Alternative Assessment of Women and Media based on NGO Reviews of Section J, Beijing Platform for Action

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This report is also available in French and Spanish

coordinated by Isis International-Manila on behalf of WomenAction 2000
Compilation: Meena M. Shivdas

Table of Contents

Outcome of the Review
Best Practices
Media Policies
Emerging Issues
Concluding Statement

Regional Reports and Editorial Support: Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, Susanna George and Luz Maria Martinez of Isis International-Manila; Karen Banks, Dafne Sabanes Plou and Jill Small of the Association for Progressive Communications- Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC-WNSP); and Sally Burch of Agencia Latinoamericana de Informacion and APC-WNSP.

Translations: Dafne Sabanes Plou of APC-WNSP, Maryvon Delanoë of ______

Layout: Irene R. Chia of Isis International-Manila

Looking Back

The Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) adopted by UN member states in 1995, outlines the issues around women and media under Section J and points to key strategies and actions that address the media concerns of women. While the BPFA recognises the advances made in communications technology, it is important to emphasise the continued stereotyped media portrayal with a significant increase in media images that perpetuate violence against women, and also women’s lack of access to expression and decision-making in and through the media. The recommendations to governments, NGOs and media organisations are made under two specific strategic objectives: 1) increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision making in and through the media and new technologies of communication; 2) promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

The BPFA calls for action to be taken in the areas of media policy on gender issues, women’s portrayal by media and the relatively low-ranked positions of women in media organisations. The BPFA underscores the importance of a gender perspective in media policies and programmes. It also emphasises advocating for change within mainstream media that is based on sustained monitoring of media content and intent toward gender sensitivity.

What has been the progress in implementation five years hence? This alternative assessment report brings together the collective analysis and efforts by women activists, media practitioners, academics and researchers to monitor and review government efforts to implement the recommendations from Section J of the BPFA. It also addresses the emerging issues and concerns that have been identified after the BPFA was adopted, and identifies strategies for change.

About this report

This report covers discussions on such emerging issues of concern as globalisation of the media and its implications on women’s lives, and the challenges and obstacles presented by information and communication technologies (ICTs). The report calls attention to the rapidly changing media scenarios, and outlines strategies to increase women’s access to expression and decision making in and through the media and new communications technologies, and bring in a more diverse and realistic portrayal of women’s images. The report is presented in the format suggested by UN DAW and UN CSW to UN member states in reporting progress made in implementing the BPFA.

The report is based mainly on three regional NGO reports on women and media that were specifically meant for the alternative assessment document. These are reports for Asia compiled by Isis International—Manila, Latin America and Caribbean compiled by (ALAI) Agencia Latinoamericana de Informacion--Quito, and by the Association for Progressive Communications—Latin America, and the UN European Union compiled by (APC) Association for Progressive Communications--London. The report also includes information from the alternative report on 12 critical areas of concern for West Asia--compiled by the network of women’s NGOs from the Arab world, and information on Section J and the situation with ICTs from the African Information Society Gender Working Group (AISGWG). Information has also been drawn from UN regional reports (ESCAP; ECSWA; ECA; ECLAC, ECE), relevant UN Websites (WomenWatch; UN CSW; UN DAW), NGO analyses and reports on women and media, and online discussions that reviewed the implementation of recommendations from Section J of the BPFA.

While every effort has been made to bring in the diversity of global media situations and the range of women’s experiences with the media post-Beijing in the different regions, this report acknowledges the limitations of presenting a ‘global’ alternative document. First, the tendency to generalise situations and positions is recognised and care has been taken to illustrate statements and points with examples from specific regions or countries. Second, the report may not cover all of the measures undertaken by women’s groups, researchers, academics, media activists, media practitioners, and others who are in the forefront of monitoring implementation of Section J and striving for change at the levels of policy formulation and practice and ‘on the ground’ realities. This is especially true for Africa and West Asia and much of Eastern Europe for which we were not able to get NGO reviews of Section J. In the case of Africa, as AISWSG rightly pointed out, in addition to logistical, time and information constraints, it has been noted that there is a limit to the value of producing a regional report for the sole purpose of compiling a ‘global’ document at this time. This is because there has been no uniform global review process of the implementation of Section J by NGOs using agreed upon indicators to measure progress and/or regress in the different regions. There has been no systematic construction of analyses for monitoring based on agreed variables and markers. Further, the group felt that any review or monitoring effort has to be seen within the framework of a sustained process for change. In West Asia, although there were intense efforts to contact groups to review Section J, time and other constraints prevented the inclusion of the results of such efforts.

We are also aware that some of the regional reports and information are mainly on ICTs. While this is a reflection of the growing use of ICTs by women, it also indicates the work of the groups who compiled the reports. These groups use ICTs for their media implementation and advocacy efforts. However, this factor does not in any way negate the efforts of women who work with other media forms including print, radio, television, films and traditional and indigenous modes of communication such as oral histories, story-telling and dance. We acknowledge all of the efforts made by women around the globe to set right media wrongs.

We thank all those involved in bringing out this report for their unwavering support and hard work. We hope this document would be helpful to media activists, media practitioners, media analysts and policy makers.


I. Introduction

Section J of the BPFA highlighted five key points on women and the media . These are:

  • The advances made in information technology, particularly the scope for communication networks to transcend national borders, that have benefits as well as disadvantages for women;

  • The increase in the numbers of women who work in the communications sector, however, this has not translated into increased access to power and decision-making in media organisations; women are also not able to influence media policies;

  • The lack of gender sensitivity in media policies and programmes; increased promotion of consumerism; and the need to create self-regulatory mechanisms for the media;

  • The continued stereotyped portrayal of women in the media and the increase in violent and pornographic images of women;

  • The obstacles to women’s ability to access the expanding electronic information highways; and the need to involve women in the development and dissemination of new information technologies.

This report shows that five years after governments adopted the BPFA and committed themselves to implementing the recommendations, many of the concerns expressed in Section J still remain while new ones have emerged. Information from the various regional reports indicate that although some progress has been made in implementing recommendations from section J, a lot of this has to do with the sustained monitoring, networking and lobbying efforts of women’s organisations and media watch groups. This is indicated in NGO as well as government reviews and analyses. Official governmental reviews submitted to the UN and NGO reports indicate that there has been an increase in the number of women entering media organisations at the professional level and there is an increase in the percentage of women students graduating from journalism and mass communications courses. The women and media situations in both Asia and Latin America regions conform to this trend.

However, there is a continued negative portrayal and representation of women that may be linked to the lack of implementation of national media codes and, in some cases, even the lack of existence of such codes. Further, women continue to have limited access and participation in decision-making in the media industries and governing authorities and bodies that oversee formulation and implementation of media policies. Women media practitioners continue to face gender-based discrimination including sexual harassment at the work place. Therefore, the power to shape and influence media still eludes women. From the foregoing it can be said that more still needs to be done by GOs, media organisations and NGOs to achieve the two strategic objectives outlined in Section J.

Even as Section J captured some of the concerns of women activists, researchers and women media practitioners in its analysis of the women and media situation, not all dimensions of the women and media relationship are explored. The economic and political realities within which transnational media corporations perpetuate inequalities and inequities are not addressed and women’s vulnerabilities as traditional keepers of indigenous knowledge within this environment are not acknowledged. Women are concerned with the absence of analysis of the globalisation of media, particularly mergers of transnational media corporations and changes in media ownership at national levels that have a bearing on media content and intent.

