SADC: Gender censorship a glaring reality

Date: May 2, 2016
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Johannesburg, May 3 2016: Twenty five years after the Windhoek Declaration on Press Freedom, gender censorship is still a glaring reality with women’s voices making up only one- fifth of those whose views and voices are heard in the news media in Southern Africa according to the 2015 Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS).

An analysis of over 27,000 news items across 14 countries and over 200 news outlets shows that in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), women make up 20% of those whose voices are accessed in news content. This is lower than the global average of 24% recorded in the 2015 Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), same as the 2010 GMMP.  The full study will be released in full at a summit being organized in partnership with the Southern African Broadcasting Association (SABA) in August.

Women’s voices have increased by a paltry three percentage points since the landmark Southern African Gender and Media Baseline Study (GMBS) conducted 13 years ago and by just one percentage point since the 2010 GMPS. Women sources rose from 17% in 2003 to 19% in 2010 and now 20%.

“On World Press Freedom Day we are reminded that gender equality is intertwined with freedom of expression, participation and human rights. Nothing is more essential to this ideal than giving voice to all segments of the population,” says Colleen Lowe Morna, Chief Executive Officer of Gender Links, also chairperson of the Global Alliance on Media and Gender (GAMAG). “The results of the recent regional and global studies are one of the most telling indicators of the gender gaps that still exist in our society.”

This slow pace is despite extensive lobbying and advocacy by civil society and gender and media activists over the last decade. On a positive note, media houses in media houses participating in GL’s Centres of Excellence for Gender in the Media project performed visibly better than their counterparts (22% women sources, compared to 19% on non-COE media house). “The performance is far below what we hoped for,” noted Lowe-Morna, “but it is heartening that where there is commitment to change, it is beginning to happen.”

There are also variations across countries with four countries scoring higher than the regional and global average. Seychelles maintained its position as one of the better performing countries at 28%, a six percentage point increase since the 2003 GMBS. Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe also recorded significant increases since the baseline study. However, the DRC and Mauritius regressed, moving from 15% to 6% and 17% to 10% respectively.

Women are more likely to feature as news sources on television than radio and print. Women constitute 25% of television sources, 20% radio and 18% print. However women are more visible in newspaper images where they make up 28% of those featured in pictures. “Media continue to value women more for their physical looks than opinions,” said GL Media Manager Sikhonzile Ndlovu. “Younger women appear more than their elderly counterparts.”

A new feature of the study is that it features for the first time representations of LGBTI persons and the disabled. Both categories were found to be virtually missing or represented in sensational ways (read more on the LGBTI and the media study here)

Women’s relative invisibility as news sources is exacerbated by media’s reliance on single sources. In all likelihood, if there is a single source in the news, they are likely to be male. 61% of the news items monitored were single sourced. Likewise men are more likely to appear as experts and commentators than women are. Women make up 16% of experts and 18% spokespersons. However they appear more as eye witnesses at 30% representation.

Media continues to relegate women to traditional and private roles that do not recognise their role in public life. Women make up 100% of those who appear as sex workers, a significant jump from the 2010 GMPS figure of 62%. They also make up 68% of home makers and 55% of domestic workers. They rarely appear as sportspersons (7%), government officials (12%), police and military (17%) and business people at (18%).

Gender Links collaborated with journalism and media training institutions in the SADC region that form part of GL’s Centres of Excellence for Gender in Media Education (GIME) in conducting the 2015 study. The study is a follow up to the 2010 GMPS, a sequel to the 2003 Gender and Media Baseline Study. Covering 27045 news items, the study monitored news content in 14 SADC countries over a month.

GL is releasing the preliminary results of the regional study, that went further than the global study by undertaking monitoring for a full month (rather than one day), at a joint seminar with the Freedom of Expression Institute and the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism on World Press Freedom Day. The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (2002) pronounces access to information and freedom of expression as a fundamental and alienable human right. That makes women’s access to expression a fundamental right.

For more information contact:

Tarisai Nyamweda

Senior Media Programme Officer

Phone: 011 6222 877