On 10 March, Ciné-ONU Brussels, Vienna and Geneva – in partnership with UN Women, UNFPA, and the European Commission – hosted an online screening of the film The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution by film maker Maya Gallus, to celebrate International Women’s Day.
The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution documents the gendered and often abusive kitchen culture found backstage in restaurants. Following seven female chefs of different social and cultural backgrounds in the US, Canada, the UK and France, the film lifts the curtain on the male-dominated world of professional cooking. We learn about the experiences of these women who have sought to find a place for themselves in an industry otherwise dominated by men and characterised by misogyny and abuse.
The virtual event, attended by 600 participants, was introduced by Sietske Steneker, Director of the Brussels Office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) as well as director Maya Gallus. This brief introduction provided context to the theme of female leadership and its importance within the ongoing pandemic. The effects of COVID-19 are having a disproportionate socio-economic impact on women and girls, threatening to undermine and even reverse decades of progress of action towards gender equality, Ms Steneker reminded the audience.
Maya Gallus’s film provides a snapshot of the lives that the women chef protagonists have led – persevering in an often deeply hostile and hierarchical workplace. These chefs ultimately run their own restaurants or free-lance cooking businesses, providing an overview of the precariousness of the industry and the resilience required to survive in it as a woman.
“There is this stereotype that when men cook, they do it for the glory and that when women cook, they do it for love” said Chiara Adamo, Head of Unit of Gender Equality, Human Rights and Democratic Governance at the European Commission, citing one of the film’s female chefs. “The movie shows how entrenched these biases can be”, she adds. “We, at the Commission, are trying to empower women in innovative enterprises, particularly small businesses.”
The screening was followed by an online panel discussion, moderated by Caroline Petit, Deputy Director of the UN Regional Information Centre, to further explore the theme of gender inequality both inside and outside of professional kitchens. Alongside Maya Gallus and Chiara Adamo, we were joined by Isabelle Arpin, a Michelin Star French chef based in Brussels and Dagmar Schumacher, Director of the UN Women Brussels Office. Isabelle Arpin, who is the owner of the Isabelle Arpin restaurant in Brussels, had prepared a special recipe in celebration of International Women’s Day for the UN Cinema event.
The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution reveals how the empowerment and promotion of female chefs in professional kitchens has the potential to overthrow the toxic and abusive work culture that belongs to an outdated ‘boys club’ that has been glorified for too long. Women at the helm of restaurants are contributing to healthier and less toxic workplaces “whether it’s the way that women are socialised or because women have to work harder to get there in the first place”, explained the film director.
Women’s struggle to achieve leadership roles in restaurants exemplifies the barriers that women continue to be confronted with in all workplaces. Highlighting this gender-based discrepancy, Dagmar Schumacher explained how this becomes evident when observing the number of female political leaders in the world. “Right now, in 2021 we have 22 women heads of government or heads of state whilst 119 countries have never had a female leader.”, noted Ms. Schumacher during the panel discussion. She continued, “We did a study of 115 task forces dealing with COVID-19 measures. Out of these 115, 85% are run solely by men. At the same time, women are disproportionately affected, so the ones who decide what measures should be taken are not the ones who are really affected by the crisis.”. UN Women, a UN organisation dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment, has launched Generation Equality, a multigenerational campaign to tackle the unfinished work of upholding human rights and achieving gender equality.
Michelin Star chef Isabelle Arpin provided a fitting conclusion to the discussion by saying, “It doesn’t make a difference for me if I cook in my restaurant or for people in need, I always cook with the same passion and the same love.”.
Find out more about the Generation Equality campaign being led by UN Women by clicking here.
For the hand-out for the event click here.