The Asia report points to the strangleholds of transnational media corporations that are edging out nationally owned media enterprises leaving even less space for women in both the mainstream and alternative media. In addition, globalisation of the media paves the way for increased commercialisation, consumerism and more importantly, homogenisation of cultures resulting in the marginalisation of the voices of minority and indigenous cultures and peoples. In Latin America and the Caribbean, women assert that giant multimedia organisations control different kinds of media resulting in unequal representation of all social actors. Meanwhile, such crucial issues as freedom of expression and information, and mechanisms for accountability with increased use of ICTs engage women in the UN European region. Women in the Arab world acknowledge that though women are in key decision making positions in media organisations and institutions, more advocacy still needs to be done to counter women’s stereotyped images in the media.

The monitoring of implementation of Section J is not without problems. The structural and procedural policies and processes in place in many of the countries make assessments and evaluations difficult to achieve. The report from ECE suggests that some governments have restructured their national machineries for the advancement of women without necessarily integrating its mandate for gender issues into other national and regional institutional mechanisms governing media and those governing the development of ICTs. In many cases, the national machineries for women’s advancement that have the mandate to monitor implementation of the BPFA have neither the resources nor the power to exercise it.

Another important factor to consider in the UN and NGO reviews of the implementation of the BPFA is the absence or minimal acknowledgement given to the media sections in the various Regional Plans of Action that were adopted before the Beijing Conference. It is felt that the media sections in the Regional Plans of Action are far more reflective of the prevailing media situations and the recommendations were more grounded in contextual realities. For example, the Asia Pacific Plan of Action described the changing media situation and the threat to indigenous forms of communication and cultures by the increased flow of foreign and homogenous images. The document also outlined ownership patterns and drew the connections between corporate intents and media contents. Although the BPFA attempted to elaborate the global media picture based on the different regional situations, the politics of exclusion based on perceived national interests in UN deliberations, limitations of UN procedures and other factors severely limited the scope of Section J.

In addition to substantive limitations pertaining to intellectual scope and analyses, the politics of global negotiations, and structural and procedural obstacles to reviewing implementation outlined above, Section J of the BPFA also has problems linked to assessments and evaluations given the political and socio-economic realities of different countries. The Latin American analysis points out that the weak democracies in most of the countries in the region function within inflexible structural adjustment programmes imposed on them leaving their institutions, the media among them, vulnerable to vested economic interests. This has implications for media’s role in mobilising civil society and promoting democratisation and political participation. Information from Africa1 asserts that Section J has limitations in assessing commitments and actions of governments with regard to new ICTs as the global document does not anticipate the rapid growth and expansion of ICTs and does not fully assess its influence and impact.

All of the above analyses on the review of implementation of Section J of BPFA point to the complex layers and dimensions that need to be deconstructed and understood within relevant frameworks that include the socio-political and economic realities of all countries that make up the global community. This report is calling for a deeper understanding of the connections made between globalisation and women’s media portrayal and access to expression and decision making in all media including ICTs.

II. Outcome of the Review


Just as there is a notable increase of women in mass media educational institutions, more women can also be found in television, radio and print. This increase in women’s employment in media institutions has resulted in increased coverage of women's issues. While most women media practitioners are still in the reportorial level, there have been a few exceptions where a number of women have risen to higher level positions—e.g. the editorial level and management of advertising agencies—as in the case of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The increase of women media practitioners has also led women to form professional associations where they can address media issues in their countries. For example, there are active women’s media associations in countries like China (All China Women’s Journalist Association), the Islamic Republic of Iran and in South Korea (South Korea’s Women Journalists Club). However, even as more women's issues are being covered, women's portrayal, on a general sense, remains negative. This may be attributed to the absence of a critical mass of women in decision- making positions and more importantly, the media enterprises that they work for are driven by profit and women's issues are not seen as profit-making.

The new information technologies (ICTs) have allowed women to link and network with each other more effectively and share information and resources faster. The women’s movement in the region has increasingly used the electronic medium to put forward their advocacy and build solidarity. In Central Asia, e-mail has become a valuable tool in exchanging ideas and information among organisations as well as a way of combating the relative isolation of the countries in this sub-region from the global movement. In most former Soviet states, mass media is still highly censored and the Internet has become a way to go around censorship and the repression of information. However, Kazakhstan recently passed a law that threatens the power of information and communication in the region. Its policy "On Establishment of Billing Telecommunication Tariff Center" enables the tracking of all e-mails and Internet for censorship of "unwelcome" information.

Another recent development is the use of ICTs in enhancing the social use of traditional media like radio. At present, there are already innovative models of using ICTs to extend radio’s reach and capacity to interact with users, and to improve its cultural relevance and programming quality. Women’s radio programmes making use of this convergence of technologies are now being broadcast in countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Radio is the most accessible form of communication in South Asia, the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia particularly the Mekong region. Women’s radio programmes can be found in these countries despite the little support they receive from governments or private sources. The generally low levels of literacy in the non-NIC countries (except for the Philippines) also accounts for radio’s popularity. Findings from a 1998 research2 on radio show that radio reaches between 60 to 88 percent of the population in the region.

Print materials targeting women have also seen an increase. In China, there are 42 types of women’s periodicals and three women’s newspapers. Japan has three major women’s newspapers and during the economic boom of the 1990s, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand saw a boom in women’s magazines, in particular glamour and fashion magazines3.

Women’s groups in the region are increasingly using the Internet to network and share information. In addition, women are engaging in influencing the technical tools themselves by developing multi-lingual index databases that are accessible via the web and provide information on various issues in Japanese, Filipino, Korean and English. At this point the database is being used as a model for sharing resources on contemporary issues of concern to women in the region in various languages4. While a greater number of women’s organisations are discovering the effectiveness of the Internet for communication and information retrieval, many of them have yet to initiate disseminating their own information through the Internet. Some of the National Machineries that have their own Websites and are capable of sharing their expertise with women’s groups in other countries are Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Thailand5.

Latin America
Women’s right to communicate is an inalienable human right that requires a plurality of information sources and media besides a democratic and transparent administration of communication policies, equity and gender justice. In the last decade, women achieved several goals in their relationship with the media in Latin America and the Caribbean. Probably, the main reason for this is the importance gained by Journalism and Social Communications as a career in universities. For example in Argentina, women students account for 52 percent of registrations in graduate courses6, while 70 percent of students in postgraduate studies in the region7 are women.

The fact that more women were better trained in the communications field enabled them to work in the private and state-owned media, specially in radio and television, not only as presenters, but also as journalists, programme conductors, interviewers, and information analysts. Their participation in radio and TV as producers of journalistic programmes also increased. Main daily newspapers hired women journalists to write on politics, economics and social issues. Although the participation of women in the decision making level in the media is notoriously low, the fact that there are many women working in the media contributes to the visualisation that they will be playing new roles, expressing their opinions, conducting interviews and programmes. This helps society build a different image of women as they contribute their knowledge and actions in different fields. Within this framework, women in Latin America and the Caribbean consider advances through new information and communications technologies as helpful in throwing open important possibilities to make visible women’s contribution to society.

