28 Feb 2020 Gender responsive media & ICT will accelerate the achievement of SDG 5
Women’s voices and faces remain in short supply in mainstream/legacy media, although growing slowly over the 25 years since the 1995 Beijing conference, that put forward Article J on Women and Media among other articles.
It would seem as if women’s voices in media have stagnated in growth. In 2015, women made up “only 24% of the persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news, exactly as they did in 2010” according to the Global Media Monitoring Project report, projecting a stagnation in women’s visibility on most national media. The WACC-led Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) assesses how far the vision for media gender equality is being achieved, every five years.
The last GMMP study (2015) found that women’s voices were only at 24% globally and identified persistent and emerging challenges with the biggest gap in political coverage. “The gap is widest in news about politics and government in which women are only 16% of the people in the stories. In fact, women are three percentage points less visible in political news now than five years ago,” according to the report.
In one of the surveys in Kenya, only one woman out of the 47 Governors was receiving regular and prominent media coverage. The scenario was that there were only three women elected as Governors though a significant improvement from the last General Election when no woman was elected.
Why are women’s voices crucial and why is a gender responsive media so necessary even with the re-engineered Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development (SDG) for peace and prosperity and especially in communicating goal five on gender equality?
What would be the implication to the achievement of Goal 5 on Gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls if their voices were absent? The danger remains symbolic annihilation, a term coined by George Gerbner to describe the absence, or active under-representation, of certain groups of people in media that sustains social inequity.
Given the role of media to inform, educate and entertain, it’s important that women’s voices be included. Media can act as catalysts for social change through coverage of injustices and the inclusion of the voices of those who often find themselves marginalized. They can shape public opinion and attitudes, determining public discourse and thereby shaping our political, cultural and economic priorities. They can influence public policy through the news agenda, reinforcing or challenging gender, racial and other stereotypes and norms. They serve as the channel through which the public communicates to policy makers and through which policy makers communicate to the public.
SDG 5 indicators
To sample some of the United Nations Statistics indicators on SDG5: Globally, 750 million women and girls were married before the age of 18 and at least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). Girls between 15-19 who are subjected to FGM in the 30 countries where the practice is concentrated dropped from one in two girls in 2000 to one in three girls by 2017. Husbands can legally prevent their wives from working in 18 countries, in while in 39 countries, daughters and sons do not have equal inheritance rights; and 49 countries lack laws protecting women from domestic violence. Forty-nine countries have no laws that specifically protect women from such violence yet one in five women and girls, including 19% of women and girls aged 15 to 49, have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within the last 12 months. The European Commission on the other hand states that international trade contributes to 36 million jobs in the EU, but women hold less than two fifths of them. Globally, women lead only 15% of exporting firms.
Media need to inform, educate creatively, to tell the stories about early marriage and female genital mutilation especially towards reducing the incidences. Without a human face to the stories showing the impact of the practice on individual lives, it’s hard to appreciate the negative consequences of these practices on individual women, their families and communities. The media workers covering these issues need to be sensitized.
Looking at media especially with regard to women’s voices it seems that there is a correlation with the numbers with regard to representation in politics and representation in the media. According to the UN, political sphere women’s representation in national parliaments at 23.7% is still far from parity. This seems to match the global representation of women’s voices in the media. At least in some 46 countries, women now hold more than 30% of seats in national parliament in at least one chamber.
So, what makes it so difficult for the women to participate in the media which is a public space? It’s sometimes the violence accompanying women’s engagement in the media and negative portrayals that keep women from appearing in the media and discourage a section of women from participating says Memory Kachambwa, Executive Director African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET). Often such attacks are “below the belt”, relating not to the value they bring in leadership but often touching personal matters. Like Fadzayi Mahere, a Zimbabwean lawyer and opposition politician, on whose personal life the media sometimes focus.
For women, participating in the media needs to be intentional and starts with realizing the importance of one’s “Voice” as a woman. This is true for many women who engage in the media globally, especially with contested issues such as politics.
Strong and influential commentators
The Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) has invested in creating gender sensitive media by encouraging media to expand the involvement of women as strong and influential commentators on the public discourse, while at the same time building the capacity of women to use the media effectively. It just does not happen automatically but newsrooms need to be made gender sensitive, and conscious, otherwise they remain gender blind or ignorantly perpetuate stereotypes in their coverage or exclude women all together.
