the story to make it more impactful.”

Martinelli contends that encouraging more authors and illustrators to contribute their skills to other art forms is another way to produce more realistic stories.

“It will help them confront another reality,” she says. “To step outside the box they will have new experiences which they can use when it comes to sharing their ideas, vision and style.”

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