Southern Africa: Gender and media activists call for strong global alliance

Date: November 4, 2013
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Johannesburg, 4 November: Southern African media trainers, activists and NGOs have called for a strong global Gender and Media Alliance (GAMA) to emerge from the forum being convened by UNESCO in Bangkok 2-4 December.

In a statement at the close of the advisory group meeting of the Gender and Media Diversity Centre (GMDC) the 28 representatives of media training institutions, gender and media networks and NGOs said such a global movement is “long overdue.”

“Gender and media is at the bottom of the list in the Beijing Platform for Action when perhaps it should be at the top,” the group said. “Gender equality will not be achieved unless there is a fundamental shift in attitudes and mindsets. This is not possible without the active collaboration and participation by the media.”

The fourth Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) in 2010 found that across the world women comprise a mere 25% of news sources in the media. The Southern African Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS) put this figure at 19%, up just two percentage points from a baseline study conducted in 2003. The GMPS shows that women are represented in a narrow range of roles – as victims or objects – rather than active citizens in mainstream social, political and economic activities.

Related studies have shown that women comprise a tiny proportion of media owners and less than a quarter of editors and managers despite the fact that there are more young women students than men in media training institutions. Audience studies show that the media fails to take account of the media consumptions patterns and interests of women, even though they comprise half the population.

The Global Forum on Media and Gender to be convened by UNESCO, with the support of global media giants like CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera aims to increase the participation and access of women to the media and ICT’s, and promote “a balanced, non-stereotypical portrayal of women.” The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development goes further, demanding women’s equal representation “in and through the media” by 2015, including in media policies and training. The Bangkok conference borrows from this slogan, coined in Southern Africa during the four gender and media summits that have taken place in the region over the last decade.

As the region that has done the most research on gender and the media and has 108 media houses (about a third of the total) that have elected to become Centres of Excellence on Gender and the Media, SADC “knows a lot, but have we done enough?” according to gender and media expert Pat Made. While media houses have adopted policies, “media culture remains masculine.” The region has yet to create a “social movement” of critical citizens “demanding media accountability,” she told a GMDC seminar titled “Southern Africa makes its voice count”.

Comfort Mabuza, a media freedom expert from Swaziland asked how citizens can critique those who lead if they are not informed: “Do poor rural women have the skills, the media literacy, materials in their languages, to be able to say ‘I have the power to challenge the status quo?”

Jan Moolman of the Association of Progressive Communications urged the GMDC and GAMA to demand a space for the south and for women in Global Internet Governance. She said “the challenge is not that women do not have a voice, but that they are not heard.” She cautioned that gender is not just about women: “the representation of black men in the western media, as violent and corrupt, also needs to be problematised.”

Francis Chikunkhuzeni, a media trainer from the Polytechnic of Malawi, said that the key characteristics of an Alliance are that it should have a common vision, comprise of autonomous organisations and “not be overtaken by vested interests. It structure should not be hierarchical but be a network.” The meeting recommended that the Bangkok meeting set up an interim structure that would study how CIVICUS, Greenpeace and other successful international networks have organised to achieve maximum impact.

Other recommendations made by the GMDC advisory group meeting and debate on the global forum are that:

– UNWOMEN make gender and the media one of its priority areas in the coming period. A special letter to this effect is being written to the new head of UNWOMEN and former Deputy President of South Africa Phumzile Mlambo-Nguka.
– Gender be mainstreamed in the UNESCO criteria for Centres of Excellence in the media.
– The UN agree a set of standards and criteria for certifying institutions as Centres of Excellence for Gender that can be used in strengthening this work on the ground.
– Global monitoring projects not be left to volunteers but receive the necessary resources and backing by the mainstream media and funders to be conducted routinely and used for follow up monitoring and evaluation.
– Gender and media literacy become a compulsory subject in schools.
– Media and consumer activism be revived to send out the strong message that citizens are “watching the watchdogs.”

For further information visit UNESCO’s Global Forum on Media and Gender website, or contact Sikhonzile Ndlovu, Gender Links Media Programme Manager on +27 (0) 11 622 2877.



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