Women aspirants bash MEC, Daily Times

Date: January 1, 1970
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The article is about aspiring women candidates in the May 2004 elections in Zambia complaining about the cases of violence they had lodged with the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) not being attended to. The article paints a graphic picture of the obstacles that women politicians are up against, especially in the constituency-based electoral system. Unfortunately, use of the term ?bash? and use of all male photographs detract from an otherwise gender aware story.

This article may be used to:
  • Demonstrate how gender can be mainstreamed in to election coverage.
  • The need for both content and sub-editing to be gender aware.
Training exercises
1)      In groups or pairs discuss: What is the proportion of women in politics in your country? What keeps women out of politics? How can these obstacles be overcome?
2)      With reference to the case study:
  •  What sorts of complaints did the women aspirants raise?
  •  How did the MEC respond?
  •  Is the headline and are the images used appropriate? What other headline/kinds of image could have been used?
  •  Would you regard the content of this article as gender aware? Why?  

Trainer’s notes

General: This is one of several articles produced by the Malawi media in the run-up to the 2004 general elections that helped to raise awareness on the difficulties faced by women candidates in a conservative country with a constituency based system that at the time had a mere seven percent women in parliament. The media campaign is largely credited with helping to increase the representation of women to 17 percent in the 2004 elections.
Exercise one: Political violence is a major deterrent to women’s political involvement in many countries, especially in constituency-based systems that tend to focus on the individual and are highly competitive.
Exercise two:  
  • The cases described are convincing but appear to have elicited a lukewarm response from the MEC. This is worrying. While the reporter presents both sides it would have been useful to probe further as to whether complaints had been submitted in writing, and if not what could be done to assist women aspirants to lodge their cases so that they can be investigated. 
  • The use of the term “bash” in the headline is unfortunate. Bash suggests some unreasoned response that perpetuates the stereotypes that women in politics are irrational. On the contrary, the women in the story present well reasoned cases which they say have not been responded to. One of the constraints with headlines is that they have to fit the space and this may lead to (misleading) short hand. But a word like “slam” would have been more accurate and less judgmental. The use of images is also problematic. The story is about women aspirants complaining, but the images are of the male Chief Electoral Officer and male head of the NGO running the workshop at which the complaints were made. This is often due to the fact that newspapers use file images (and these two officials are likely to have been on file). More appropriate images would have been those of the women lodging the complaints, or better still of the violence they referred to. This points to the need for a) sending photographers out on assignments with reporters, or training reporters to take their own photographs and b) the importance of keeping gender sensitive image libraries.
  •  The content of the article is a good example of bringing gender considerations into coverage of a mainstream issue like elections. It is important not only to reflect how women candidates perform in elections but what they are up against on the ground.

Other training resources

1)      “Ringing up the Changes: Gender in Southern African Politics” , Chapter two on access to power, addresses the several factors that are keeping women out of politics, including political violence.

2)      Fact sheet three: what is keeping women out (LINK) in the GL website Gender, elections and the media resource centre summarises these constraints.

3)      “Picture our lives: Gender and images in Southern Africa”, Chapter ten on “Decisions at the Desk” covers the pressures as well as the gender assumptions and biases that often lead to inappropriate images being used in stories about women in non-traditional roles.   


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