The year 1995 marked the boom in commercial internet connectivity in the region. Since then, there has been a progressive increase in internet access, but mainly for people with higher education and a comfortable economic situation. The proportion of women users is increasing, but is still much lower than that of men. According to UNDP8, in 1998 only 0.8 percent of the region's population had internet access. Of these, 90 percent were from upper income groups. In Brasil, only 25 percent of internet users were women. A study9 carried out in México in 1999 revealed that 33 percent of users were women compared with 18 percent two years earlier. Aside from the commercial use of Internet, civil society organisations began to use electronic communication in the region as early as the late 1980s, and there was a significant increase in use by women's organisations as of 1994-1995. Women's organisations have continued to use these technologies creatively, particularly to coordinate activities and exchange information via e-mail and lists, and their presence is also increasing on the World Wide Web.

Women are of the view that it is important to generate a new audio and visual culture in favour of gender democracy, in order to promote equal opportunities for women and men at all levels, including decision making at the political, economic, social, cultural and communications levels. Women are challenged to work for strategies and proposals that result in public recognition of the new roles played by women in private and public life and their contribution as actors in civil society. Women are working towards building an integral image of women as communications subjects and citizens with full rights. The Women’s Offices in Colombia and Venezuela have taken these principles into account and reflect them in the TV programmes that they regularly produce. The need to put into action the exercise of their rights in the communications field made Chilean women struggle for a place in the National Television Committee.

In community media, women play important roles in both conducting and planning the programming and in its decision making processes, direction and administration. The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) in the Latin American region developed a Women’s Programme with the aim of training radio women and formulating programming with a gender perspective. Its radio campaigns "Women’s rights are human rights" and "We have the right to a life without violence" gained international recognition and were broadcast by thousands of community radio stations in the region. Though it is true that in most countries community radio and TV stations struggle for a legal status, it is worth noting that in Colombia a new law on broadcasting passed in 1998 has legalised community media.

The workshop "WomenAction 2000" that took place in Quito, Ecuador witnessed women’s communication networks develop a strategy for participation in the Beijing+5 process. On this occasion, participants produced a document "Nosotras cumplimos...¿Y ustedes?" (We have accomplished... and you?) in which they recognise the achievements obtained by the women’s movement in the region that have been true to the Beijing agreements and question the lack of response from media companies and governments.

UN European Region
There are some notable exceptions to a generally negative situation, often as a result of advocacy by women’s organisations and media monitoring groups who have played an active role in promoting change. Although a wide variety of women's media initiatives are making a positive impact, the beginnings of change have also come from education and positive role models. In educational publishing, work has been going on since the early 1970s to combat stereotyping in school texts and illustrations. Media practitioners too have initiated changes in media content; for example, in Canada, broadcasters distanced themselves from a popular chat show which used sexist language and violent sexual imagery involving women, after the CBSC (Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council) ruled that the show had a "fundamentally sexist disposition."

There have been a few worthy governmental initiatives, though these are still too scarce. An exception is the 1997 European Commission-supported study on the Images of Women in the Media. While the research offers important recommendations and proposals that can be implemented immediately, few have been put into practice. In its Resolution (A4-0258/97), the European Parliament (on the basis of a report by the Committee on Women’s Rights) noted that the national and European legislation to protect women against degrading images in the media was inadequate. Therefore the Committee called for legislation to prohibit all forms of pornography in the media and advertising. Advertising for sex tourism was another issue denounced in this Resolution.

Other areas where gains were made include the spread of ICTs and monitoring of media content by media watch groups. The ‘Women In Trades and Technology’ (WITT) National Network, with funding from (Human Resource Development Canada) HRDC, launched Women in Information Technology (WinIT) to support girls and women who wish to explore careers in IT. With ICT training being pushed down to the provincial level, most provinces have undertaken various training initiatives during the last five years and three have focussed on women’s organisations. Health Canada, through its five Centres of Excellence for Women's Health, supports web pages and listservs related to women’s health. There is a case where ICT has been used by women with the aim of achieving equal representation of women in the new legislature of Nunavut. Short term funding was also given to Pauktuutit, the Inuit Women’s Association, to include electronic networking to further this aim. The Status of Women Canada (SWC) funded research in 1996 on the connectedness of women’s groups. Unfortunately, the report has recently been withdrawn from the SWC web site.

III. Best Practices

The following is a listing of some of the best practices by women’s groups, government and intergovernmental bodies in Asia, Latin America and the UN European region.

Asia:Women's media organisations in the regions lead the way with innovative practices

  • In Japan the Forum for Citizen’s Television and Media (FCT), a voluntary citizens’

group, works to change the media environment. FCT holds an open forum three times a

year to discuss media issues based on its research. It also publishes a newsletter and conducts nationwide television monitoring to raise awareness on media and thus empower citizens through increasing their media literacy.

  • The Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia carries out media campaigns on various issues concerning women and produces video and radio programmes. It also conducts media monitoring activities and is recognised by the Cambodian government as a partner in improving the status of women in media.
  • Isis International-Manila, an international women’s NGO has taken the lead to bring together women’s media groups, individual women media practitioners, media activists, academics and policy makers in the region. It organises regional and international conferences, workshops, fora and other events to discuss issues around women and media. It provides training for women on radio production, electronic networking, database and resource centre management. It disseminates information to women across the world through its monthly newsletter, a magazine, Website, and electronic mailing lists. Isis is currently taking the lead in establishing an international code of conduct for media practitioners.
  • The Asian Women's Resource Exchange (AWORC) is an Internet-based women's information service and network made up of women's information, media and communication organisations in Asia. It seeks to develop cooperative approaches and partnerships in exploring applications of and increasing women's access to the new information and communication technologies (ICTs) for social and economic empowerment. This network aims to facilitate regional and national network-building in the women's movement through the promotion of electronic resource sharing and building a regional information service that will support various advocacy programmes.
  • Kali for Women in India is one of the leading feminist publishing houses in Asia. One of their first books in 1984 was Women and Media in Asia. Since then, their books have continued to highlight various issues affecting women in the region, particularly in South Asia. These books are sold internationally and many of them have been translated into other languages.
  • Jagori, a women’s NGO and resource centre based in India, produces booklets, posters and audio cassettes. Jagori challenged the idea that writing is the only or the best mode of communication and experimented with the use of different media to carry the messages of the women’s movement.

Latin America and the Caribbean: In the last five years, women’s organisations have raised awareness of the right to communicate as part of the rights of citizenship.

  • The Women’s Programme of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters in the Latin American region encourages training with a gender perspective and co-ordinated continent-wide campaigns for women’s rights, particularly on raising awareness about violence against women. All this was done applying new communications technologies to broadcasting.
  • FIRE (Feminist International Radio Endeavour), an all-women radio broadcasters team in Costa Rica, is the first feminist radio station to broadcast on the Internet in Spanish and English. It also develops training for women in broadcasting and the new information and communication technologies.
  • Fempress in Chile produces feminist articles and radio programmes for the mass media and the Internet. It has published an "ABC of non-sexist journalism" in Spanish.
  • CLADEM (Latin American Commission on Women’s Rights) has launched an e-mail campaign for women’s human rights.
  • Modemmujer in Mexico is an information network on women’s issues that reaches hundreds of activists in Mexico and the rest of the region.
  • ALAI (Agencia Latinoamericana de Informacion) Women’s Programme in Ecuador provides advice to women’s regional initiatives and networks in planning their communication policies, including the Internet, and facilitates information links with other social movements.
  • Media monitoring exercises have taken place in several countries and the outcomes have not only contributed data that strengthen the position of women and the women’s movement in arguing their case for changes in media practices but also opened channels for possible dialogues on gender and communications issues. Groups in some countries, for example, Red Ada in Bolivia, Grupo Mujer and Chiclayo in Peru, have conducted studies on women’s images in TV programmes produced and /or hosted by women.
  • Geledes, an Institute of Black Women in Brazil, leads the movement against the negative images of black women in soap operas broadcast by TV Globo. They have presented their case to the National Council for Self-regulation.
  • UNIFEM gives an Award for non-sexist publicity during the Ibero American Festival of Publicity in 1998 and 1999. The Centro de Estudios de la Mujer and World Association for Christian Communication-Latin America were among the local sponsors of the jury.

