Europe and North America
Interview with Lenka Simerska (Gender Studies Institute, Prague)
and Malin Bjork (European Women's Lobby) during the U.N. Special
Session "Women2000," New York, June 2000.
This report is an assessment of the status of Women and Media in the UNECE region. The UNECE Regional Platform for Action (1994) did not focus on Women and Media as a critical area of concern, despite sustained lobbying by many womens information and communication networks during the preparatory process. The conclusions of the UNECE regional preparations for the Review Process (Jan. 2000) acknowledge media as a critical partner in raising awareness and affecting public opinion.
NGO Alternative reports also made little reference to Women and
Media in general as a critical area of concern, which was primarily due
to the structure and contents of the original UNECE Platform for Action,
the main document NGOs referred to for assessing progress, though many
womens groups acknowledged how important media and ICTs were.
The Balkans (Albania, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Macedonia TFYR, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Slovenia)
Critical issues for many womens groups in the region are in the context of the aftermath of post-war reconstruction; the transition from central- to market-based economies and participation in embryonic democracies. Womens groups working in media and ICT sector know that mainstream media are all powerful, subservient to the rules of the market, serve to propagate the views of patriarchal societies and remain largely inaccessible to women. Despite this, there is a fair level of activity in the region.
B.a.B.e. (Be Active Be Emancipated), a womens human rights group working in Croatia, has its hands full monitoring newspaper, TV and billboard advertising for sexist, misogynist and homophobic content. It uses innovative strategies to capture the interest of the mainstream press through sticker campaigns ("this offends women", "sexism", "stop"), raising awareness about offensive supermarket advertising by writing educational letters to store owners and staff, and producing "rap" videos to highlight gender-based violence.
In Albania, a recent poll on a public television station cited that many believe "the language of hate and violence that characterizes todays press in Albania could be avoided if women were in charge of the media." When twenty-two young journalists were asked to produce an "ideal" newspaper as part of a media-training initiative, they found that the concerns of women and young people, child care and new technology figured significantly as news that needed to be told in an "ideal newspaper."
Women are using e-mail and the Internet in an increasingly "no place for women" media landscape.
During the war in Yugoslavia, governments prevented phone connections between Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. Womens groups and peace activists were able to send e-mail to one another across the region, using a system of telephone lines that routed via the UK and Germany. In Bosnia, Medica Infoteka uses e-mail to contact support groups in Western Europe to ascertain the whereabouts of Bosnian women who have been trafficked and/or forced into prostitution. The Young Witches recognize the importance of communicating with young women to inform them of their activities and build stronger womens networking capacities.
In Macedonia, the Union of Women's organizations is using the Internet on a daily basis to inform women and peace activists about its campaign to bring about a peaceful resolution to the current conflict on the northern border.
The Internet, though still primarily inaccessible to most people in the region, has proved to be an invaluable tool in supporting the work of womens groups in the region. As the following table demonstrates, excluding Slovenia, between 0.13% and 4.67% of people in the region have access to e-mail.
The primary barriers to womens use of the Internet are access, cost and lack of awareness of the function or benefits of the Internet. Costs are high due to telecommunication monopolies in most countries. There are campaigns organized by Internet users to protest the high costs of Internet access (which is seen to be a political strategy to deny access, see DOSTA). Deregulation of the telecommunications sector in this region (and other countries in transition) is seen to be a critical factor in reducing access cost and fulfilling universal service obligations as outlined in several European level initiatives.
Language is a huge barrier to increased use of the Internet (as is true for the Caucuses and Central Asia). Womens groups work double-time, in two languages, if they want to communicate with regional and international networks, and ensure that the international community visits their Web sites.
Caucuses and Central Asia
Many of the countries of this region are nearing the end of the first decade of independence from the former Soviet Union. The economies are weak as are its fledgling democratic institutions. The media and press are still largely controlled by the Government either through state laws, rigid control or self-censorship. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan constitutionally protect freedom of expression but, in reality, independent mainstream press is often limited by government practice. During the war in Tajikistan (92-97), most areas of the country were off limit to journalists and were considered one of the most dangerous countries for reporting.
