Advancing Gender Equality through Media

Wednesday, 20 August, 2008 - 08:34

Gender Links, the Gender and Media Southern Africa Network and the Media Institute of Southern Africa, hosted the third Gender and Media Summit themed "Whose news, whose views?"

Gender Links (GL), the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) Network and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), hosted the third Gender and Media Summit from 10-12 August 2008 in Johannesburg.

Hosted under the theme, “Whose news, whose views? Critical citizens, responsive media”, the summit brought together media practitioners, trainers and gender activists from Southern Africa to share best practices in creating a more responsive media.

The summit was opened with a keynote address by the Minister of Agriculture, Lulu Xingwana at the Gender and Media Awards ceremony. Xingwana expressed the South African government’s willingness to endorse any initiative that is aimed at addressing gender imbalances and called for the inclusion of women voices in news reporting.

Echoing her views, mayor of the Ekurhuleni Municipality, Lentheng Mekgwe, noted that the significance of the summit taking place as South Africans celebrate women’s month. Mekgwe said that the Gender and Media Summit is a call for an active and progressive media in the region.

There was consensus amongst delegates that tertiary institutions offering journalism training programmes should include gender-related modules to familiarise students with gender issues in news reporting.

Responding to this challenge, Gender Links introduced Business Unusual, a training programme which is run in collaboration with media training institutions throughout Southern African. Ntomibifuthie Masondo, a media graduate from the University of Swaziland, explained that Business Unusual helped her to look at gender issues critically, including the stereotyping of women.

Sibongile Mpofu, a journalism and media studies lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe, agreed that training institutions should play a significant role in the struggle against gender inequality in the media. Responding to the assumption that women are sceptical about handling heavy production equipment, Mpofu said training institutions should do proper orientation of both male and female students in order to make them feel equal.

The role of men in achieving gender equality came under the spotlight. Malose Ledwaba, station manager for the Lebowakgomo Community Radio, said that men’s participation is crucial to achieve gender equality. He says he actively transformed his male-dominated newsroom to include capable women reporters. 

Editors also have a responsibility to educate their staff on gender equality, according to Pat Made, former director general of the Inter Press Service (IPS). Made believes this will help the reporters not only to report from a gender perspective, but also to understand issues of gender.

Xingwana urged delegates to address the concerns raised in the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) study, which found that women are dramatically under-represented in the news. According to the GMMP, “although there has been an increase since 1995, when 17 percent of those heard and seen in the news are women, the situation in 2005 remains abysmal.” 

To illustrate, Maude Diboke, chairperson of the Gender Policy and Programme Committee at the University of Botswana shared her experience. In Botswana, the media has a tendency of using what she calls “presumed incompetence” as a way to silence women. Diboke believes that media in Botswana make women invisible by downplaying their contributions to society. 

Her view is shared by Mayor Mekgwe, who recalled the days when the media use to describe her looks instead of focusing on her capabilities.

The debate around media comes at the time when the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Botswana, is criticising its government over the controversial Media Practitioners Bill. If passed into law, the bill will make it compulsory for journalists to register and get accreditation in order for them to practice as journalists.

The Gender and Media Awards recognise the progress in institutional practice in adopting and implementing HIV and AIDS policies as part of the Media Action Plan on HIV and Gender. A total of 62 entries were received and 38 of them came from female reporters of whom six made it to the finals. 

Some award winners

Print: Opinion and commentary
Pro-active initiatives increasing girls’ university enrolment
Bestina Magutu, Tanzania 

Category: Photojournalism
Name of photo: Maasai men braiding women’s hair
Trevor Davies, Zimbabwe

Television: News
Domestic violence
Gillian Pillay, South Africa


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