The UN European Region is leading the way in addressing women and media issues including use of ICTs to change the status quo.

  • The Toplink office was set up in 1995 in the Netherlands to increase women's involvement in management and government agencies. The office maintains a database of women who are qualified to participate in advisory councils for the government, social organisations and company boards. This database now includes 900 women and has resulted in an increase in the number of women who have been appointed to executive posts. On average, the office mediates 40 to 50 posts per year.
  • KILDEN, an information and documentation centre for women’s and gender research in Norway shares premises with the Gender Equality Ombudsperson and the Centre for Gender Equality. One task shared with the latter group is the further development of electronic directories published by the Centre for Women’s Research.
  • Croatia: B.a.B.e., in 1998, for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, made a song and video with young female rappers. The song got great media coverage and publicity, and was a success. It tackled difficult issues in an upbeat and entertaining way. For 1999, they decided on a jazz song. In developing the story line, the organisers asked men what they thought a powerful woman would look like. The men could imagine only an "amazon". Since it was election time, it was decided to make a video with a female president and ministers, showing them making changes in policies that affect women.
  • Germany: "Media suitcase" developed by the German Association of Female Journalists but only available as a prototype. It is aimed at providing media observation groups with the tools needed for the critical examination and analysis of media content, and ways and means of making complaints and comments better known.
  • Canada: MediaWatch Canada ( organised a Global Media Monitoring Project in 1995 to look at issues of portrayal and position of women in media. Over 15,000 news stories on TV, radio and in newspapers by hundreds of volunteers in 71 countries were analysed. In collaboration with WACC, this will be replicated in the year 2000, and over 85 countries are expected to take part. Consistent monitoring and sharing the results can result in more awareness, and eventually, change.
  • E.U.: European Women’s Lobby (, the largest co-ordinating body of national and European non-governmental women's organisations in the European Union, with over 2,700 member associations in the 15 Member States. The EWL systematically monitors European legislative activity and takes action when necessary. As the European Union's sphere of competence continues to grow, the EWL is seeking to ensure equality between women and men as a mandatory criterion for European construction.
  • USA: Independent Women's Action Project (, an organisation committed to limited government and economic opportunity, has joined forces with the E-Freedom Coalition ( to promote low cost Internet access and continued growth in cyberspace.
  • France, Les Penelopes ( has developed an interactive TV programme "Cyberfemmes" with accompanying online discussions and background texts to elaborate on the context.
  • International: Over the years, the International Women’s Tribune Centre, has emphasised the importance of making appropriate and relevant information available–through translation, cut-and-paste newsletters, posters, brochures, story boards, flip charts, role plays, street drama, discussion groups, not to forget the fax!.
  • International: Women's International News Gathering Service (, women's radio news programs on the internet, including programs archived for netcasting on the web site (, and radio exchange programmes.
  • Arab Women Strive for Change

This is the Women and Media section of the Arab Regional NGO Alternative Report

  • On the national level, the Syrian Women’s Union is currently overseeing the production of a radio and television programme on the family, in addition to producing the "Arab Women Magazine." The Women’s Union is also supervising the work of the Cinema Club and is working at discovering female acting talents. In Yemen, a woman occupies the position of Secretary General of the Ministry of Information. In addition, the percentage of women working in the Ministry of Information is 15.9 percent compared to 10 percent of women working in Yemeni Television.
  • In Palestine, special TV and radio programmes have been produced which are aimed at eliminating the stereotypical portrayal of women in Palestinian society. The General Union of Palestinian Women, in collaboration with other NGOs, is utilising all media forms to trounce stereotypes of women in films, studies, newspapers, and radio and TV programmes. The Ministry of Information is currently in the process of creating a comprehensive database on all aspects of concern to Palestinian women which will be utilised when formulating strategies, policies and action plans for eliminating stereotyped images of women in the media. The Gender and Development Planning Department, in cooperation with other governmental and non-governmental agencies, conducts training workshops on gender, information and communication.
  • In Kuwait, the state has guaranteed women equal access to top level positions in the media sector. As a result, Kuwaiti women have occupied the position of directors of various departments in state-run media institutions, in addition to the position of assistant secretary general in the Ministry of Information.
  • In the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, women’s presence in the mass media is strong in terms of the decision-making positions they occupy, the discussion which they engage in, and in terms of the issues that the various media institutions address in these two countries.
  • The National Committee for Women in Egypt has adopted several objectives with the aim of improving the manner in which women’s issues are dealt with in the media and of eliminating the negative stereotypes that Egyptian women suffer from. This is being done through projecting positive images of women such as those of successful Egyptian women.
  • In Jordan, the national plan of action for Jordanian women emphasises the importance of developing media programmes to incorporate a gender perspective and encourages the participation of women in formulating media-related studies, plans and policies. For instance a Jordanian women was recently appointed as head of the official radio institution. One NGO has produced a radio programmed entitled "Women on the Road of Altruism." The Sisterhood is Global Institute implemented an information-sharing project which connects women in the South with other women in the country and in the world by using new information and communication methods.
  • In Iraq, clear criteria have been set for the production of all information material dealing with women’s topics which in turn contribute to the formation of public opinion. Iraqi women’s NGOs have also developed various training manuals and programmes on women in media. The Iraqi Women’s Federation also supported the development of the technical department of Iraqi radio and TV to better enable it to produce print and audio-visual material on rural and urban women in Iraq.
  • A network of Arab journalists concerned with development issues has been recently established to facilitate communication and collaboration among journalists. Established in 1999, this network that is based in Damascus and consists of 30 journalists also aims to upgrade its members’ journalistic skills. In addition, the network also focuses on follow up work to the International Conference on Population and Development and the Fourth World Conference on Women.


The last decades of the 20th century marked the shift to a global information economy characterised by the dominance of giant media and transnational corporations that are able to dictate the production of information worldwide. Information and communication technologies have played a crucial role in this global trend. This same ownership pattern and control has resulted in highly unequal access for majority of the world’s population. This inequality contributes to increasing the gap between those who have access to abundant information resources and those who are deprived of this access. Poverty and illiteracy continue to prevent women from having access to not just new information and communication technologies but also to all forms of information and communications. It is this marginalised sector that has no means to shape information, and therefore unable to project themselves and the issues that relate to them. ESCAP notes that women continue to form the bulk of the poor, with the vast majority living in the rural areas where the preconditions for escaping from abject poverty seldom exist.