Telecommunications infrastructure is poorly developed, particularly in rural areas, with many towns and villages not reached by the local telephone exchanges. Fewer than 0.15% (about 100,000) of the population have access to the Internet and very few of the national newspapers, TV stations or radio stations have Web sites.
Womens media and ICT initiatives in the Region
Mama86 was established in 1986 by a group of young mothers in Kiev after the Chernobyl disaster to raise public awareness on womens health and environmental issues through networking, the promotion of public participation in decision-making and supporting grass-roots initiatives. They have been using e-mail since the early 90s for research, communication and to aid in capacity-building among their member organizations.
Women in Mass Media in Central Asia (WIMCA) has national focal points in all Central Asian countries and conducts a range of activities with both female and male journalists. Their Central Asian Regional Media Support Project aims to provide isolated journalists with a support network and media training opportunities. Through an UNESCO-funded project (Women in the Net), WIMCA has been able to provide national focal points with a computer and e-mail connection. Women are using e-mail in a special project called Women Speaking to Women discussing women-journalists and NGOs needs.
Press freedom and democracy is a critical issue in the Central Asian region. WIMCA has identified a special need to work with media practitioners and journalists to ensure that they understand current media legislation, and are able to fully engage in current struggles to protect constitutionally guaranteed media freedoms.
Despite severe curtailments of freedom of the press in the Kyrgyz Republic where libel (often used as a means of prosecuting journalists who criticize the government officials) has been a criminal offence since 1998, the courage and determination of women journalists continues unabated. In October 2000, the International Womens Media Foundation honoured Zamira Sydykova, Editor-in-Chief of the Res Publica, one of the only women to head an independent newspaper, for her work to expose government and corporate corruption and the misuse of public funds. She has been imprisoned, banned twice from working as a journalist, and is subject to persistent legal intimidation by the government through the use of media legislation.
The Feminist League in Kazakhstan (the first womens organization to be established in the country in 1993) is committed to promoting gender equality for women and have published the only and most comprehensive, objective research on the status of women in the country through their publishing arm "Malvina".
Their project on "Gender Analysis of the Legal Structure of Kazakhstan" (ongoing since 1995) is a response to the complete lack of formal representation of womens advocates in parliament. They have a comprehensive Web site where women can find much of their work and publications (Russian).
In Tajikistan, the Khujand Womens Centre ("Gulruhsor") has used electronic mail in its campaign and lobbying work to highlight the gender-based violence in society. Suicide rates amongst young women, often due to depression because of lack of employment opportunities, "double" work loads, poor access to education, and poor health and social services, are disturbingly high.
Western/Northern Europe and North America
Unprecedented media mergers have become the norm in Canada, United States and Western Europe. Media ownership has become both concentrated with fewer groups holding more and more resources and convergent, where the same entity holds interests in print, television, and the Internet, often combining ownership of content (newspapers, television stations, portals) and container (presses, cable, telephone or wireless networks). Eight out of nine of the world's largest media conglomerates are based in Europe or North America.
This threatens freedom of the press and can further marginalize women. One concrete example is the situation of women in radio in the USA. As different media forms converge and analog services shift to digital (TV), competition for new broadcasting channels is becoming fierce, and trends indicate that broadcasting frequencies are in danger of being sold out to the highest bidder at the expense of community and public broadcasting needs.
How does this trend affect women? In addition to regulations abandoning the role of "publiccustodians" of a public resource, the 'Fairness Doctrine," which required broadcasters to provide a minimum of public interest news, was also abandoned, leading to a situation where little or no regulation (based on community-defined standards) exists today. To make matters worse, existing affirmative action rules, which encouraged radio stations to show a preference for female ownership, were dropped, as has the number of women media owners since.
The 1997 revision of the Communications Act (which increased the number of broadcasting outlets any one company own) favours mainstream commercial broadcasters (specifically TV) for allocation of frequencies, and commercial competition for frequencies. This has contributed to a situation where the price of radio and TV stations has escalated beyond the financial means of most small and medium broadcasters. Women-owned and -oriented stations, tending to be smaller, have been obvious casualties in the merger-monopoly frenzy.
Once the conglomerates have control of the media, women are the last of their concerns. "A medium is supposed to be in the centre, a means of communication, a link between emitter and receiver," says Joelle Palmieri of the France-based feminist media group Les Pénélopes.
