Southern Africa: Gender equality still a far cry in the media

Southern Africa: Gender equality still a far cry in the media

Date: August 18, 2015
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Johannesburg, 18 August: “Look like a girl. Act like a lady. Think like a man. Work like a boss.” This advert on the facebook page of stationary giant Bic took South Africa by storm during women’s month, sparking an outcry across the nation. One woman responded by scratching out the words and replacing them with: “work like your magnificent goddamn self!”

In a hasty retreat, Bic removed the advert stating: “We would like to apologise to our fans for the Women’s Day Post. We can assure you that we meant it in the most empowering way possible and in no way derogatory towards women.” That the company could even think that this would not be offensive raises many questions about prevailing attitudes in our society, daily reinforced through the media, new media and advertising.

Seven years after the landmark signing of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, the media sector is far from reaching the targets set out in this regional instrument for ensuring gender parity by 2015.

The SADC Gender Protocol is one of the most comprehensive instruments on the media covering media policy, regulation, training and content. The Protocol encourages media and media related bodies to mainstream gender in their codes of conduct, policies and procedures, and adopt and implement gender- aware ethical principles, codes of practice and policies in accordance with the Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport.

The sector is encouraged to promote the equal representation of women in decision- making as well as ownership in the media. Media houses are encouraged to increase programming on gender-specific topics and to desist from producing or using content that perpetuates gender stereotypes. Media is also urged to play a constructive role in the coverage of GBV.

Every year, the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance tracks progress across different sectors following the adoption of the Protocol by SADC member states through the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer. Media is one such sector that the Alliance has closely observed in the last seven years.

In 2015, SADC citizens scored the media’s commitment to gender equality at 66%, which is 34% below the target of 100%. The SADC Gender and Development Index (SGDI) for media stands at 66% which is also below target. The SADC Gender and Development Index (SGDI) is a composite score that incorporates the proportion of women within the media as employees; on boards of directors and in management. It also includes the proportion of women lecturers and students in media training institutions as well as the proportion of women news sources in media content. The citizens’ scorecard (CSC) is based on citizens’ view of media performance.

The low scores for media are largely due to lack of progress in accessing women’s voices in the media, under-representation of women in decision-making in media institutions, as well as failure by media training institutions to mainstream gender in journalism and media training.

Southern Africa arguably has the richest set of data on gender and the media of any region in the world. Key studies include the Gender and Media Baseline study (GMBS) – 2003; Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS) – 2010, Glass Ceilings in Newsrooms (2009) and the Gender in Media Education (GIME) study 2010.

Overall, women constitute 21% of those speaking in media news content, a marginal increase of four percentage points from the 2003 Gender and Media Baseline (GMBS)’s 17% women sources. It is incredible that women’s voices have remained invisible in media discourse considering the inroads that women have made into previously male dominated sectors. However countries like Madagascar and Mozambique have moved significantly with women constituting 46% of news sources.

However there are glaring gaps in institutional composition in media houses with women still making up less than a third of those in media management in SADC.

On a positive note, over 100 media houses have opted to be part of the Centres of Excellence (COEs) for gender in the media being coordinated by Gender Links. These media houses take deliberate steps to increase women in all areas of media practise and at all levels. They monitor content to ensure fair representation and portrayal of women and men in all their diversity. Journalists share examples of gender aware articles and programmes at the annual SADC Protocol@Work summits – 495 to date.

The review of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development and the Millennium Development Goals (SDGs) present an opportunity to strengthen gender and media provisions.

While the SADC Gender Protocol has more provisions on gender and the media than the SDGs, the regional instrument has only one time-bound media target, “take measures to promote the equal representation of women in the ownership and decision-making structures of the media, in accordance with Article 12.1 that urges equal representation of women in decision-making by 2015.” This target is limited to the institutional composition of the media and media-related bodies.

Although the Protocol covers women’s equal voice in the media, and sensitive coverage of gender issues, these, as well as policies and training, do not constitute specific targets in the Protocol.

Other glaring omissions include advertising, new media and radio talk shows. It is also vital that the Post-2015 Protocol highlights and addresses gender gaps in access to information and the digital divide. Women can only claim their real space when they can look, act, think and work like themselves – but be regarded as any man would!

(Sikhonzile Ndlovu is the Media and Communications Manager at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service.)


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