Rita Mijumbi, a consultant for the International Women's Tribune
Centre, uses a digital camera to collect photos for a new set of
materials on a CD-ROM for rural women to use at telecentres in Uganda.
In Africa political pluralism and privatization have been accompanied by media pluralism. The wind of democratization from far-away (in geographical terms) yet nearby (in communicational terms) Eastern Europe, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, blew over some of the most cacique dictatorships of the region and, at the same time, allowed people to once again question the media monopolies. Media is considered the main instrument of propaganda in the hands of State parties, and media pluralism is one way to break the regime of one-party systems. People have and still do have great expectations of media, and its role in the reinforcement of newly born democracies.
An important development is the expansion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Women journalists attending a UNESCO training workshop in English-speaking Africa in March 2001 had never used e-mail or the Internet at the time of the Beijing conference. However, five years later, they had all been introduced to these technologies.
On the face of it, the expanding media space greater access to (wireless) telephones, commercial radio and TV channels, and an independent press has been good for women. They have been and are opening up spaces for different voices, particularly those that have been marginalized from the mainstream and established media. But not all are benefiting from this. In modern African cities, the modern and traditional live side by side: shepherds in traditional garb graze their cattle against a backdrop of soaring skyscrapers. In the same way, as some African women are engaging in the latest global e-conference, others have never made a telephone call and do not even own, or have access to, a radio set.
African women are at a disadvantage on many levels. Traditional views remain prevalent in much of the region, and, despite some changes, women generally live within patriarchal societies, confined to private spaces. The domestic realm is seen as women's domain par excellence. Thus, school if there is a school is not considered a priority for females. The only roles women are to assume are those of wife and mother. At the most, they can take up small informal activities or agro-pastoral tasks in rural areas to contribute to bringing additional resources to the family.
The African media landscape: so near, yet so far
Since Beijing, studies and workshops have reported that the situation of women and media in Africa is problematic. A 1998 the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) conference found that English-speaking African countries shared many problems related to women and media. Among these were "A serious dearth of gender-sensitive media policy, an appalling record of crime coverage on women, overt sexism and prurience in mainstream broadcasting and the press, a lack of access for the rural poor and unfavorable work conditions for women journalists."
The liberalization of the media in many instances has increased the number of "tabloid style" publications that thrive on a diet of scandal and sex. While some established newspapers do bring more in-depth coverage of issues of concern to women for instance the East African Standard's long-running Anti-Rape campaign there is also the temptation to revert to the time-tested ways of selling copy.
There continues to be a low number of women in media. In Kenya, only ten percent of journalists are women. Three out of 150 journalists are in management positions at The East African Standard and The Nation Media Group, out of a total of 150 and 200 journalists respectively.
A 1998 survey by the Federation of African Media Women (FAMW-SADC) found that there are on average 24 senior male reporters for every six women in media organizations in Southern Africa. This was due to low paying jobs, negative, gender-related attitudes, sexual harassment both at work and on assignment, bias shown by those being interviewed by female reporters, and being assigned to less important stories. In many countries, women journalists give up and move to other fields such as public relations and the NGO sector.
A World Association of Christian Communication (WACC) global media monitoring project (GMMP), first carried out in 1995 and repeated in 2000, analyzed the portrayal and representation of women in the media in more than 70 countries. The GMMP 2000 found that women make up only 18% of news subjects, barely an increase from the figure of 17% in 1995. African women comprise 48% of the presenters on radio and television, and 24% of the reporters.
In Mali, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, and Benin, private radios and newspapers are appearing, and, in Senegal, the diversification of media, which began several years ago, has grown over years.
A multitude of private, community, and associated radio stations have invaded the airwaves. Mali is exemplary in this latter category of media. With the exception of television, which in most cases remains in the hands of governments; freedom of the press has been proclaimed, despite the persistence of a few notable exceptions. This means that there are more media players, and women benefit from this boom, because their presence in the media has increased. Yet, this growth of female media workers is nonetheless disproportionate.
In all thirteen countries of French-speaking Africa, the number of women is far less than the number of men in all types of media (radio, television, newspapers). According to Situation, place et rôle des femmes dans les médias en Afrique de l'Ouest, a 1999 study by the Panos Institute, women make up barely 21% of media workers in Mali, 20% in Senegal, 19.6% in Togo, and 11.7% in Burkina Faso.
