Gender censorship a glaring reality

On 3 May we commemorate World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) under the theme Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media Roles in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

This year’s celebrations take place amidst concerns over harassment (online and offline), attacks and even killings of journalists for expressing their views.

Journalists’ safety especially women journalists is becoming a serious problem that is effectively silencing them leading to self-censorship and even some women leaving the profession. It is however saddening that in many instances these threats remain unreported and are not taken seriously.

Twenty-six years since the passing of the Windhoek Declaration (1991) promoting an independent and pluralistic press, the media is still struggling to achieve this goal.

Although free media is largely described as a mirror in which the public can see itself this reality is not fully reflected. Women are grossly underrepresented, misrepresented and often treated unfairly in the media. Despite years of activism, education and advocacy aiming at ensuring all voices are heard, equal opportunities are created and equal treatment is practiced the media still falls short.

Women’s sources in the news have increased by a mere three percentage points in Southern Africa since the ground-breaking  Gender and Media Baseline Study (GMBS) conducted in 2003 and by just one percentage point since the 2010 Gender and Media Progress Study GMPS. Women sources rose from 17% in 2003 to 19% in 2010 and now 20%.

According to the 2015 Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS) only four Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries score higher than the regional and global average. Seychelles maintained its position as one of the better performing countries at 28%, a six percentage point increase since the 2003 GMBS. Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe also recorded significant increases since the baseline study. However, the DRC and Mauritius regressed, moving from 15% to 6% and 17% to 10% respectively.

With women’s voices making up only one fifth of those whose views and voices are heard in the news media this is evidence that only a fraction of reality is reflected. Gender censorship is still a glaring reality in the absence of plural voices. Under representation of women’s voices is systematically silencing and side-lining women from being heard on issues that equally concern them.

The GMPS puts a huge spotlight on media practice, professionalism and ethics. The media’s failure to amplify women’s voices acts against the principle of just and inclusive societies.

Gender equality is inextricably linked with freedom of expression, participation and human rights it is thus essential that the media gives voice to all in society. The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (2002) pronounces access to information and freedom of expression as a fundamental and alienable human right. That makes women’s access to expression a fundamental right.

Gaps are also persistent in the low representation of women in the media sector especially in the decision-making levels. Women in most SADC countries consist 52% of the total population, but their representation at the decision-making position is still low. Women journalists are also subjected to unfair practices in their newsrooms where many times they are stereotypically assigned to certain types of stories or roles which paralyses their ability to break the glass ceiling in the media sector

Although the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets and indicators are not clear on gender, media and information, communication technologies (ICTs) it is imperative that the media takes the lead in creating an environment that is inclusive of all in societies to make their voices hear.

This WPFD GL is partnering with Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, Freedom of Expression Institute, Media Development and Diversity Agency, South African National Editors Forum in a robust, engaging and informative discussion on the current challenges facing media and its ability to effectively and independently represent citizens.

For more information on this press release contact GL Media Coordinator, Tarisai Nyamweda on [email protected]  or call 002711 029 0006 or 002711 028 2410

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