Globalisation is acting to transform the nature and structure of the media from that of a public trust to a transnational business enterprise. The process of globalisation is also acting to concentrate media ownership and control in the hands of a few, thereby further limiting the ability of many sectors of society, including women, to influence media. There is a lack of coordinated effort aimed at improving and changing the status of women within the media, information and communications industries. Sexual harassment of women in media organisations is widespread. This is a denial of women's human rights and acts to hinder women's full participation in the media industry. Women continue to experience barriers not only in accessing new information and communication technologies but also hindrances in participating in technology development and policy making. Language continues to serve as a major obstacle to access to the Internet as the English language dominates, the Web. For many women, lack of training opportunities, the high cost of hardware and software and in some places, the high cost of getting connected as well as the absence or lack of basic infrastructures to support this technology, further marginalise women. The Internet has also been used as another venue to exploit, market and traffic women.

While a notable increase in women’s presence in media institutions is recognised, particularly on television and radio, women continue to have limited participation and access to decision-making in the communications industry and in governing bodies that influence media policy. Because of this lack of critical mass it has been noted that despite the increase of women in media institutions, women are still unable to shape programme content and ensure coverage of women’s priority issues and concerns. Negative and stereotyped representations of women in the media continue while the projection of the cultural diversity and varying realities of women's lives remains absent. Women from marginalised sectors of society are further invisible as their ethnic, racial, and class groups, religion or sexual orientation are minimally or never represented in the larger sectors of media. Media codes of conduct at national levels have not been effective in ensuring positive portrayals of women in the media. On the other hand, gender coding operates as many women media practitioners still tend to be assigned to "soft" issues such as culture, arts and lifestyle while men are assigned to "more important" issues like politics and the economy.

Latin America
Local and global, geographical and economic differences, structural gaps between the genders, ethnic discrimination and the cross-cutting of all these and other factors contribute to the fact that, at the dawn of the 21st century, women’s disadvantaged status is particularly glaring when it comes to strategic technologies, power and decision making. Globalisation of communications has meant, among other things, the arrival in the region of dozens of cable channels that broadcast their programmes from outside Latin America. Media concentration in many countries has resulted in big multimedia companies owning and having a monopoly of newspapers, radio and TV networks. This trend has been counterproductive to the democratisation of communications and to a more equitable representation and voice of social actors, particularly of women. The limited or weak democracies that govern in most of the countries, within the strait-jacket of structural adjustment programmes imposed by the international financial system, are vulnerable under the pressure of big economic interests, and the media among them. With economic deregulation and free market as an excuse, principles of ethics and equity have been left aside. Information is no longer considered as a right but has been turned into a commodity. The media now have very tenuous links with the concept of public service that was considered a privilege when they were created.

Media monitoring shows that in South America, 23.6 percent of women who make the news are as victims compared with only 9.3 percent of men in the same situation. In Central America and the Caribbean, one out of five women (19.1 percent) who make the news do so in the role of victims. Some experiences of media monitoring that took place after the adoption of the BPFA reveal similar findings. In October 1997, Cotidiano Mujer, an NGO in Uruguay, monitored 9000 newspaper pages, 95.32 hours of TV news in prime hours in the four air channels, and 400 hours of radio broadcasting which covered four journalistic programmes in the three radio stations with the biggest audience in the country10. Only 8 percent of the newspaper news coverage had to do with women, and issues such as women’s human rights and sexuality were not even mentioned. In televised news, only one woman was interviewed for every 7 men, and for each hour that a woman journalist spoke on TV, men journalists spoke for four. In radio, out of 7000 minutes of broadcasting analysed, only 301 minutes were dedicated to women’s issues. Men were interviewed for 2384 minutes, whilst women were listened to for only 449 minutes.

In Bolivia, la Red de Trabajadoras de la Información y la Comunicación--Red Ada led a similar experience11 in a week in July 1998 during which the monitoring covered the five most important newspapers in the country which are published in the main cities. In that period, the participation of women in the news was 18.49 percent. Most women who made such news appeared on the pages describing social events (20.3 percent); whilst in issues like education, women or women’s issues were mentioned only in 6.25 percent of the news; and in health and legal issues, 2.34 percent.

The data obtained in these surveys clearly demonstrate that to change the status of women in media, it is not sufficient to insist that women undertake training as journalists or social communicators or that news and information be treated with a gender perspective. Changes would also depend on public policies and ethical codes in media that promote affirmative action towards a greater participation of women as information sources and agents, respecting their right to communicate and offering them opportunities to put into practise this right in both private and state-owned media.

UN European Region
Regional/national political shifts, such as those reported in Albania, Austria, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic and the United Kingdom., have resulted in interruption and/or re-arrangement of their respective national institutional mechanisms. This has adverse effects on all aspects of women’s advocacy efforts, particularly on those that focus on complicated policy issues such as the ones mentioned in Section J of the BPFA.

For example, November 1997 marked a collapse of activities for gender equality in Poland because parliamentary elections resulted in a more conservative government that took power. The Office for Women’s Issues was replaced by the Office for Family Issues. From the very beginning, this new mechanism had been strongly influenced by a conservative religious perspective, manifested as a de facto policy in the cessation of most of the women-oriented activities. The present government’s focus has been switched to family issues that, according to the ruling politicians, adequately encompass all women’s issues.

Most immediately, in Austria, women’s organisations and projects are faced with the possibility that they will not receive enough or no state funding at all as a result of the new government’s controversial decision to abolish the Ministry for Women’s Affairs. Women’s Affairs have been demoted to a junior department in a sprawling Ministry of Social Affairs. In addition, its budget for this year will come to only about 40 per cent of last year’s level.

During these last few years, the European Commission has also experienced dramatic turmoil, culminating with the forced resignations of all top level Commissioners. Prior to and immediately after these events, what little funding there has been for women’s groups was threatened by the requirement that all projects were examined.

Several countries reported that more training of journalists and other media makers is needed. However, while there are a few notable efforts in this area, in many cases governments have not implemented even easily achievable recommendations from the BPFA. In Germany for example, the NGOs note that there is no mention by the government of "Women Oeckl", a comprehensive list of women experts in the media that was repeatedly demanded in discussions long before the Fourth World Conference on Women. This is actually a commitment made in Section J (paragraph 241) that few, if any, ECE governments have implemented or supported. In Germany too, women’s groups have learned that although the legislation and policies are in place and the monitoring machinery is in place, the state lacks the ability to disseminate the tools to the very groups who are likely to take up the voluntary task of conducting observations of media practices. The "media suitcase" developed by the Association of Female Journalists is still only available as a prototype because it has been waiting in vain for two years to be copied and distributed. The suitcase is aimed at providing the tools needed by media monitoring groups. This includes not only information necessary to undertake the critical examination and analysis of media content but it also provides crucial information regarding ways and means of making complaints and getting comments heard in the public domain.

Very little has changed in the portrayal of women in media since 1995, whether in advertising or news media. Negative, stereotyped, inaccurate and violent images of women are pervasive. Some groups of women are simply invisible, such as those from minority populations. Women are still described in terms of appearance rather than abilities. Moreover, the increased commercialisation of every medium has intensified the visibility of negative images, from billboards to television to newspaper. New media are perpetuating and accentuating much that is negative in the portrayal of women, notably in computer games, on the Internet and in music videos. Media convergence and the parallel convergence of the Internet with mass media are intensifying all the negative practices to a dizzying degree. A worrying new trend in the U.K. is the increase in sexual violence by boys under the age of 18. Factors that play a role here include declining achievements at school by boys compared with girls, and the proliferation of violence in media, on the Internet and in computer-based games.