According to a report published by the Association mondiale des radiodiffuseurs communautaires (AMARC) in April 2000 and entitled Beijing Platform and Community Radio of Women, 64 radio stations listed in Mali (28 (co-ops), 22 commercial, nine community and four religious) employed a total of 276 women. Out of these, 98% are speakers, secretaries, or technicians. Out of the 64 radio stations, women run three. As well, one program director and ten accountants are women.
Senegal has nearly 15 private radio stations, and Sud FM has four regional antennas in addition to the main station based in Dakar. The public station Radio télévision du Sénégal (RTS) has ten stations, three of which are in Dakar. Remarkably, Senegal has five radio stations created and run by or for women: Afia FM, Altercom FM, FM Santé, COUMBA FM, and Soxna FM.
Women make up 38% of the workers in Senegal radio stations. The distribution by sex of different positions shows that 29% of journalists, 26% of technicians and 53% of speakers (the people who read announcements and news releases on air) are women. But these stations do not challenge the traditional portrayal of women, thus reinforcing the negative stereotypes of women. One of the greatest causes for pride among women in media in Senegal is the recent promotion of a woman to the head of the main station of the national network RTS, where she had previously occupied the position of editor-in-chief.
The situation is nearly identical in Burkina Faso: only 25 women versus 133 men work in the country's 16 co-op, community, rural and local radios. Yet the Panos Study shows that radio is the medium in which women are most present in Burkina Faso. In Togo's 19 radio stations, there are 178 women and 604 men. Niger and Cameroon are no better; women generally hold junior positions.
In television, women who work in public stations and in the rare private stations tend to receive assignments where they are expected, implicitly or explicitly, to use their charm to satisfy viewers. Stations hiring women on the sole strength of her physical beauty assume that time and practice will do the rest.
Only a few women are in decision-making positions, and in the traditionally all-male domain of economic and political news. Women who host political debates are rare, and are doubly vulnerable to viewers who are demanding and unsympathetic, and to their interlocutors almost exclusively men who usually despise them. The slightest error or substandard performance, the slightest success is always related to their status as women: "She's a woman, she's incompetent!" or "she's a woman, she used her charms to get the scoop!"
In French-speaking Africa, according to WACC study in 2000, women are only 18% of news subjects, even if they are 41% of information producers around the world. This study, which covered 70 countries, including 11 African countries, studied print and electronic media.
In most of the countries of French-speaking Africa, a patriarchal system predominates. Men rise to the top of the social hierarchy with roles of head of household, head of society and of any structure that makes up society. Women have their importance but in the domestic realm: wife and mother. To portray a woman in action, nothing is better than cooking, embroidery, or sewing. When the media portray a woman in some service or other, she is a secretary, nurse, teacher, or home economics instructor.
In plays on Senegalese television, for example, Satan is almost always symbolized by a woman. In the same manner women are go-betweens, shrews and rumourmongers. They take pains with their appearance to win the favour of a husband or a lover. The standard image is that of a young woman with pale skin, with the plump curves that constitute the feminine ideal according to Senegalese men. She is made-up and dressed to the nines and in debt to the cloth-seller, the hairdresser, the dressmaker, and the toiletry salesman. In these portrayals, in fact, she quite often uses her charms to obtain their favours. The main pastime of these women is to put curses on their rivals, or to get magic potions to administer to their heart's chosen one. In these shows, these pastimes sometimes turn tragic, when the man in question dies after ingesting, all unawares, an unhealthy food or drink.
In video-clips, young girls are beautiful, with smooth bodies and long, pale legs. In news, in reporting and interpreting facts, examples are generally detrimental to women. In cases of rape, abortion, infanticide, domestic or conjugal violence, the media coverage focuses on the fault of the woman involved. Victims, women are incriminated. A woman is raped; it is because she was, by her dress or by her gestures, too provocative. These reports are generally given as "news briefs."
