Women in Politics: Is the media neglecting its fundamental duty

 

Women’s equal participation in decision making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interests to be taken into account. Achieving the goal of equal participation of women and men in decision making will provide a balance that more accurately reflects the composition of society and is needed in order to strenghten democracy and promote its proper functioning’ Beijing Platform for Action.

Experience tells us that the characteristic strain between politicians and the media is both necessary and useful to sustain their respective functions. However, research shows that, when it comes to gender representations, different ethical standards are applied to women and men politicians. Men are most often judged by their performance and competence while women by their looks, ability to juggle work and family and in their roles as model mothers. Often women’s private lives find their way into the public sphere in a way that does not happen to male politicians. According to the Uganda Media Women’s Association, Gender Links and other gender watchers, female policitians’ fear for unfair treatment by the media ranks prominantely among the reasons that prevent them from joining politics or even being sources for news items relevant to them and their work.

This treatment relates to the symbolic annihilation of women generally, by the media, which happens through the silencing of their voices, absense in public discourses and repression in the private sphere.  A recent assessment I had my MA Journalism class do, was indicative of  just that – women are reduced to objects of beauty or victims of violence a theme over represented by women. As sources, they were scarcely  consulted even in stories that obviously required their say. This pattern was the same with pictures and cartoons. We also found similar patterns with headlines and captions and in media texts. This mis/under representition portrays an incomplete picture of the enormous and diverse roles and contribution women make in society.

Very few women are able to stand up to the media – a case in mind, is that of Uganda’s Princess Elisabeth of Toro Kingdom – who was also a lawyer, diplomat, a Minister, an actress and model. On rejecting the then President Idi Amin’s advances for marriage, she was unceremoniously dropped as Minister and accused of indecent behavious in a Parisan airport. The national and International media took up the story and run it without corroborating it. She later successfully sued Uganda, English, German and Italian newspapers for this malicious and wrong potrayal.

Unlike a few women like the Princess, many women in politics (let alone other spheres) do not know their rights, lack the financial muscle and legal knowledge to takle the ‘goliath’ of the media end.

Already marginalised and on an unlevel terrain (given the early socialization to subbodinate positions) they become double victims by the media. This has to stop.

The media ought to recognise that equal media treatment is essential to democracy. Repurcussions of women’s measley presence  and mis/under representation in democratic processes is detrimental to the overall betterment of a society. A development or democratic agenda without the voices and input of half its population is no democratic processes at all. Countries and the media especially in Africa need to be held accountable to their pledges (i.e. to CEDAW; Beijing Platform of Action; UNSCR1325) to increase women’s participation in decision making processes to the basic Critical Mass of 33% in all areas of governance.

 

 

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