Southern Africa: Is media part of the problem or solution in addressing GBV?

Date: December 8, 2016
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By Tarisai Nyamweda

Picture this: Getting a tutorial on national television on how to master the art of covering facial bruises after you have been physically assaulted. Unbelievable and appalling stuff, right? Well this horrific fantasy became a reality in Morocco, ironically on the eve of the start of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. The Morrocan state TV Chanel 2M  on November 23 on the programme Sabahyate  aired  an episode titled The camouflage traces of violence demonstrating  how women can use make up to cover evidence of domestic violence and ‘carry on with their daily life’.

Although the directors of the media house later apologised and considered this as an inappropriate and editorial error of judgement, the damage had already been done. One would think the media would take a lead in breaking the silence on gender based violence (GBV) rather than trivialise it as this programme did. This incidence leads us to the big question on gender based violence and the media, whether the media is part of the problem or the solution in fighting GBV?

Commenting on this incidence on social media prominent gender and social justice activist, Trevor Davies said, “To make domestic violence disappear for good, we need to invest in education targeting its perpetrators, and not just foundation for its victims…
That a TV programme could even commission a segment on how women can hide their bruises from everyday domestic violence shows the extent to which violence against women and girls has been normalised around the world.”

The media plays a vital role in raising awareness on GBV. It sets the agenda which gives it the power to dictate what people see, hear as well as shape their attitudes towards different aspects of life. However even in this era of an influx of multi-media tools to communicate, there is still a lack of awareness and dialogue on what comprises GBV, legislation frameworks in place for legal recourse, prevention mechanisms, where to go for help, care and  rehabilitation. The media’s core theme should then be about speaking out, education on GBV issues and leading dialogues on coming up with solutions and ideas for prevention and care.

In 2015, Gender Links monitored more than 27000 news items from television, radio and newspapers in 14 Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries to assess the representation and portrayal of women in the media in SADC. One of the key findings from the Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS) is that GBV and stories that mentioned GBV account for 1% of the topics covered, despite the high levels of GBV in SADC. This is a three percentage point drop from 4 % recorded in 2010. Could this mean GBV has fallen off the radar of the media and has become a tired old topic where there is nothing else to write about?

Although it is important to cover many stories on GBV, it is equally important for the media to move beyond the numbers and give more analytical and critical coverage. News coverage must be able to probe, give analysis of the causes and the differential impact of GBV.

The research also found that GBV is covered in insensitive ways, with questionable headlines that trivialise the experiences of women contribute to stereotypes and victim blaming. Women often suffer secondary victimisation from the media through the news reportage that emanates from some journalists.

On a positive note the GMPS also notes that women constitute a higher proportion (58%) of sources than men (42%) in coverage of GBV. However, most stories arise from court reporting lacking analysis of figures , hence misses the opportunities for indepth, broad and analytical reporting on the topic.

The media also often misses the opportunity to give GBV stories a human face by denying survivors the chance to speak about their experiences. Very few record the first-hand accounts of women. Although it may be difficult to interview survivors of GBV because of the sensitivity of the issue the way they are approached is also very important. According to the GMPS, spokespersons (23%) speak in most GBV stories. Survivors of violence make up only 13% of those speaking in GBV stories in SADC. This is a worrying trend because it means the voices of those most affected are stifled. Yet, stories of speaking out can actually give survivors of violence hope and information of where to get help as well as give agency and confidence to beat these traumatic experiences.

The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development (Protocol) encourages the media to desist from promoting violence against all persons especially women and children, depicting women as helpless victims of abuse and reinforcing gender oppression. It also encourages the media to play a constructive role in the eradication of GBV through gender sensitive coverage.

So if we are to meet the targets of the Protocol and the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 we need enlightened and effective media coverage to contribute to the eradication of GBV. The media must begin to move beyond court reporting, speaking mostly to spokespersons and be sensitive in reportage. Most importantly we need a media that educates and speaks firmly against GBV and not camouflage it.

Tarisai Nyamweda is the Media Coordinator at Gender Links. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Violence.

Author: Tarisai Nyamweda

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