Czech media have managed to maintain traditional, patriarchal views; expressed explicitly through advertising, these media images very often trespass the bounds of good taste and ethics. In Croatia, where the media do not have gender-sensitive editorial policies or may even have anti-women policies, the portrayal of women is decidedly sexist and there is little awareness of the need for gender equality. In fact, Croatian state-run television has few, if any, positive educational, political or social programming addressing the problems and status of women. Radio, which is considered independent, is worse; it regularly provides examples of sexist intimidation of women and the use of sexist stereotypes. There is no socially responsible and gender-sensitive journalism to the extent that women’s condition in the print media accurately reflects the deplorably prevailing low regard for women’s human rights. Drives to quickly develop the market economy have encouraged the production of pornography, and in some highly commercialised private publications, soft pornography has become the foundation of market strategy. New women’s magazines belonging to commercial media groups differ but not in a substantively positive way. They tend to offer a mixture of fashion, glamorous gossip, nationalist and anti-women values, and portray women as fancy escorts to important men or as "self-confident" vamps who participate in the entertainment business. Other more traditional women’s magazines focus on motherhood, fashion, the family, entertainment, tourism and provide advice on cooking, health-care and beauty. These magazines are sometimes in favour of women’s rights and the pro-choice position but, except for Zaposlena (Working Women), they position women’s issues outside of the country’s social and political realities and always distance themselves from or denounce feminism as being nothing more than a cheap political trend.

There is obviously great enthusiasm for the possibilities that ICTs offer women in all parts of the region. But it must also be pointed out that ICTs are double-edged swords: so often owned by multi-national corporations and/or outside of our own control, we cannot adequately know what is going on at all times. There continues to be a deeper exclusion for those who do not have access, and the "digital divide" has gone from being a theoretical talking point to a reality since Beijing, while we have seen few programmes aimed at reducing that gap for women. Changes continue apace, too fast for our meagre resources to be up to the immense task of grasping their implications and responding with intelligent and appropriate gender-sensitive policy proposals. Some of the policies currently on the pipeline in the region, or recently passed, mention nothing directly about women, are not gender-balanced and could in fact represent a further widening of the digital divide in their application (cf., the USA "Digital Privacy" laws, the UK "E-Commerce" and updated domestic security proposals, OECD proposals that have influenced recent European Commission directives). Concern must be expressed about current trends towards ICT and media concentration (cf., AOL/Time Warner merger), which is seen as a potential threat to women’s freedom of expression, to their privacy and to their right to pluralistic information sources.

One important structural limitation in the context of women-centred ICT initiatives since Beijing is the severe lack of funding in some parts of the region, particularly in countries considered ‘developed’. Government funding to women’s NGOs accessing, developing and using ICTs continues to be small and intermittent. Ironically it is the ‘rich’ countries most affected – western-European countries in particular--as there are relatively well developed sources of funding in the USA and, to a lesser extent, Canada and the northern European countries. However, there is funding available for undertaking projects in the Central and Eastern Europe/Commonwealth Independent Soviet (CEE/CIS) sub-region. This must be seen in the context of a gain for less developed regions of the world and any future gains on this score must not be at the cost of others. The problem is that there are few, if any sustainable methods of income-generation that allow women-centred ICT initiatives to function with minimal external funding input, just as this is the problem in less-developed regions of the world. As a result of this reality, there is a lack of continuity in planning and programming by women’s organisations with respect to ICTs.

At the level of awareness and sensitisation, the European Parliament failed to win its request for the proclamation of a "European year against violence". The resources that a genuine "European year against violence" would have provided would certainly have made it possible for this theme to reach more media and citizens. NGOs in the United Kingdom note that there are very few campaigns to promote critical thinking about the content of mass media by younger people and there is perhaps less public awareness of the damaging power of gender stereotyping today than prior to Beijing.

With regard to monitoring media content, many National Plans of Action failed to clearly indicate strategies and actions with respect to Section J. In the Ukraine, Section J of the National Plan of Action was implemented only partly and did not have clear indicators for monitoring the implementation. In many countries in the ECE region, there has been a stated policy by the governments not to directly interfere at a legal level with their media but to rely on some combination of media licensing, voluntary codes of conduct, national complaints commissions, etc. There are several gaps in this approach. NGOs in Ukraine point out that monitoring the control on prohibitions of violent advertisements in the mass-media is impossible because the press should be regularly monitored and assessed in retrospect yet no national machinery exists with the remittance and funding to undertake this work. Another gap is pointed out by NGOs in the United Kingdom where its Press Complaints Commission’s "Code of Practice" contains no specific clause dealing with women/gender stereotyping. It may seem obvious, but clearly, monitoring is worthless if there is nothing stopping the abuses from occurring in the first place.

IV. Obstacles

Although there are regional differences in the type of obstacles encountered in implementing Section J, there are many common impediments including those based on gender bias and discrimination. These are outlined here.

  • Patriarchal societies: one of the biggest obstacles to women’s access, participation and control of the media is the patriarchal structure of societies where men continue to see women as subordinate to them. Patriarchal attitudes of governments and media are manifest in their being predominantly male institutions which tend to view women as an undifferentiated mass of low status in society. Gender biases and gender-based discriminations therefore result in stereotyped attitudes, sexual harassment, pay inequities, discriminatory treatment in assignments and promotions, traditional gender hierarchies, including a premium on family responsibilities, lack of support mechanisms for working women and low education that deter women from joining the media or assume decision-making positions.

  • Ownership of media. The threat to the democratic right of citizens to a plurality of information sources and the means of expressing their viewpoints is endangered by the power exerted by a few transnational media organisations that control the different media. Ownership monopoly, control of media by men, and cross-cutting corporate interests would inevitably influence media content and policy. There is increased concern over the levels of media-industry concentration being attained through the convergence of communication and information technologies with other, more traditional media, bringing up issues of control in many countries. Further, globalisation and monopolisation of media is blurring the lines of accountability as sub-regional, regional and international conglomerates buy and trade national broadcasting frequencies, print, television programmes, cable and films with little or no accountability to government and civil society. The possibility of citizens influencing mainstream media policy and content is complicated when the decision-making centres are ever more distant and unreachable, propelled by profit motives rather than social responsibility considerations.

  • Lack of gender perspective on issues and gender bias. Few journalism schools have incorporated gender issues in their curriculum. Journalists who attempt to introduce a gender focus in their work often meet resistance or ridicule from their colleagues or bosses. Women communicators point to discrimination and sexual harassment to be among the main obstacles to professional advancement. It is also extremely difficult to open a public debate on issues of communication and democracy, codes of ethics or the social responsibility of the media, when many media directors and even some journalists refuse to recognise this responsibility, and very few are willing to air the issues publicly. The continued projection of negative and degrading images of women, of gender stereotypes and violent and/or pornographic examples in media have an overall negative impact and thus hinders women's full participation in society.

  • Lack of women’s access to and growth in media institutions. As gender issues are not seen as important or profitable, women face difficulties in entering media institutions and organisations. Opportunities for women within the media industry, in employment and decision-making, continue to be limited. Not enough women in media organisations have attained senior programming positions as these opportunities are not yet open to women based on a routine but fair professional upgrading. Even the few women who exercise some control in media organisations operate within patriarchal systems of management and are dictated to follow the interest of profit margins. While it would be naive to state that profit is not important, the current situation of media is one of commodification, commercialisation and consumerism.

