A gender and media movement like no other

Date: January 1, 1970
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When the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) network sprung to life following the first Gender and Media Summit in 2004, few would have imagined just how far and how fast this Network would grow in such a short space of time.

Two years later, the network has registered chapters in ten Southern African countries. As we write on the eve of the first General Meeting, GEMSA has 25 institutional and 381 ordinary members. To our knowledge, this is the only such Network of its kind globally and certainly one of the most vibrant civil society movements in Southern Africa at the present time.
It is a movement whose time has come. For too long, while the clamour for gender equality gathered pace in other sectors, the media managed to escape the glare. But how could the fourth pillar of democracy be comfortable critiquing the rest of society when women, who constitute more than half the population, comprise less than a fifth of the voices in the news? Or when women constitute less than five percent of media managers; predominate only as TV presenters, and are woefully lacking in the print media; in photo journalism and in all the technical aspects of the business?
The Gender and Media Baseline Study (GMBS) conducted by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and Gender Links (GL) in 2003 that revealed these gaps and more became the driving force behind a groundswell for change that brought together trainers, policy makers, practitioners and a wide variety of networks under the umbrella of GEMSA.
With its slogan: “making every voice count and counting that it does,” GEMSA swung into action during the Sixteen Days of Activism campaign soon after the first GEM Summit, exposing the human rights abuses against women that continue to coexist with democracy.
The Network came into its own with the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) in February 2005.  This study, a one day snapshot of how women are reflected in the news, has been conducted every five years since the Beijing Conference in 2005. In 2000, only two Southern African countries, South Africa and Namibia participated in the study. In 2005, thanks to GEMSA, all countries in the region participated in the study.  This highly strategic, voluntary activity demonstrated the power of partnerships that work.
Anna Tulley from the World Council of Christian Communication (WACC) that coordinates the study, and research coordinator Margaret Gallagher had participated in the first GEM Summit. MISA funded training of the newly elected GEMSA country representatives. MISA offices in-country provided logistic support. The Media Monitoring Project (MMP) that chairs the research and monitoring committee of GEMSA and analysts of the global study plucked out the relevant global figures. GL wrote a regional report, benchmarking Southern Africa against the GMBS and the rest of the world. Country chapters are using this template to write reports being launched in each country.
The results are revealing. Although overall women comprise 19 percent of news sources in the region according to this one day monitoring, there have been clear improvements in countries with strong gender and media networks (such as South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Mauritius). The message is simple. Targeted research and advocacy – media activism- works.
Growing such a network with much passion and commitment but limited resources has been a challenge.  Donors are keen to advocate social movements; slow to fund them. The skepticism is understandable. Too many a network has been born in the euphoria of a gathering like the GEM summit and then died for want of proper governance, systems, and a few strategic initiatives to keep the membership enthused without overburdening them.
At its inception, GEMSA had no funds at all, and through out the two years it has had no moneys to hold any meetings of any kind. But as any network should, GEMSA has proved adept at using technology (cyber dialogues, teleconferences, video conferences etc) to engage its committee on a programme of action growing in strength and relevance. The result is that since September 2004, GEMSA has held four Exco and seven Committee meetings: a record for a young organisation.
Office space, staff, legal, financial and IT systems provided by GL at regional level gave the young network the head start it needed to get off the ground. MISA offered similar nurturing to many country chapters (eg Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Lesotho and Zambia). Other institutional members including the Polytechnic of Namibia, Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ), Zambia Institute of Mass Communications (ZAMCOM) and the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) offered in-kind support.
In its two short years GEMSA has developed its own website with country pages that are updated by members of the Network; established its independent financial status and engaged in a number of high profile and high impact campaigns, including the Sixteen Days, care work campaign, SADC and Gender campaign, and the African Protocol campaign.
Key challenges include work overload for country representatives who work voluntarily and the need to ensure that all partners in the network play an active role.
With its theme, Media Diversity: Good for Democracy, Good for Business, the second GEM Summit on 7-8 September affords an opportunity for GEMSA to take stock and assess its comparative strengths and distinctive contribution within the gender and media field.  The Summit will be followed by a strategic planning meeting of the full committee to map GEMSA’s course over the next two years. We have no doubt that GEMSA will rise to the occasion.
Colleen Lowe Morna and Jennifer Mufune are the current chair and deputy chair respectively of GEMSA. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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