The proliferation of private, commercial radio stations makes for even greater risk of sensationalist coverage. This is bringing about, in Senegal for instance, the emergence of newspapers specialising in news briefs (which are reduced almost exclusively to stories about sex and about women) alone. In addition, media rely on young, ill-qualified journalists, who often lack of rigour and professional competence. There are very few shows or topics devoted to women; those that do exist tend to stay within the traditional women's topics: those that make women into good housewives. Often, women head these programs. Who better than a woman to convince her fellow women that their true place is in the home, to espouse the virtues of polygamy or decry the absurdity of feminist arguments? This is also the trap of some of the so-called women's radio stations such as the ones mentioned in Senegal. However, this does not mean that greater and better participation of women in the media will change the dissemination of stereotyped, negative images of women.
Women are not the first source to speak on a situation, but it does happen now that they are asked to speak. They are more visible in the media than they were ten years ago. A television producer these days would be less inclined to have only men on the set: there would undoubtedly be fewer women than men, but in most cases it can be expected that there will be at least one woman... for decoration?
Some progress is being made, because of sensitization of the media, even if it alternates with backsliding. Women are increasingly fighting to be heard, refusing to resign, and putting pressure on men. In a newsroom, where there is at least one experienced woman media professional, there is a greater sensitivity to gender, because she may keep things from getting out of hand.
Electronic media is still in its early stages. Internet broadcasts are quite rare. In most cases, electronic media are simply a reproduction of print or audio media. Nonetheless, French-speaking African women are concerned about the objectification of women through the dissemination of sexually stereotyped or degrading images of women.
Changes, despite the obstacles
Many of the achievements mentioned by governments during the mid-decade review of the Beijing Platform in 1996 were initiated by, or undertaken together with NGOs, and other civil society actors.
Women's media organizations have provided training and skills-building for media women to cover women's viewpoints more effectively, and to break through the glass ceiling into media management positions. They have intensified lobbying and advocacy efforts. In telecommunications infrastructure, creating gender sensitive communication policies, and combating negative and stereotypical coverage of women in the media by "naming and shaming" offenders.
For example, to seek a more positive portrayal of women in the media, women's media associations were formed in most countries, with a major objective of improving news content by pushing mainstream media to cover stories portraying women positively. In Tanzania, the Tanzania Media Women's Association, (TAMWA) has been active on many fronts. It pioneered a "bang style" approach, by giving blanket coverage to an issue in wide range of media to ensure impact. In Ethiopia the newly formed Media Women's Association, EMWA, has teamed up with the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association to raise awareness on women's legal rights. UMWA in Uganda is about to launch a radio station that will bring women's issues to the forefront.
In Zambia, women's NGO successfully petitioned a company to remove an offensive advertisement for washing detergent. In Kenya, women's organizations recently sponsored a song writing competition, open to both men and women, about positive contributions women make to everyday life. Some NGOs also sponsor songwriters and bands to produce songs with positive messages, for instance on the importance of girls' education. Other initiatives focus on empowering female and male media professionals so that they can concretely combat negative aspects of the media.
The African Women's Media Centre, formed in 1997, provides training for journalists. An annual conference targets women in mid-level media management to build their skills in various aspects of leadership.
In the region, initiatives to improve access to the media, particularly for rural, poor women, have been varied and across sectors.
The Forum for African Women Educationists (FAWE) has worked to improve education for girls since this has a direct impact on women's ability to benefit from media outreach programmes.
The Women's Radio Listening Clubs in Zimbabwe has 52 radio listening clubs, which allow dialogue between rural women and decision-makers. Members, mostly women, assemble at a local centre and listen to a half-hour radio program, record it, and debate it. National radio station producers pick up the questions raised by the women, channel them to the appropriate decision-makers, and put the responses on the air in subsequent broadcasts.
The Women's Net Community Radio Pilot Project, South Africa, aims to increase the gender content in community radio stations, and develop the ability in gender organizations to generate programmes for community radio. It has a wide range of partners: community radio stations, local women's organizations, national NGOs and the government commission on gender equality.
World Space, an alternative global radio network, uses satellite radio to reach marginalized population groups. The company launched the AfriStar satellite, with a capacity of transmitting nearly 200 channels of programming. The proposed channel sees women as "narrators of their own experiences." While it is not operational yet, it points to a future of broadcasting in Africa. It also plans to put in place mechanisms to distribute satellite radios to those who cannot afford them.
