Mushelenga ? destined to serve, New Era

Date: January 1, 1970
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A former teacher continues to advance the issues of equal education for all and gender equality from the halls of Parliament
A former teacher continues to advance the issues of equal education for all and gender equality from the halls of Parliament

This article may be used to:
  • Illustrate how to portray women in leadership fairly and in a non-stereotypical roles.
Trainer’s notes
In their 1997 ‘Declaration on Gender and Development’, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) set a 30 percent target for women in decision-making positions in member countries by 2005. The majority of the Southern African countries will not reach this goal, yet the media has yet to take up this story of governments’ accountability on its pages.
The lack of women’s participation in political decision-making:
Deprives women of important rights as well as responsibilities as citizens
  • It excludes their perspectives from policies and legislation

  • It prevents their input into national budgets and resource allocation

  • It deprives society of women’s skills, knowledge and perspectives.
(source: Local Action, Global Change Learning about the Human Rights of Women and Girls, published by UNIFEM and the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership)
Research shows that the voices of women in the political arena are under-represented and misrepresented (see Whose News? Whose Views? Pg 74-75). The media also applies different ethical standards when it reports on male and female politicians. Men are judged by their performance, while women are judged by their appearance and ability to juggle family and work – i.e. to be model mothers and politicians. Their private lives become part and parcel of the media story which never happens to male politicians.
To affirm women in politics or any positions within society, the media should seek to portray women in the following ways (both in text and in images):
 Show women as self reliant;

  •  Having high esteem;
  • Having a clear and intelligent view point;

  • In the nurturing role combined with other active roles;

  • In decision-making positions;

  • As assertive individuals;

  • Competent and knowledgeable

  • Sexual, where relevant, by the woman’s own choice, not as an object for another person’s desire.

(Source: Whose Perspective? A Guide to Gender-Sensitive Analysis of the Media, Women’s Media Watch, Jamaica, 1998)
 Analysis of case study, ‘Mushelenga – Destined to Serve’
The article portrays the Namibian woman leader as ‘dynamic’; ‘of ‘strong character’; and  having a ‘high level of confidence’. She has been a teacher, councilor, mayor and is now a member of Parliament for the ruling party.
In the article, Mushelenga tells her own story of how she became a leader, starting in what is considered a traditional profession for women. But this story shows how a woman is not confined to a traditional role and only uses it as a base, when given an equal chance, to move into leadership positions traditionally held by men – she was a mayor and is now an MP in a male-dominated Parliament.
 Through her own voice, Mushelenga also speaks out of the issue of women’s equality and the need for more women in governance, referring to the 50/50 representation.
The only mention of her private life in the article is the fact that her husband died while they were both in exile receiving military training. But there is no other mention of her private identity and the story focuses mainly on her public life and contribution to the various constituencies she has represented as a leader.
 The image accompany the article is of Mushelenga at her desk, emphasizing again, her public and professional role. She is not portrayed as a superwoman, but as a woman who has a clear vision and has worked through the ranks to achieve her positions.
 Although the story is told only through one voice – as profiles often are – the reporter through the gender neural language used and the approach to the profile, has written a fairly balanced article which seeks to give a non-stereotypical portrayal of a woman in politics.
Training exercises
 Exercise one: Read the case study and discuss the following:
 What message does the article convey about women in governance?
  1. Is the message conveyed in this article different from messages normally conveyed by articles in the media? Explain answer.

  2. What effect does an article like this have on public opinion?

  3. Is the story fair and balanced? Explain.

  4. Is the headline appropriate? Explain.

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