Financing media for gender equality

Date: January 1, 1970
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This 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is even more relevant this year to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) than ever. While gender violence continues to be unrelenting problem in the region, the August 2008 signing of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development arms gender activists with a powerful tool to lobby and hold governments accountable to extending 16 Days to year-long action to fight gender violence.

The Protocol sets out goals, outcomes and timelines for responding to gender violence, along with a wide range of other gender inequalities. This legally binding Protocol is an opportunity to leverage governments to achieve women’s empowerment goals.
However, it is often forgotten that financial backing is required to implement the needed education, campaigns, and capacity building – or any kind of intervention – to achieve gender equality as outlined by the Protocol. Thus, it is necessary to remember that there are cost implications of the Protocol and of advocacy in the field of women’s rights. Without this recognition, funders and governments will not make adjustments to their spending priorities, and the Protocol will remain an unrealised ideal.
Women’s media within the struggle for women’s human rights is a powerful and evocative means of making the hardship, brutality and struggle that women experience in their everyday lives a present and sensory (visual, audible, palpable) reality, available to those inside and outside of the struggle. Recognising that media is a powerful shaper of societal norms, the SADC protocol outlines specific commitments to working towards women-centred media.
This includes gender balance and gender mainstreaming within media organisations, a fair and sensitive representation of women in media content, as well as women’s right to access information. It also provides the opportunity for women to both structure and access information. By claiming media spaces, women may be able to advance a unique “feminine” perspective alongside the dominant, often “masculine” ones.
Funding, including funding to such media initiatives, is inextricably linked to achieving gender equality, and the goals set out by the SADC Protocol. Yet recent research conducted by the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) indicates that many women’s organisations are under-funded, experience greater difficulty in accessing funds than in the past, and may require up to double the funding they did in the past to do the same work. Research has suggested that donors may explain their gender blindness in the following terms:
  • efficiency: they will reach more people if they fund groups for both men and women;
  • democracy: organisations that work with women promotes exclusivity;
  • efficacy: work that targets women only is harmful to women; and/or
  • relevance: gender is an irrelevant category to their work as donors.
These explanations provide grounds for funders to ignore gender-based advocacy work. However, since gender continues to impact on education, sexuality, inter-personal relationships, careers, socio-economic status and a range of other indicators, it continues to be a category that requires intervention and finances to support these interventions.
Organisations that target women can provide more appropriate services to women because they provide a safe space, where women themselves can take control without feeling like the “other.” By making use of the above-mentioned explanations to justify a gender-blind stance to funding, donors are in danger of perpetuating and further entrenching social inequity based on gender.
The AWID research also shows that resources are centralised within specific regions. Organisations in Latin America, North Africa, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and the Middle East are less likely that than those in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Western Europe and North America to be in a position to improve their funding situation.
While Africa appears as an area more likely to receive funding, the SADC region shows progress only in terms of policy, with very little reflection of the gender focus in budget allocations for advocacy, education, or awareness initiatives. The SADC Protocol may represent a useful means to lobby for the continued emphasis on gender within funding modalities. To date, four models appear to have emerged in support of women’s media. They are:
  • an individual donor, including Genevieve Vaughan’s work funding the Feminist International Radio Endeavor (FIRE), and the Fund for A Compassionate Society (now dormant);
  • initiative of another individual donor that has evolved into a special fund with more contributors within a larger fund, such as the Women’s Media Fund and the Global Fund for Women;
  • a dynamic fund that recognises media as one of many tools to effect change, empowerment and work for human rights, for example Mama Cash;  and
  • state support, for example the Canadian Federal Film Agency’s (NFB) support for Studio D, as well as the Forum for Women and Development (FOKUS) in Norway, support for the International Association Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT).
These models provide examples of how financial support for women’s media organisations can effect change. In this way, women working in media may be given the opportunity to make women’s issues apparent to the public at large, as well as to structure and make information accessible to women who need this form of empowerment.
Such examples may provide a possible way forward for funders who wish to support the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, women’s issues and women-centred media. In so far as knowledge is power, the ability to find and use information effectively is central to women’s rights and empowerment. In taking hold of media technologies and shaping them to their needs, women may be able to make access to information more appropriate for other women.
Tiffany Tracey is a Researcher with the Gender and Media Diversity Centre. This article is part of a series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service as part of a Financing for Gender Equality Campaign. 

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