New and emerging ICTs Debate and dialogue on the kind of ICTs that are needed for Africa and whether they should take precedence over the basic needs of food and shelter continue. Many argue that ICTs can be used to accelerate the processes that alleviate poverty and make governance more democratic and participatory. There are various experiments ongoing in the region.
FOWODE, an Ugandan NGO, searches for relevant information on the Internet and forwards it to women parliamentarians.
Networking among womens groups had increased because of ICTs. A South African woman posted a message on the APC-Africa-Women mailing list requesting information for a campaign for women's reproductive and health rights. There were two responses from other African countries detailing relevant legislation that could be used as precedents in the South African campaign.
The African Gender Institute's WomenNet initiative set up an e-mail information exchange among librarians and documentalists working on gender equity and justice information. In Uganda, Healthnet has started to examine women's use of and access to health information.
ICTs are also changing how news media works and opening up opportunities for women journalists. Women have received training and work as online editors for the Internet versions of daily newspapers. Kenya's two leading dailies have women online editors. Training is essential for effective use of ICTs. Organizations are equipping women with skills in ICTs. For instance, IPS Africa offered an information technology-training programme for women broadcast journalists in 1999.
The Association of Progressive Communications (APC), pioneers in computer-based technology training for women have offered courses in computer relevant content on the World Wide Web.
WomenNet, South Africa brought together African women journalists and NGO activists in 1999 to find ways of generating appropriate, indigenous content on Africa by Africans. The participants developed the Flamme Africa Web site (http://flamme.org) during the workshop. Another recent initiative was the launching of the Web site of the Eastern African Media Women's Association (http://eamwa.org/) on International Women's Day, 2001.
"Currently, it is only middle-class and professional women who use (e-mail and the Internet). In order to facilitate access for women from other classes and sectors, (these technologies) will need to be located in local institutions to which women have open and equal access, such as health centres, women's (nongovernmental organizations), women's employment centres, libraries, women's studies departments and institutes, and perhaps even churches. The location in these types of contexts also pertains to the practical, specific kind of information that women require as a result of their time constraints. For example, placing Internet access in a local health centre will facilitate women's access to the health information they need for themselves and their children, by providing access to information for which there is a specific need at the same time as making a health-related visit. When women can understand and experience the benefits of ICTs, they are quick to use them." (Report by Women in Global Science and Technology cited in Robins 2000).
One hundred and seventy women journalists from Senegal, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia participated in an AWMC-sponsored virtual training session on "Reporting on HIV/AIDS and Women in Africa".
The market has stepped in where governments have failed. Private telephone bureaus (catering for basic requirements of rural inhabitants) have sprung up even in remote villages while more development-oriented communication networks have been unable to make a mark beyond major towns or project centres. Telecentres improve accessibility and innovative use of ICTs in areas where there is little or no formal education or access to the information infrastructure. They provide access to telephone and IT facilities as well as entertainment in remote areas. South Africa has the highest number of telecentres in Africa, with pilot centres in Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Telecentres can train local people, provide market information and marketing opportunities for local produce, and enable remote groups to communicate with decision makers and politicians on issues of local concern. Through the use of radio and other wireless technologies as well as solar power, such centres are becoming feasible even for communities that do not have access to telephone lines and electricity. The Acacia initiative spearheaded by Canada's International Development Research Centre, IDRC, has initiated most of the pilot telecentres in Africa.
In French-speaking Africa, women have less access and training than men, communications infrastructures are rare and expensive, plus there is the barrier of the French language and the non-mastery of English. ICTs are mainly used in offices at home, with only a few privileged households in large urban centres having Internet access.
According to the study African Women Speak on the Internet, conducted for WomenAction and APC-Africa-Women in May 2000, 75% of the women surveyed said that they have problems with ICT equipment. French-speakers had the most trouble with equipment. As well, there seems to be no established link between the language of the region and the equipment troubles, even if all respondents who mentioned language as an obstacle were French-speaking. It is interesting to note that all women surveyed spoke English; this may also mean that their responses do not accurately reflect reality. How many French speakers also speak English?
The study noted that English has far surpassed French in the electronic communications surrounding Beijing+5. Access to knowledge (including knowledge of ICTs) is a problem in Africa to begin with, because it takes place in a language that most people in the region do not speak.
