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16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Financing media for gender equality

Tiffany Tracey

2008-11-28, Issue 408

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This 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is even more relevant this year to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) than ever. While gender violence continues to be an unrelenting problem in the region, the August 2008 signing of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development arms gender activists with a powerful tool to lobby and hold governments accountable to extending 16 Days to year-long action to fight gender violence.

This 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is even more relevant this year to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) than ever. While gender violence continues to be an unrelenting problem in the region, the August 2008 signing of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development arms gender activists with a powerful tool to lobby and hold governments accountable to extending 16 Days to year-long action to fight gender violence.

However, it is often forgotten that the needed education, campaigns, and capacity building – or any kind of intervention - to achieve gender equality as outlined by the Protocol require financial backing. Recognising the key links between financing and real action, a diverse group of participants from all across Southern Africa, as well as North America, met in cyber space to discuss financing women’s media work.

Women’s media within the struggle for women’s human rights is a powerful and evocative means of bringing out in the open the hardship, brutality and struggle that women experience in their everyday lives. Recognising that media is a powerful shaper of societal norms, the SADC protocol outlines specific commitments to working towards women-centred media. This includes gender balance and gender mainstreaming within media organisations, a fair and sensitive representation of women in media content, as well as women’s right to access information.

The Cyber Dialogue was an initiative of the Gender and Media Southern Africa Network (GEMSA), the Gender and Media Diversity Centre, Gender Links and UNIFEM, designed to use new technologies as a way to bring together activists across borders. Many chat-participants expressed the view that media needs to be owned by women in order to be called “women’s media.”

Ownership of media is important because owners are able to define the kind of media produced. Colleen Lowe Morna, Executive Director of Gender Links, noted that, “research shows us that where women own control and manage media women's voices and issues are more likely to be heard.”

The ownership of media by women would also promote a gender fair environment, in which women can access the same opportunities that their male counterparts can. Lowe Morna observed that, “whether or not women promote women's causes, they have a right to share equally in the production and dissemination of information.”

Zambian journalist Perpetual Sichikwenkwe also drew attention to the significance of women-centred content. “Women's media can either be a media controlled by women, that which has women in decision-making positions or it is pursuing a women's agenda.”

An online participant identifying herself as Aima, echoed the focus on content, suggesting that “women's media should be one that reports on women in a way that is positive, progressive and does not reinforce stereotypes.”

Given the competing demands on government and international funding, media is a programme area that can be pushed aside, despite the key role that information and media playing in both informing populations and creating the political, economic, and social environments we live in.

Funding is needed to implement the kind of media described by the participants. Lowe Morna notes that “men did not get where they are in the media on their own steam. They have been bank rolled there. Women need the same leg up.”

The lively debate by cyber participants pointed to diverse possibilities for change. They suggested that national governments’ commitment to all citizens, regardless of gender, should include media that is responsive to both men and women. A starting place is their own state-run media institutions, where they have the opportunity to make marginalised voices, especially those of women, heard.

Cyber chatters also stated that governments and international bodies often forget policies and commitments almost as soon as they are signed. However, obligations such as the Millennium Development Goals and the SADC Protocol can be valuable tools to lobby governments to fund gender equality.

There is a need to lobby funders, especially within the SADC region, to include gender fairness as a funding criterion. Funds such as the Southern African Media Development Fund could pave the way for gender fair media, if they were to highlight women’s media in their funding strategies.

Some chatters pointed out that perhaps one reason that women’s media has been largely ignored is the lack of clear research and data available to justify its importance. Perhaps research is needed to better understand women audiences. If different preferences can be demonstrated in this population, more funding might become available.

As Saeanna Chingamuka suggested, “women’s media can never fight for gender equality because it does not exist. We should be discussing how to establish it.” If we believe that media has an important role to play in society, this points to an urgent need to prioritise women’s media development.

Such examples may provide possible ways forward for supporting the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, women’s issues and women-centred media. In so far as knowledge is power, the ability to find and use information effectively is central to women's rights and empowerment.

Along with providing food for thought on funding women’s media, another clear signal from the debate is the far-reaching possibilities that access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) offers for women, and the gender debate. Across Africa women and girls have significantly less access to ICTS. Funding for ICT and media training for women and girls would truly put the power of the information age in their hands.

* Tiffany Tracey is a Researcher with the Gender and Media Diversity Centre. This article is part of a series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service as part of a Financing for Gender Equality Campaign.

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