Summit raises tough questions

A young woman in South Africa writes: “I did not choose to be black or to be a lesbian.” Yet in a country with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, and the only one that specifically outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation, these two facts define a daily life full of fear and loathing.

In a region where gender violence keeps escalating, a reporter goes out to find if there is such a thing as male rape. She finds that it exists, but because of the way they are socialised men don’t want to talk about it.

The economy is on everyone’s mind, but half the population ‘ women ‘ are still barred from being active participants through lack of access to credit, ubiquitous glass ceilings and laws that prohibit rather than encourage the informal sector.

These and many other stories form part of the 187 submissions from 13 countries to the second Southern African Gender and Media Awards, the winners of whom were to be announced in Johannesburg on Thursday. Award-winning Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembwa, best known for her novel “Nervous Condition”, was expected to give the keynote address.

The awards are the centrepiece of the second Gender and Media Summit organised by Gender Links, the Media Institute of Southern Africa and the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) Network.

Bringing together close to 200 participants from the region, delegations from East Africa and from as far afield as India, the theme of this year’s gathering was “Media Diversity and Sustainability: Good for Democracy, Good for Business”.

The summit was a follow-up to the September 2004 gathering that brought together 184 media managers, practitioners, non-governmental organisations and activists to debate research findings that show that women comprise about one-fifth of news sources, less than 5 percent of media owners and managers, and that they are represented in a narrow range of roles in the media, most often as victims or as sex objects. The first summit led to the launch of GEMSA that now has 381 members in 12 countries and will be holding its first general meeting ahead of second summit.

Several new pieces of research were to form the basis for discussion in six parallel sessions each day on topics such as media markets and audiences; media ownership and management; enabling environments; newsroom policies on HIV/AIDS and gender; gender and images; IT for advocacy; media literacy; gender and images as well as media practice.

In February 2005, countries around the region participated in the Global Media Monitoring Project that showed that across the globe, there has been an increase in women as news sources from 18 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2005. The comparative figures for Southern Africa are an increase from 17 percent to 19 percent. However, there are considerable variations between countries. In South Africa, for example, there has been an increase from 19 percent to 26 percent, putting the country in the global top 10, but still only halfway to reflecting women’s proportion in society (52 percent of the population).

Research by the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) released on Women’s Day (9 August) that revealed glaring gender gaps and sexist attitudes in newsrooms described as “shocking” by SANEF chairperson Ferial Haffajee, will be at the centre of a session on newsroom culture and management.

The HIV and AIDS and Gender Baseline Study showing that HIV comprises only 3 percent of media coverage and that People Living with HIV are less than 4 percent of the sources of news on this subject was at the centre of a multi-sector Media Action Plan being led by the Southern African Editors’ Forum. Partners were set to report on an ambitious project that is rolling out HIV/AIDS and gender policies across newsrooms in the region.

With a strong emphasis not just on editorial content but also on media markets and audiences, the summit was set to begin with a keynote address by Ammu Joseph, a well-known Indian author and founder of the Network of Media Women in India, speaking about gender, globalisation and the media.

The 13-country Gender and Media Audience Study on how women and men respond to the news, underscores the fact that both women and men would like to see women in more roles (especially as professionals and leaders) and men in other roles (like parents and care givers). In general, they would like more local news, less war and violence, more information on HIV and AIDS, and more positive stories.

The national and regional study has been adapted and run by media houses in Mauritius, Malawi and Namibia with questions specific to their work. Senior marketing executives from these newspapers and readers who won lucky draws as part of the “talk back” research will speak about what they learned.

Radio talk shows ‘ one of the most vibrant media forms in the region ‘ were to come under scrutiny in the “Who Talks on Talk Shows” research that shows that women still constitute less than a quarter of hosts, callers and guests in programmes that spark some of the most lively debates on topical issues.

Also expected were the results of the first gender and media literacy pilot project run by Gender Links with Jo’burgers ranging from a geologist to a home maker in a 30-hour course that spanned 10 weeks and included writing letters, calling into talk shows and filing complaints with regulatory authorities.

One participant in the course, Telele Grace Mathinjwa, summed up a central theme of the course and of the summit: “You just don’t read (media) and take it as it is. You become very critical, you ask questions like why are women not being taken seriously, why are we seeing their bodies more than their intelligence.”

l Colleen Lowe Morna is executive director of Gender Links and Chair of the Gender and Media Southern Africa Network.

September 2006
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