SA: Rewriting Herstory on Women in politics

SA: Rewriting Herstory on Women in politics

Date: May 14, 2018
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Johannesburg, 14 May: In celebration of World Press Freedom Day Gender Links (GL) held a webinar under the theme Rewriting Herstory: Women in Politics Lessons from Winnie Mandela.

This webinar looked at the media coverage that unfolded during Winnie-Madikizela Mandela’s passing. With the focal point, being on Women in Politics the conversation centred itself in a feminist perspective to locate the issues within media coverage of women in political positions of leadership.

The webinar consisted of members of the Gender and Media Diversity Centre (GMDC) members, the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance members as well as other activists from across the region including Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Speaking during the webinar, Nonhle Skosana, a journalist and researcher in South Africa, stated that some of the gender issues that we come across in mainstream media reporting stem from the learning environment. The ‘Five W’s and H’ –Who, What, When, Where, Why and How is a journalistic principle taught through media studies where the questions are considered basic in newsgathering. Skosana argued that this can perpetually limit in-depth media coverage of issues.

She elaborated that this principle is what guides journalistic reporting but further stated that objectivity is biased when it comes to reporting on issues concerning women and young girls. She questioned what objectivity actually means when the content that is being produced is through a male and heterosexual gaze.

Looking at journalistic principles and their application one would then question what objectivity is when women’s voices are not equally represented or accessed. Is it objectivity when media demonises women in political structures? Is it objectivity when all that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was defined as boiled down to her relationship with Nelson Mandela? Or when women who do so much political work for their organisations receive zero recognition?

To echo these sentiments, Runyararo Mutizirwa from SAFAIDS in Zimbabwe, noted that women are organising. However it seems women are mostly the foot soldiers and men tend to take the seats.

Graca Maria, media intern at the GL Mozambique also noted, “it seems women are not viewed as the right sources of information as they are hardly given space to air their opinion. Media needs to open up space for the voices of women in politics.”

This is a particularly important to raise as gender equality and equality of all voices is implicit in the notion of a “pluralistic press” which is meant to reflect the “widest possible range of opinion within the community” as espoused in the Windhoek Declaration of 1991. The widest range of opinion, which usually also stems from people’s lived experiences, needs to be reflective of that and not the ‘popular’ opinion which is often heterosexual, patriarchal and misogynistic.

Nyiko Shikwambane further highlighted that women are the centre of the domesticated life and we ought to politicise that space as many of women’s lives centre around it. Mama Winnie was a feminist, a leader and strategist who was extremely loyal to the liberation movement – she continued advocating for the rights of black people in pre-apartheid times. All the work she was doing was preparing her ex-husband to come out of prison to a political arena that applauded his name, despite his disappearance for 27 years, and to be accepted as president of the new democratic dispensation. What Mama Winnie did was appropriate a space that “was not designed” for her as a black woman and she continue the struggle that her husband and other men had been forced to abandon. The question is, would Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela, been as influential had she not had all those contributing personal factors that made her who she was?

Certainly not, especially in the times of her political activism career. She would have been another ordinary black woman whose story and political contributions to the struggle go untold as she would not have been as important to mainstream in media to cover. Although the coverage of her life and times was often painted with negativity, she used her platform to advance the issues of many black people and women across the country.

It is important that media coverage of women in politics strays away from looking at issues through a patriarchal lens of reporting where women’s roles, voices and contributions are given a back seat. Instead, media should stay true to the values of equality in press freedom

Yolanda Dyantyi is the Young Women’s Alliance Intern at Gender Links. The article is part of the GL News and Blogs service.



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