Nonetheless, different initiatives have been undertaken since Beijing to give women better access to ICTs. Women's NGOs have taken the place of the State, since governments have dragged their feet. Various programs for training, supervising and facilitating the use of ICTs have come into existence under the auspices of local or international NGOs.
Communication pour les femmes (Communication for Women), implemented by the team of Environmental Development Action in the Third World/Synergy Gender and Development (Enda-Synfev) of the NGO Enda-Tiers-Monde, is a very interesting example. Started in 1995, it works to ensure access of French-speaking women to information and to communications technologies. Famafrique, a Web site for the women of French-speaking Africa, is one of the most visible achievements of this programme.
Five and a half years after the Beijing Platform for Action, the situation of women in the regional media has not improved much. The region has witnessed many initiatives, and it is important to give them credit. But there is no radical change. The major change is the consciousness raised due to the lobbying of women. However, these efforts seem scarce and tame compared with those in other parts of the world. French-speaking African women seem to have less ability to organize and their lobbying is not as developed as is the case with their English-speaking sisters. Additionally, community movements are stronger with the latter, which have far more opportunities, because of their use of English and a better-anchored tradition of struggle.
A great constraint, which constitutes the challenge to which all "peripheral" societies are obliged to take up today, is globalization. The centre, composed of western societies (essentially Western Europe and the United States), is the framework for all ideas destined to govern the world and all products destined for the new consumer society. This movement hinges on the media. They are the main channel over which these ideas and products are disseminated and, at the same time, they are, themselves, an important product.
ICTs have abolished notions of time and space, while the proliferation of multinational corporations, including those that work in the sector of information and communications, has imposed the domination of commercial logic. Images of women and children are used with no restraint in the print and electronic media, and come to French-speaking Africa through the process described above. In other words, without or in addition to being producers of degrading images of women, one can be content to be an active or passive consumer. The same multinational media are found everywhere, since globalization allows some multinational corporations to reach the most remote corners of the planet, as long as there is a minimal infrastructure. The images conveyed cause harm everywhere, to women wherever they may be.
The independent actions of women and media, of women's groups or of international structures are not enough by themselves to attain the objectives set by the Toronto Platform and by the Beijing Platform for Action. States have a large measure of responsibility in their attaining these objectives and they must be the first to show the way by getting beyond words and declarations of good faith. They must vote in new laws and, even more important, ensure that they are applied vigorously. Most of our states are quick to vote in resolutions and to adhere to laws, especially those that are the work of international organizations, but they do so more to be "politically correct" than from any desire to bring real change to the situations in question
The French-speaking country networks are proposing a focus on these points covered in Section J of the BPFA:
African Women's Development and Communication Network, FEMNET.
African Women's Media Center, On the Wire, various issues. http://www.awmc.com or http://www.iwmf.org
Flamme: African Sisters Online, http://flamme.org
Hidaru, Aster, A Women's Satellite Channel for Africa, WorldSpace Corporation.
Huyer, Sophia, Supporting Women's Use of Information Technologies
for Sustainable Development, Women in Global Science and Technology
Morna, Colleen Lowe and Zohra Khan, Net Gains: African Women Take Stock of Information and Communication Technologies, June 2000.
Ngangoue, Nana Rosine, "Women's Viewpoint, Stories Muted in Media, Says Study," Inter Press Service, 13 March 2001.
Organization of African Unity/United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, African Platform for Action. Adopted at the Fifth African Regional Conference on Women, Dakar, Senegal, November 1994.
Panos Southern Africa, 2000 Signposts on the Superhighway: African Gender, A Guide to News and Resources on the Internet.
Robins, Melinda B., Africa's Women/Africa's Women Journalists: Critical Perspectives on Internet Initiatives, Southeastern Regional Seminar in African Studies (SERSAS), 2000.
The Communication Initiative, http://www.comminit.com/
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World Association for Christian Communication, Media & Gender Monitor, No. 3, Summer 1998.
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, AMARC, http://www.amarc.org
AMARC, Beijing Platform and Community Radio of Women, 2000
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Institut Panos, Situation, place et rôle des femmes dans les médias en Afrique de l'Ouest, 1999.
ONU, Plate-forme d'action de Beijing, 1995.
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UNESCO, Plate-forme d'action de Toronto, 1995.
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