Media and Communications Significant for women in Post-2015 agenda
Author: Jane Godia
Published by: AWCFS
African women gathered at the Harvard Law School for Round Table Discussions on the Role of African Women on Post 2015 Development Agenda and The Beijing +20 review Process reiterated the importance of media and communications in telling their story and documenting their voices.
The meeting organized by Urgent Action Fund-Africa in collaboration with Ford Foundation, Human Rights Program (HRP), Open Society Initiative Southern Africa (OSISA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands had brought together 50 dynamic African women leaders. The meeting discussed a range of issues that included peace and security, women and politics, economic justice as well as media and strategic communications.
Speaker after speaker noted that women cannot work in isolation from the media. It was also noted that in order to demystify myths and misconceptions around feminism, it would be important for the women to rebrand and find a simple way of defining themselves to move their agenda forward.
Ndana Bofu-Tawamba, Executive Director Urgent Action Fund-Africa said: “Leadership is about learning how to shape our future collectively. We have been motivated to shape our future collectively. We have been motivated to strengthen our collaboration with social justice practitioners, artists, politicians, scholars, corporate executives, journalists and activists, some of whom are here at this gathering.”
She added: “We are here because we are motivated by the immense agency we are witnessing on the ground where women are transforming societies. We are here to augment that narrative and enhance political consciousness that women are leaders today, have been leaders yesterday and will lead boldly in pursuing peace, security, prosperity and justice for all nations.”
Bofu-Tawamba reiterates: “Let us never give away the right to control this narrative. We are here to claim our space and rights while telling our story, generating our knowledge as we committed to doing in the Beijing Platform for Action.”
Rosemary Okello-Orlale, Program Officer supporting public media sphere at Found Foundation Eastern Africa office recalls that the Beijing Platform for Action had acknowledged media as one of the 12 critical areas of concern.
“At the time the inclusion of a section on media and communications — commonly known as section J — seemed a historic breakthrough,” says Okello-Orlale who was one of the few journalists present in Beijing in 1995. She recalls: “In the early years of the women’s movement, media issues had been generally regarded as secondary importance to the cardinal problems of poverty, health and education of women.”
According to Okello-Orlale, the media were barely mentioned in the strategic documents of the first three UN conferences on women.
“And yet by 1995 satellite communication and deregulation had transformed media systems around the world. No longer regarded as a preoccupation merely of the urban-middle classes, the media were understood in Section J as playing a fundamental role in the perpetuation of unequal gender relations at all levels of society,” says Okello-Orlale.
According to Okello-Orlale, media and communications are women’s human rights, an entitlement to speak and be heard, and a need to have equal access to the means of communications and the production of media content.
However, even as Okello-Orlale spoke, women remain less than 25 percent of news subjects though they form over half of the world’s population.
According to Sylvia Blyden, owner of Awareness Times Newspaper in Sierra Leone, 90 percent of spokespersons are men, 83 percent of experts quoted in the media re men yet women form below 25 percent of news subjects.
Blyden notes: “More women need to be made subjects of positive media reports and media must work to protect women and girls.” She adds: “Communications must be used to protect women and girls in the media. Challenges can only be overcome if spaces in the media open up to women.”
As women, we must use every opportunity possible to talk about successful African women and what other women are doing through the media.
During the Fourth world women’s Conference in Beijing there was no Internet and neither were there mobile phones. However, today opportunities abound for women. According to Samantha McKenzie, owner of McKenzie Media Marketing, women now have good platforms of communications. “We got connected, we got mobile and we got social media,” says McKenzie.
She notes: Women must be able to write their own story to enable them change the narrative in the media.
“You must be clear on what our stories and messages are. You must say your story in a way that it does not deviate from the core of your message,” says McKenzie.
She notes: “It’s important to take things back and talk in a language that is simple and everybody can understand by making our stories what everybody else would like to read.”
According to Okello-Orlale, effective media and communications engagement is critical to shaping the Post 2015 Development Agenda.
However, the Post 2015 Development Agenda seems to have ignored media and communications, as it is not included in the Sustainable Development Goals that are going to drive development.
According to Colleen Lowe Mona, Executive Director at Gender Links and also a journalist who covered the Beijing meeting in 1995 the Post 2015 development agenda is rolling back on the gains that women had through Section J of the Beijing Platform for Action. “For reasons we cannot understand, media and ICTS are glaringly missing from Sustainable Development Goals 2015 to 2030. Gender and media is totally invisible in the SDGs.”
According to Mona media and ICTs, and their gender dimensions, must be reflected in proportion to their significance in the SDGs.
“We are demanding nothing less than a revolution to make sure that women and girls are equally heard and seen in the media, treated equally and with dignity and accorded the same ethical standards as anyone else,” says Mona. She notes: “Unless this happens, our dreams of a world in which women and men, boys and girls can realize their full potential, in both public and private lives, will remain just that, dreams.”