How effective is the Women Make the News Campaign?

How effective is the Women Make the News Campaign?

Date: May 6, 2011
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Campaigns are used the world over to lobby and advocate for changes in practices, laws and policies guiding human development. March 2011 was notable as the world celebrated 100 years of International Women’s Day (IWD). As part of annual IWD activities, UNESCO took the lead in using the annual celebration to fight for equality in the media through a campaign called “Women Make the News Campaign (WMN).” A few days before IWD, I received a reminder e-mail about the WMN campaign. It got me thinking!

The WMN campaign has been running for the past eight years and it challenges the news media to take substantial and immediate action to ensure that media represents women and men in a fair and balanced way. In addition, the campaign seeks to promote gender equality in the media in both news generation and coverage.

UNESCO acknowledges that the dynamism in a newsroom environment requires media managers to recognise the different talents women and men bring to the table. “By failing to develop a greater understanding of what women bring to news organisations and by not making full use of their creative potential, intellectual capacities and leadership abilities, media executives deny women the right to personal and professional growth” notes UNESCO.

Closer to home, Gender Links seeks to promote gender equality in and through the media and has conducted research titled Glass Ceilings, Women and Men in Southern Africa Media. The research shows that men are the predominant media employees in media houses in Southern Africa. On the other hand, the 2010 Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS) found that the proportion of women sources in news in the region stands at 19%.

The research findings point to the fact that campaigns such as the WMN can assist media enterprises in Southern Africa to meet the media targets of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. The Protocol urges the media to take measures to promote the equal representation of women in the ownership of, and decision-making structures of the media and encourages journalists to give equal voice to women and men in all areas of coverage.

This month’s newsletter will highlight a recent initiative Gender Links took part in. GL was recently invited to Brussels, Belgium for a joint UNESCO and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) project to ensure newsrooms begin to take a closer look at gender.

At Lesotho’s Public Eye newspaper, women are just 32% of reporters and there are no women on the editorial or production teams. The pattern is similar for Lesotho Television, where there are more women on staff but men occupy the higher echelons of that media house. I asked Lebohang Ramotete, a journalist from Lesotho Television, about the WMN campaign and she confessed that she has never heard of it. “I believe if it is operating in Lesotho then its footsteps are not hard enough. Regardless I think it is very significant and should be louder and clear in my country,” she said. She said she believes women’s voices should be strengthened and empowered. “They should fight and overcome everything that limits them from unleashing their potential and they should be given a chance at leadership.”
On the other hand, Steve Zimber, a news reporter for Zodiak Broadcasting Station in Malawi, says he has only read about the campaign and said although he thinks it is necessary, it is not effective in Malawi. He says there are more women who are quite active in his news room. “They have potential to do the same work men do, all they need is motivation and empowerment by promoting them which can bring change to news production.”

Looking at the number of years the WMN campaign has been running, one would hope it is now visible and that media practitioners take it seriously. Research has shown that there are more female journalism and media students in Southern Africa. What is going to happen to these professionals when they graduate? Are they still going to be eclipsed and beat out for jobs by men or will this campaign change the media landscape and bring equality through content and practice?

The campaign is highlighted once a year and media houses are encouraged to allow women to be in charge of producing content on International Women’s Day. There is not much, if anything at all, one can do to bring gender equality in one day to a newsroom. Women can be given an opportunity to be in charge on that single day, but their capabilities are soon forgotten about when the campaign ends.

Gender Links is currently working with media houses and by end of 2011, 100 newsrooms will have adopted gender policies and begun implementing them.

Systems should also be put in place to monitor the implementation of the campaign and reward those who make the effort to bring equality into newsrooms. Through the WMN 2011 campaign whose theme is “Media and Information Literacy (MIL) and Gender”, citizens can be empowered to demand media to fulfil their democratic responsibility to represent women and men in a fair and balanced way.

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