Skills and knowledge are required by women to gain confidence in engaging with the media, as well as by the media to provide coverage that is inclusive and sensitive as well as creative. Experience has shown that when women are sensitized and trained on effective media use – including online – then they are able to appreciate the importance of their voices, and become stronger in the media activities they are engaged in.
Media can contribute to role modelling and shaping the character of young girls to gain agency that would improve their lives and contribute to the achievement of SDG 5. One of the ways that the media promote empowerment is showcasing possibilities. Sensitive films and drama series that don’t just portray women as sex objects, or victims but place them in winning roles such as leadership, ownership, or victors over great difficulties. The entertainment sector provides an opportunity, but sometimes it reinforces damaging gender stereotypes and the objectification of women instead of telling stories about girls/women power and leadership.
Media need intentional story-telling that has an empowering influence on women and girls. Media images affect how girls think they should look and act. Therein lies the danger of the sexualisation and objectification of women. The girls and women need to see themselves in the media and that includes diversity. What they watch shapes what they think and even the kind of jobs they aspire to and how they look.
Balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal
Article J of the Beijing Platform for Action, decried the continued projection of negative and degrading images of women in media communications, noting that print and electronic media in most countries do not provide a balanced picture of women’s diverse lives and contributions to society in a changing world. The Article also called for the promotion of a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media and for an increase in the access of women to expression and decision making in and through the media and new technologies of communication.
Some of the issues to be addressed relate to deconstructing cultural norms and to constructing new norms where the educational role of media would be helpful. Similarly, watchdogs need to be alert to how media and society are interacting with the gender question.
Telling the story relating to the recognition and valuing of unpaid work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection and promotion of shared responsibilities within the household and the family as nationally appropriate is a new story especially in Africa that needs skills to demystify inform and education on.
Information Communication Technology (ICTS) has grown tremendously over the last few decades. According to the GMMP study only 26% of the people in Internet news stories and media news Tweets combined are women. The convergence of media especially on the mobile platform and the fact that daily individuals look on their phone all the time on various social media platforms and on WhatsApp calls for women to be content producers. Online and digital media needs to be marshalled and deployed towards achieving goal five. This is why social media offers an opportunity if well utilized whether in storytelling profiling and branding of women or in running businesses. Although digital media offers greater opportunities for connectivity across multiple platforms to connect to millions of people globally. Digital media has also challenged the media role as a gate keeper. Media from mainstream outlets can also leverage on the digital platform to widely share their stories.
However, Women’s relative invisibility in traditional news media has crossed over into digital news delivery platforms. However, concerns have also been raised that social media is emphasizing old norms that portray women as objects, morally deficient and vulnerable they also serve dominance capitalist and consumerism. Digital media can also cause unintended consequences and engender great risks including misinformation, cyber bullying, and hate messages as well as increased vulnerability of technical infrastructure, requiring data protection. Several studies indicate that some of the offline attacks against women have been transferred to online spaces. Therefore, there is need for training an online safety to continue operating in the online terrain. These also require agency on the part of the women, access to media, knowledge and capacity to address.
Going back to the movie industry, only 30% of speaking roles in a list of top 500 films went to women.1 A lot of mentorship still required to bring more women in this sector.
Key and also important regarding having an overall gender responsive media is the participation of women as media owners, board members, executives and journalists. Majority of the newsrooms are patriarchal and dominated by males especially at the editorial level. There is therefore need for mentorship programmes and training to build a pipeline of women journalists. WAN-IFRA, the global organization of the world’s newspapers and news publishers representing various publications, online sites and companies in 120 countries has been addressing gender imbalance through mentorship of women a middle leadership level.
In many countries gender policies have been found to be useful aided in the development of more gender responsive media that support the participation of women as journalists/media workers and also support their voices. Thus between now and 2030 a lot of advocacy towards the development of gender policies in newsrooms well as their implementation will go a long way in creating the environment that contributes towards that achievement of goal five. There is need to support governments to champion gender responsive ICT policies through policy.
Finally, building on Goal 17 on partnerships the Media Women’s association with organisations such as Global Alliance On Media and Gender [GAMAG] that seeks to promote and address gender equality and women’s empowerment in media systems, structures and content will go a long way towards media accelerating the achievement of SDG5.
Marceline Nyambala is a recovering Journalist and works for the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK)