Southern Africa: SADC urged to use new media spearhead development

Southern Africa: SADC urged to use new media spearhead development

Date: September 9, 2014
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Harare, 30 July: The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has urged civil society organisations to utilise new media technologies to promote and advance development initiatives. MISA made the call at the ongoing SADC Civil Society Forum in Harare, where participants discussed the challenges and emerging issues in the media landscape across the region.

Several participants praised new media for providing a platform for debate where people generally marginalised from mainstream media, can express their views, share information and contribute to developmental initiatives led by civil society.

Nigel Mungamu- a social media analyst hailed new media as a useful tool to access all kinds of information, that can help change people’s lives and communities. “My aunt staying 70 km outside Harare who is a farmer can access the prices of her products like tomatoes and vegetables through the social media,” said Mungamu.

He further noted that social media is a powerful tool for different groups, to develop information and share views whether political, social or economic. Mungama called upon women, youth and all interest groups to form virtual communities that which will enable them to advance their rights.

The 2014 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer notes that new media and information communication technologies (ITCs) are increasingly being recognised as fundamental to accessing information and actively participating in democracy. However, due to affordability and availability, women’s access to ICTs remains very low, limiting their rights and exacerbating their inequality.

Zoe Titus, the regional manager of MISA, said that access to information is oxygen to democracy and development, which all groups in society can use to advance their cause. She added that lack of access to information negatively affects disadvantaged groups, women and children.

Furthermore, women’s voices in mainstream media still remains low. According to a spot-monitoring exercise conducted in 93 media houses that Gender Links works with, the proportion of women sources in the media has decreased from 22% recorded in the 2013 self-monitoring exercise to 21%.

Adding his voice to the debate was Bongani Masuku, a COSATU member, who said that the commercialisation of the media was making it difficult for the media to play an active role in promoting equality and development. He cited economic and political interferences as major threats to media independence in the SADC region.

The focus on profits as opposed to social justice, also contributes to gender issues garnering less coverage in the media, as these issues are not seen as profitable. For example, the Barometer cites the Gender in Media Progress Study, which found gender-based violence constituted only 4% of the topics covered. Furthermore, media reporting still stereotypes women, who are represented as victims or sexual objects. The SADC Gender Protocol calls on member states to take measures to promote gender sensitive media and to ensure equal representation of women in both content and in the ownership and decision-making structures.

Boichoko Ditlhake, SADC-CNGO Executive Director, highlighted the important role of media in advancing democracy. “The media should exercise responsibility. It should work for the good of the people regardless of their sex, class, race or age. What we are experiencing in Swaziland and Lesotho where people especially women and girls are abused and the media is doing nothing about it is contrary to the SADC we want.”

Biochoko’s statement also highlights rising concerns about gender based violence being perpetrated via new media. With the unregulated accessibility and insecurity of social media platforms, cyber violence is on the increase where women and children are primary victims of abuse, harassment and sexual violence.

The 2014 Barometer has proposed recommendations for the post-2015 SADC Gender Protocol to ensure member states prioritise women’s access to ICTs; implement legislation to protect users, especially women from new forms of abuse like cyber violence; and to broaden gender sensitive strategies that incorporate new and emerging areas like social media, digital migration and technology innovation.

This article is part of the Gender Links News Service special coverage of the SADC Civil Society Forum underway in Zimbabwe, offering fresh views on everyday news.


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