Business women can benefit from media coverage

Date: January 1, 1970
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When leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) meet this week in Johannesburg for their annual Summit, one of their expected announcements is a regional Free Trade Area. A large amount of media debate is sure to follow, pondering the pros and cons of increasing regional integration, what this means for competitiveness, and the impact on business and entrepreneurs.

As usual, it is likely that women, and a gender perspective, will be absent from all of this economic coverage. A quick glance at the business pages of any newspaper, and it is evident that the content is male-oriented, with conventional story angles. Though the scope of coverage is improving, traditional economic analysis misses many intriguing stories about women in business and the economy, and how rapidly changing gender roles are changing the world of work forever.
Business Unusual (BU), a book launching 13 August as part of Women’s Month celebrations in South Africa, challenges traditional notions of economic and business reporting. Looking at topics such as the hidden economies of care, the world of work and enterprise, development, globalisation and trade, budgeting and governance, this book offers unique perspectives on gender, the economy and business, and related media reporting.
With a foreword by Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and produced by Gender Links, a Southern African non-governmental organisation, the book follows a two-year series of regional media training workshops of the same name. The 217 participating journalists produced thought-provoking articles about business and the economy, a selection of which are found in the book.
Those interviewed, including heads of companies, informal traders, sex workers, entrepreneurs, and citizens, offered their opinions and experiences on everything from budgets to starting a business.
This fresh perspective is a refreshing change from traditional coverage. While women sources in Southern Africa increased from 17% to 19% between the regional Gender and Media Baseline Study in 2002 and the Global Media Monitoring Project conducted across 76 countries in 2005, this was still below the global average of 21%. Moreover, women remained almost invisible on topics such as economics and business, politics and sports.
Yet the numbers only tell half the story. Even when included, both the mainstream media and tabloid press often portray successful and powerful women in ways that demean their status, while men are portrayed a strong and powerful.
According to Susan Myzo Magagula, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Swazi Observer (and first female CEO in the Swaziland print industry), men feature in a more diverse range of roles often associated with power, money and prestige whilst women mostly feature in stories that emphasise their traditional roles, their physical attributes and their vulnerability.
Moreover, media often compares or appends women business people, politicians, and sports figures their male partners. Speaking at the Malawi BU workshop, Agrina Mussa pointed out that she is the owner of a stock and manufacturing company, a commercial cleaning company, and formerly a company to trace debt. Mussa has held positions as President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, chaired ESKOM and is the Vice Chair of the National Association of Businesswomen. “Better known as the wife of the Minister of Transport,” she added. Despite all of Mussa’s achievements, media constantly appends her to her husband in the media
Owning media businesses is also a challenging story. Pat Mwase publishes the Mining Mirror, a weekly mining newspaper for mining communities along the Copperbelt in Zambia, formerly published by international conglomerate Anglo American. Mwase says it has not been easy. Once printers and vendors knew they were dealing with a woman, they started giving her the round around.  She had to work extra hard to command respect from them. 
It is a similar story in Tanzania where women like Emelda Mwamanga and Maria Sarungi are breaking new ground. Talented and hardworking, they are shattering glass ceilings in the male-dominated media industry where they own and run innovative and creative enterprises.
Sarungi is the director for Compass Communications Ltd, a media production company, which produces three television programmes for a local television channel. Mwamanga is the owner and editor of Bang Magazine, an upbeat urban women’s magazine with a male and female readership, founded in 2003. 
Mwamanga and Sarungi have had to deal with prejudice from their male counterparts. But this has not stopped them from pursuing their careers. Both women agree that the industry is not women-friendly. “As a woman I have had to deal with men telling me that I cannot succeed in the industry, purely because I am a woman,” said Mwamanga.
The inclusion of women in the media and especially in business and economic reporting is an important part of covering these beats. Failing to notice how policies and economic trends affect both genders means media only gets half the story. 
For example, women tend to care for children, the elderly, infirm, and the sick, and perform a wide variety of unpaid “care work,” none of which is recognised or counted in national economic statistics. Moreover, national budgets that cut government expenditures from care services such as hospitals mean the burden of care shifts to women and girls.
The lack of recognition of women’s work leads to lack of public investment in the areas where women are concentrated, such as the informal sector employment, rural subsistence production, domestic “reproductive” work or the care economy and voluntary community work.
Rethinking economic and business reporting and recognising the important roles that both women and men play can open up many doors for economic empowerment, and also for unique media stories.
Deborah Walter is the editor at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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