Columnists Features

Positioning women to drive development processes

With limited space for expressing their issues, it is difficult for women to effectively participate in development processes in the way they should.
A result of this is that most content still portrays women as subjects of scandals, and not as newsmakers.
This is just but a symptom of the many deep-rooted stereotypes that society uses to prejudice women.
There are a number of factors that limit women’s access to media platforms. These include low education levels among women, which make it difficult for them to appreciate, explore and exploit available platforms, and gender inequalities in the mediaamong others.
It is critical that media bodies make deliberate efforts to create opportunities for women to feature in the media.
One of the ways of creating this difference is by increasing the number of women in the media as women find it more comfortable to interact with female media workers as compared to males.
Research conducted by regional communication for development organisation Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) shows that in most cases, gender imbalances in the newsrooms where men dominate at all levels result in media houses churning out unbalanced content.
This results in a lack of the much-needed diversity of voices and opinions, thereby compromising the media’s efficiency in fulfilling the democratic responsibility of informing, educating and entertaining, as well as providing checks and balances on duty bearers.
The PSAf research shows that in most cases, the limited diversity of voices results in women being shut out of certain platforms such as political and business leadership.
The media should not just talk about gender equality, but should also lead by example.
The recent commemoration of International Women’s Day also brought to the fore the need to look at how gender equality in the media can help achieve a fair representation of men and women in positions of influence in all sectors of development.
In order to make this happen, a critical reflection on factors that deter women from getting jobs or retaining jobs in the media sector should be analysed.
For example, the patriarchal nature of our society makes it difficult for most women to work late hours. There have been cases where some women have had to resign from their positions because their husbands were not too comfortable with them working late, and interacting with different men in the course of their duty.
This, to some extent, compels women to focus on softer beats, such as supplements, that are usually completed earlier in newspaper schedules.
While there is already goodwill and commitment from some media houses to increase the representation of women in their structures, and subsequently in their content, whereby a number of women have risen through the ranks to hold different positions of responsibility in the media, there is need to address barriers to women’s participation in media work.
The environment in most newsrooms is also not friendly as it is male-dominated. At times female journalists and other media workers are subjected to sexual harassment by sources and also by their superiors.
It is therefore important for media houses to put in place measures for the effective protection of women journalists against these vices.
Unless the root cause of the problem is identified and addressed, a lot of the current efforts to address gender disparities may not yield the intended results. More can, and should, be done.
The author is PSAf regional manager for communication and knowledge management.

Send Your Letters

Facebook Feed