Media can make effort to include women?s voices

Date: January 1, 1970
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In a few weeks, women?s organisation across the region will again grab public and media attention during the annual 16 Days of Activism to end Violence against Women and Children. Yet, for most of the year, women?s stories, especially achievements, remain under-represented in media coverage. L?Express newspaper in Mauritius has taken a step forward by putting aside a weekly page that features a woman who has made a difference to herself and the Mauritian society.

The experience has shown that there are so many women worth writing about. Since women have not been visible in media for so long, it may just require a bit of extra effort in the beginning to locate these sources.
The aim of this page is to focus attention on women achievers from diverse fields. This includes women in non-traditional fields, women who have challenged stereotypes and women who are leaders in their communities. Some head large corporations, some are small business owners, while others are grassroots-based women who are working to make their communities better places to live.
The management of l’Express created the page in response to the 2002 Gender in the Media Baseline Study that showed that within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), women’s voices represented only 17% of those found in the region’s media, including Mauritius.
It was time to make the invisible become visible.
In the beginning, I was afraid of not being able to find all these exceptional women every single week. The few good ones are always in the news. I took up the challenge, although in my mind this special page would die of a natural death after some time.
Going through the daily news helped a lot. There are indeed women worth writing on.
One women covered on the page was the former Chief Executive of the Stock Exchange of Mauritius who is now Director of Internal Audit of the Mauritius Revenue Authority. Sharda Dindoyal is the first woman to hold this post. 
Some women are risking their lives working with people with high risk behaviours and yet their work is not recognised.
Veronique Mars is such a woman. She lives in a deprived area of the capital of Mauritius, where prostitution and drugs are rife. She cares for her region and wants the inhabitants to live in a healthy environ.
Her only tool to do this herculean job is her commitment. She convinces sex workers and women who are on drugs to go for rehabilitation, and her work is paying off.
When we started the page, my male colleagues were not too cooperative, thinking this was a woman’s project. They now keep an address book for me. The page is popular with both men and women.
The weekly stories are a different journalistic genre and the approach is completely different. It is a one-source story where the woman shares different aspects of her life including her difficulties, her challenges, her fears and her successes.
Some of them have multiple roles. They are professionals and yet they still have to look after children, families and do household chores.
Sometimes these interviews can be a healing process. There is of course a tacit agreement that the confidential and emotional parts of the conversation remain private. 
These women are indeed the role models of our future generation. Recently I met a 17-year-old girl who won a Commonwealth prize. She was excited to appear in this page, and was at ease talking about her prize and her future career. 
The page is not only for those people who are achievers in the boardrooms and big business. One story was about a woman who participated in a training course and now has her own business putting henna on woman’s hands. Hundreds of homemakers have opened their own successful home-based businesses after acquiring new skills, yet we rarely hear of their accomplishments.
The story that inspired me most is a woman who is now over 80. She left school when she was only 14 to learn how to cook and look after a house, before getting married. She lived with her mother-in-law for 20 years, and it was when the latter died that she went back to her books.
She studied hard and passed her examinations up to General Certificate of Education. She started to write stories in Hindi, denouncing the double language of politicians and societal problems.
She wrote approximately 1500 stories, published a few, and even won a prize. She is now ready to write in English.
It is never too late to learn. This page has been a learning process for me too. I have learnt a lot through these women. In turn, the Mauritian public know that all these voices count. They are after all contributing to the economic, social and political life of Mauritius.
If at the beginning it was not that easy to get all these fantastic women, this page is now so popular that women are happy to appear in this page. Men sometimes telephone me to say they feel their wives should be covered on the page.
The pleasure I get in meeting all these great women is overwhelming. The page has featured the stories of over 200 women from all walks of life, and I know there will be many more to come.
Whether dedicating a page or section to women, or including women as sources for stories, it seems that those missing women’s voices are not very hard to find after all.
Marie-Annick Savripene is a journalist at l’Express. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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