Female school drop-outs go back to school

Date: February 22, 2011
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Forced marriages and early pregnancies continue to impinge on access to education of the girl child in Malawi and in the region. The SADC Gender Protocol 2010 Barometer shows that there is wide gap in proportion of males and females in the educational sector, especially in secondary and tertiary levels. More girls continue to drop-out of school due to early marriage and rising HIV and AIDS prevalence, among other reasons. Nevertheless, local civil society organisations, media and government are trying to close the gap through raising awareness on the importance of education and lobbying governments to put in place policies that promote access to education by girls and boys. This case study provides an analysis of a story, run by Zodiak Malawi, on an initiative in that country aimed at encouraging female school drop-outs to go back to school.

The headline is progressive and reflects the essence of the story. It acknowledges the multiple roles that women play in society and at the same time highlights going to school as a possibility for women who dropped out of school. The headline further brings out an encouraging story that education (school) has no age limit and sees no marital status. As the headline states, the subject of the story is a mother, wife and at the same time a student.

The story is about a woman, Tryness Milner, who went back to school nine years after she dropped-out. The reporter dwells on Milner more than the authorities, who also form part of the story. This gives room for the source to narrate her story, making it more credible.

In total, four sources are used in the story: three female and one male. This makes the story gender aware as it gives prominence to women who do not often speak in the media. The article is encouraging female school drop-outs to go back to school and quoting more female sources that support the initiative as a positive move. The 2010 Malawi Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS) found that female sources constitute 20% of news sources in media in that country. This news story demonstrates the efforts to increase the representation of women’s voices in the media.

The language used in the article is neutral and makes the story gender aware. Notable terms used include: “women leader” instead of chairman or chairlady and “spokesperson” instead of spokesman.

However, in an attempt to produce a gender-sensitive story, the journalist is also caught up in societal stereotypes. The language also used in some instances is sexist and judgemental. To begin with the reporter writes, “She acknowledged that during that time [when she fell pregnant], she was fond of flirting with boys.” This sentence is subject to be misinterpreted by the reader or listener. It is judgemental in that it suggests that women who fall pregnant at an early age and drop out of school are to be blamed or “they ask for it”. However, the woman in the story got married to a man who was 21 years older than her. It can be argued that her dropping-out of school could be more than her being “fond of flirting with boys” but rather part of a problem in Malawi that sees parents forcing their children to marry older men in order to bring money into the family. The person in this story could be a victim of this phenomenon.

Secondly, in his quest to distinguish the subject of the story from the rest of the pupils at school, the reporter uses sexist language. He highlights in the article that, “she looks like a mother – her movement and yes her breasts.” This could have been avoided. Further, the reporter uses gender-insensitive language when he refers to one source as “Miss Lindiwe Chide.” Such language is not progressive.

Visual images
The pictures used are fair and good. The first picture shows young boys and girls going to school. The second picture shows a classroom setting. A photo of some of the women who have gone back to school would have made the story more credible and encouraging.

Story angle and perspective
The story focuses on young women, encourages them to go back to school and highlights some of the benefits of getting an education. Milner is quoted at length and this gives the story a human face. The overall impression given by female and male sources is that women have a chance to go back to school regardless of their marital status or age.

Placement or positioning
The story was given prominence on the day of broadcast. This was a feature story and the station regards such stories as “Special Reports” which, on this radio station, are given more time than other stories during Friday news bulletins.

Training exercises

– Discuss the importance of broadcasting a story like Milner’s on a radio station.
– What are some of the benefits of providing education to women?
– List some of the characteristics of a gender aware article.
– Discuss how a gender aware story can still fall into the trap of using sexist or stereotypical language.

Other GL Training resources

Gender and Media Progress Study (2010) Malawi, Gender Links

SADC Gender Protocol 2010 Barometre: https://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/sadc-gender-protocol-2010-barometer-2010-08-10


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