  • Lack of women’s access to ICTs and gender biases in the development of ICTs. Women’s lack of access to basic infrastructure such as electricity and phone lines makes broad access to new technologies a very distant possibility, further complicated by factors such as illiteracy and economic restrictions. Even in urban centres, the main obstacles to access and use of ICTs, are equipment and service costs, lack of training, and language (dominance of English on the Internet). There has been little commitment from either public or private institutions to address women's situation vis-à-vis ICTs. It is widely acknowledged that the development of new technologies does not take into consideration women's practices and needs. The majority of the computer industry is instead developing for the adolescent boy or adult male game user: bigger, faster machines running bigger, heavier software. This has the effect of pricing computers beyond the reach of many women as well as reinforcing a women-unfriendly view of computer technologies in general.

  • Lack of women’s full participation in media processes. The participation of women in communication processes is largely related to their economic status, geographic locations and ethnic identities. Women who suffer economic, racial or other forms of exclusion are usually also excluded from the means to communicate. National and international regulatory bodies are commonly conceived as technical entities, in many cases with no space for citizens to participate or express their opinion. Even where such spaces exist, women's organisations are often not aware of them. At another level, significant areas of journalism are still male preserves and inherent gender biases and discriminations within the system constrain women media practitioners from participating fully in shaping media content. Another point to note is the relative isolation of women media practitioners. Many of them work within patriarchal structures and do not often have links with the women’s movement in their countries. Even if they do, they risk being marginalised within corporate organisations.

  • Lack of effective media policies. Media policies against sexist and stereotyped coverage, representation and portrayal of women remain as a big gap. Existing media codes and guidelines are mainly concerned with "lewd", "obscene", "indecent" exposure of human bodies, "immoral" sexual relations, sexually "provocative" material, and pornographic content. Current policies are framed around questions of morality, rather than recognising sexual violence against women as a violation of human rights. There have been some efforts to establish or maintain self-regulatory mechanisms on media content. Governments in general take little responsibility for regulation of media industries with regard to gender stereotyping. Action is left to voluntary measures on the part of media enterprises or insufficiently effective national compliance/complaints authorities, who often lack monitoring capabilities and whose legal framework often lack gender-equal policies. To this end, there is no practical monitoring or enforcement of government requirements in many countries and where standards exist, they are often not upheld. Too often, the task is left to private citizens to watch, challenge and litigate.

  • Lack of effective sanctions against violators. Although calls have been made for codes of conduct with minimum international standards and requirements to be instituted at the international level, the failure to respond to this need bears on the continuing absence of sanctions against violators of women’s human rights in the media.

  • Systemic challenges. In many countries issues agreed to in Section J are not that straightforwardly easy to put into action and often require radical transformations of existing systems. For example, concepts such as increasing women’s participation or contribution can often be misinterpreted by the public as women’s desire for domination or control. As a consequence, calls by women for greater participation and positive portrayal are trivialised in government consultative and policy making processes.

  • Threats to media practitioners. In several countries, there had been threats against community radio and TV stations. In some cases, such as Paraguay and Uruguay, people in charge of them were threatened with imprisonment, as if they had committed a serious crime.

V. Media Policies

While there are media policies in many countries covering women’s portrayal, there are fewer policies in place that are comprehensive enough to address all aspects of gender discrimination and bias. South Korea and China have enacted legislation that aim to be comprehensive. The South Korea’s Women’s Development Act of 1995 promotes gender equality and provides the legal basis to rectify gender discriminatory factors in employment and other areas. The Act provides for an increase of women’s presence in various oversight broadcasting committees to 30 percent by 2005, the creation of objective standards to evaluate gender-based stereotypes in mass media and the expansion in the production and distribution of public advertisements dealing with women’s issues. However, women’s groups involved in the monitoring note that enforcement of the laws and policies remain problematic due to the lack of political will by government machineries and private enterprises.

China has laws, policies and guidelines covering women’s portrayal in media. It has several anti-pornographic laws which ban, criminalise and punish the production, import, export, sale, and dissemination of material that violate the provisions in the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women, a policy prohibiting discrimination, ill treatment, and injury to women. It also has the Development Program for Chinese Women (1995-2000) which gives a general guideline for the representation of women in the media. The guidelines are enforced through the Administration for Press and Publication and the State Council oversee the enforcement of various regulations.

Elsewhere in Asia, Malaysia has one provision, Section 5 (Role of Women), of the Advertising Code for Television and Radio. It generally states that men and women must be projected in their participation, contribution and positive image to family life, the economy, society and development of the country. The Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Trade and Consumer Affairs, and the Health Ministry monitor this code. India, for its part, has the Indecent Representation of Women Prohibition Act whose main thrust is to monitor the depiction of women in print media. First time violators are fined and liable with up to six years of detention; and a further fine for a second conviction is the current sanction.

In many countries in Asia, journalists’ associations have their own codes of ethics and/or canons not necessarily guiding them on women’s issues but ethics in general. These include journalist associations in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Korea who have their own codes of ethics enforced through their own ethic committees. Publishers and editors associations have their own canons of journalism in Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. There are separate codes of practice for programme standards in radio and television for broadcasters in Japan, the Philippines and other countries. Advertisers are guided by ethics in Indonesia, Japan, and Malaysia.

In some Latin American countries, the Office of the People’s Defender (Ombudsman) is the only body that intervenes when citizens pursue a case of media sexism. In Argentina, the Office of the People’s Defender in the City of Buenos Aires intervened in three important cases that had to do with infant pornography, the sexist undertone in the apology for violence against women in a popular salsa song and sexist advertising. In all the cases, the Defender applied the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) principles that in Argentina have the status of a national law. While in most countries in the region, community radio and TV stations continue to struggle for legal status, it is worth noting that in Colombia a new law on broadcasting passed in 1998 legalised community media.

In the ECE region, Canada’s gender and media policy consists of enforced self-regulation, operating as a partnership between government, the media industry and NGOs. It requires programming to be of a "high standard." It complements the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, in the United Kingdom, there are a number of regulatory mechanisms in place, set up independently from Government and within the terms of the Broadcasting Acts of 1990 and 1996, some of which have even been recently strengthened. The Broadcasting Standards Commission is the only organisation to cover all television and radio, and it has a Code of Guidance with a brief reference to stereotyping. Other mechanisms include the Committee of Advertising Practice, which looks at both broadcast and non-broadcast advertising. A key player for newpapers is the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), an independent organisation set up 'to ensure that British newspapers and magazines follow a Code of Practice, drafted by newspaper and magazine editors, and adopted by the industry'. The PCC receives and adjudicates on complaints about possible breaches of the Code and gives general guidance to editors on ethical issues.

VI. Emerging Issues

  • Privatisation and Mergers of Media Enterprises. The merging of media technologies and owners, especially in the context of globalisation, is changing the nature and structure of the media industry. Media has become a transnationalised business enterprise tied to international trade bodies/agreements (WTO, GATT) whose main purpose is profit generation rather than to provide public service. As such, it is difficult to regulate the movement of media even by governments. During the last decade the communications industry has been characterised by privatisation of telecommunications, the introduction of new communication tech-based systems (satellites, cable TV, digital and wireless technology, internet, cellular phones), concentration of media ownership, etc. These changes have been accompanied by modifications in the legal framework where these systems operate, spurred on by recommendations from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The situation points to the urgent need to develop policy proposals from citizens' standpoint, so as to ensure pluralism and democracy in access to information and communication.

