Columnists Features

Is gender equality missing in the media?

PATSON PHIRI, Lusaka
DURING a roundtable organised by World Association of Newspapers at Hotel Intercontinental on January 16, 2017, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Kampamba Mulenga said it is not in dispute that women are noticeably absent from decision-making positions in media houses in southern Africa.
Apparently, studies show that only 31 percent of women, compared to 69 percent of their male counterparts, are professionally qualified for management positions.
She raised pertinent issues but cardinal among them was that advancing gender equality and equity is a collective effort that should be championed by both women and men to ensure sustainable socio-economic development.
“This disparity is unfortunate and unacceptable. This is why as Government we are happy that the World Association of Newspapers and other stakeholders have come up with the Women in News programme to equip high-potential female newspaper professionals in Zambia, Botswana and Namibia with skills.
This, she said, would boost confidence in women to progress to higher managerial positions.
Ms Mulenga said it was pleasing to note that the programme has had a significant impact in this regard, with the majority of participants reporting an overall increase in self-confidence, motivation to succeed and a renewed passion for their profession.
“I am informed that for Zambia, all the women who have taken part in this programme, so far, have risen in rank in their respective media establishments.
This underscores the importance of women in advancing the careers of female newspaper professionals and contributing to the growth of the media industry,” Ms Mulenga said.
President Edgar Lungu’s government, Ms Mulenga said, had placed high premium on gender parity, evidenced by the many land mark appointments and nominations of women in decision-making political positions.
“These include, among others, the Republican vice president, Ms Inonge Wina, the chief justice Ireen Mambilima, female cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries to mention but a few. Zambia has 10 female cabinet ministers out of 27.
“This is an indication that the opportunities are vast for women, as they are for men, to participate equally in the development of the country.
“One of the main challenges faced in advancing gender equality and equity between men and women is that men appear to take a back-seat which concern was raised at a recent UN conference.
“Often, there is a perception that only women ought to be the main supporters and advocates of gender empowerment,” said United Nations (UN) Secretary General António Guterres in his recent address to the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61).
“I am a man, but we need all men to stand up for women’s empowerment,” Mr Guterres said in his address to the session in New York.
The CSW61 is a functional Commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) whose mandate is to take a leading role in monitoring and reviewing progress and problems in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
“Our world needs more women leaders, and our world needs more men standing up for gender equality,” he added.
Mr Guterres said it is critical to break the cultural and patriarchal barriers that continue to look down upon women, as well as gender-blind legal and policy frameworks that constrain women from fully participating in socio-economic activities.
“We are all better off when we open doors of opportunity for women and girls in classrooms, boardrooms, in the military ranks and at peace talks, and in all aspects of productive life,” he said, adding that studies show that nearly one billion women will enter the global economy in the next decade, hence gender empowerment will unleash the potential of women and make the world a better place.
Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka concurred, saying it is sad to note that women are still marginalised.
She said more than half of all women workers around the world are informally employed, including care-givers whose other life opportunities can be limited while they perform the valuable unpaid work of care at home.
In other cases, she said, a number of women are clearly earning consistently less than men.
Ten 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.
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 percent, which is 34 percent below the target of 100 percent. The SADC Gender and Development Index (SGDI) for media stands at 66 percent 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.
The conscious or unconscious culture of depicting women as victims or second class victims who are dependent on handouts is the cause that must stop.
It must be settled that there are success stories of women out there who have succeeded in business, whether small scale or corporate, and those stories need to come out to inspire other women.

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