  • Effects of Globalisation of Media. Globalisation of the media has paved the way for widespread promotion of commercialism and consumerism. Of serious concern is the homogenising effect of globalisation on culture and societies resulting in an essentialist, universalistic, diluted reflection of reality that does not take into account nor mirror realities that stem from the diversity of races, class, caste, ethnicity and lifestyles. The strangleholds of giant transnational corporations are edging out nationally owned media enterprises. Given this broad scope, there is now even less space for smaller, indigenous media outfits, for women media practitioners and producers to have the production or editorial control that they had, albeit on an already generally limited scale, within the traditional and alternative media. Legislation and jurisdiction have also become problematic given the increasingly transborder character of media.

  • Violence against Women. The use of the Internet to traffic women and sell pornography has aggravated the exploitation of women. The lack of mechanisms to regulate the use of the internet has worsened this situation. While the issue of pornography and exploitation of women has always been there, it is now more difficult to monitor and curb these activities. The targeting of women and girls through pornography, sex tourism and the sex trade has been exacerbated by electronic communications. The sex trade can now use Websites for their portrayal of women, with the capacity to reach many more people. In the UN European region, the result is an increasing number of women-hating Websites; this, and the use of flaming and stalking, tend to dissuade women in these parts of the globe from using the Net.

  • Women’s Media Initiatives. In community media, women play important roles, both in conducting and planning the programming and in its decision making processes, direction and administration. This is the case in Latin America. There are many groups in Asia making inroads in changing the status of women in media. They have conducted researches and developed models to change the current situation as goal, but these efforts are neither being documented nor explored as models for implementation. Knowledge is a key issue too. In the information age, women face the challenge of not only developing and systematising their own knowledge, but also of ensuring that it is used for their benefit.

  • Other Issues. Issues of privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of information, etc., as they relate to ICTs, media and women’s issues, are increasingly becoming important for women. The scope for women’s expression through the alternative media within the current model of communication with its heavy emphasis on ICTs under control by powerful media conglomerates has to be explored further.

Concluding Statement

In concluding this assessment we would like to highlight the constraints and limitations that necessarily accompany any such endeavour on global implementation. While we recognise the immense diversity of media situations that call for diverse amelioration measures, we would like to place on record two key limitations of the BPFA. The first has to do with limitations of the UN structure and processes that make it difficult to bring in any accountability measures that are binding on members states. We realise too that any negotiations or commitments arrived at are fraught with the politics of inclusion and exclusion. The second limitation has to do with the recommendations outlined in the BPFA which palpably presume that all regions and, indeed all countries, are at the same stage of media development. While we note the need to collapse diverse countries into regions based on geographical locations to facilitate the organisation and administration of the reports, we feel that this approach does not provide for specific and contextual issues to be addressed. As pointed out, the UN process has also left out reviews of the regional process in its ‘global’ assessment exercise, thus causing assessments in themselves to become, as it is, problematic.

At the level of individual governments, more need to be done. Because governments are accountable to their citizens, women around the globe will be watching their moves, and demand their rights. In recognising women’s rights as full and equal partners in development, this report outlines key recommendations to governments, the media industry and the public.


Media Portrayal

  • The media need to refrain from presenting women as inferior and exploiting them as sex objects. On the contrary, the media could be a useful tool to promote a positive and realistic image of women. All media presentations should be in line with the demographic context of the community. Gender stereotyping should be eliminated through an exertion of will and foresight on the part of the media industry, who, for starters, should also seek to eliminate violent and degrading portrayals of women.

  • States need to formulate international ethical standards, based on equality between the sexes, that could be reflected in all communication productions, including programming and media portrayal.

  • The lack of specific research on media portrayal is one of the most critical barriers to ongoing and effective analysis. Studies should be funded in order to raise the awareness about gender-fair images in relation to policy-making. Regional differences should be identified and the implementation of law should be based on comparative research in this field.

Media Policy

  • Governments and NGOs have to ensure that regulatory mechanisms on media are guided by the values of gender justice, human rights, sustainable development and respect for cultural diversity and of cultural expression, sexuality and lifestyle.

  • There is a need explore the development of an International Convention on Women and Media which addresses problems of diversity, human rights and gender issues using existing international conventions and instruments.

  • Governments must continue to support community radio, alternative video and access to television, public-calling stations, and community Internet, computer networking and alternative print media.

  • Governments and relevant bodies should commit resources and implement programmes that will increase women's access to communication resources and knowledge, especially to new communications technologies, in a framework of respect for cultural diversity and for regional and local needs and priorities. It must assign resources to promote gender equality through mainstream and alternative media and the Internet. It must also promote public debate on the social responsibility of the media, and draw up and implement ethical codes of conduct.


  • There is a need for gender balance at all decision-making levels within the media industry. This could be achieved through measures such as affirmative action and quota systems. Existing attempts at promoting voluntary equal opportunity policies, training schemes, etc., among media industries have not so far proved successful in breaking through the glass ceiling by women. Further efforts are needed to improve women’s employment opportunities and career paths. Guidelines must include sufficient encouragement of women´s participation at all levels of decision-making in media industries and in senior positions in technology industries and on government-convened advisory boards.


  • Both audiences and journalists need to be sensitised on how women and men are portrayed, and to what extent and on which issues they are or not given a voice, including how the lack of women in decision-making position affects these portrayals. Further research needs to be done and courses and study groups encouraged. New equality projects in the media must be launched and supported.

  • Immediate steps should be taken to establish and support centres which are responsible for monitoring national media in all countries. All forms of media should be monitored including ICTs. Support should be given to help women develop their monitoring and analytic skills.

  • The United Nations should embrace our aspiration to include the right of women to communicate as a priority in its agenda for the 21st century and thus contribute to the present and future goal of building democracies based on pluralism and a culture of peace.

  • Propose that the United Nations convene a World Conference on Communications as a venue for the community of nations, communication media and systems, and civil society would have the opportunity to discuss an ethical framework for action in the realm of global communication that embraces democratic practices and social responsibility.

  • Governments should revise their policies on financial support and international cooperation with regard to giving priority to the strengthening of women’s communication networks and media, and their gender dimension.

  • Governments that have failed to state plans for any ‘Future Actions’ in accordance with the BPFA format must be compelled to do so or else explicitly state that they have no such plans.

To access the full version of the regional reports, visit the WomenAction Website:


1 Submitted by the African Information Society Gender Working Group (AISGWG)

2 Isis International Manila, Radio Research, 1998.

3 Changing Lenses : women’s perspectives on media, Isis International Manila, 1999.

4 Source:

5 ESCAP Strategies and Recommendations to further implement the Beijing Platform for Action, 1999.

6 Estrategias comunicacionales de género en el Cono Sur, Santiago, Isis Internacional, 1997.

7 Seminar on the Development of Media and Democracy (UNESCO-PNUD), Santiago de Chile, 1994.

8 UNDP Human Development Report 1999.

9 Presse communiqué of Select-IDC, Mexico, November 1999

10 "En el medio de los medios", Cotidiano Mujer, Montevideo, 1998.

11 "La mirada invisible: la imagen de la mujer en los medios de comunicación en Bolivia", by Patricia Flores Palacios, RED ADA, Bolivia, 1999.


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