The Global Media Monitoring Project 2000 shows that, in Europe, where women were 19% of newsmakers, their exclusion from "hard" news, such as European politics, cannot be explained by lack of opportunity:
The GMMP points out that, although most of these stories provided ample opportunity for the inclusion of women's point of view and perspectives, coverage in most media relied almost entirely on male authorities and spokespeople. This is despite the fact that both the European Commission and the European Parliament, sources for much of the news commentary, include substantial numbers of women in authoritative positions.
North America, Northern Europe and Western Europe are world leaders in ICT use. But in these subregions, as in the rest of the world, "Internet use remains highly concentrated in a few countries, shows signs of slowing in several others and hundreds of millions of citizens have no immediate intention of going online." While Northern Europe, North America and the Netherlands are aggressive adopters (40-60% of their populations use the Internet), Southern and Eastern Europe show much lower rates of adoption (France 22%, Spain 18%, Italy 16%, Poland 11%).
Women use the Internet proportionally more in those countries where the population uses the Internet more: for example, in the U.S., where more than half the population uses the Internet, women make up roughly 48% of Internet users, whereas in Spain, where Internet users are 18% of the population, only a third (33.5%) of these are women.
Although improvement in infrastructure and the falling costs of equipment and connections have translated into a significant increase in Internet use for all populations in North America, gaps persist among ethnic and linguistic minorities, and between urban and rural populations. French-speaking Canadians use the Internet less than English-speaking Canadians, blacks and Hispanics in the USA increasingly less than whites, and rural populations in both countries less than urban populations. Interestingly, while in almost every case women use the Internet slightly less than men, black and Hispanic women in the USA have slightly (just over 2%) higher Internet use rates than their male counterparts.
There is a severe lack of funding for women-centred ICT initiatives since Beijing in countries considered "developed." Ironically it is the "rich" countries that are most affected Western-European countries in particular since there are relatively well-developed sources of funding in the USA, and, to a lesser extent, Canada and the Northern European countries.
Women tend to be considered a "special interest group" in the "Connecting Canadians" programme, administered by Industry Canada. VolNet the main project for connecting civil society groups in Canada considered women to be a "special interest group," and it was only with intense lobbying that women managed to be included as a priority group.
The "Community Access Programme" aiming to build telecentres in rural and urban areas has refused to finance women-only telecentre projects, saying that projects must offer public, "universal" access: access to women and men. This criterion of universality, combined with the absence of any gender-based analysis on the impact of these major (hundreds of millions of dollars) initiatives means that programmes such as CAP may actually be reinforcing the digital divide in ICT use in Canada.
Saving the commons of the airwaves
"Women need to be keeping very close tabs on media regulation and throwing all our personal and organizational weight against the total privatization of this resource without regard for public duty and public access. Once we lose all control of this resource, it will be next to impossible to get it back. And the models of ownership developed in the US are sure to be heavily promoted at the international level and in all the other countries of the world. One step we can try to take is to get women's NGOs represented at the International Telecommunications Union Technical Committee, which allocates broadcasting spectrum use all over the world. Currently, the ITU looks like another WTO, with corporations and governments making the decisions in the absence of any input from civil society. (In fact the corporations outnumber the governments at that table today about 400 to one.)" (Frieda Werden)
The AMARC European Womens Network notes that the use of community radio has been an effective tool in providing an alternative voice to the "distorted and stereotyped" voice of mainstream media. Women make up 46% of the heads of community radio stations in Western Europe; this figure is far lower and decreasing in Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, although there is a myriad of laws and regulations covering the use and allocation of broadcast frequencies for community broadcasting at a national level, there are no European programmes "specifically targeting community media". In spite of this, the number of community radio stations in the region is increasing and community radio is becoming a common tool for womens groups to disseminate information and develop their activities.
The need for a gender-planning approach to Information Society policies
Extending basic connectivity and telecommunications infrastructure and deregulation of telecom monopolies are a huge priority, as noted by national governments, European institutions (European Council eEurope 2000 Action Plan), donor initiatives (OSI) and UN agencies (UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS) and NGO media and communication advocates.
But it is primarily NGO womens and media advocates, in partnership with donor and UN agencies, who are pushing for a gender-planning approach to the development of "Information Society" policies and programmes. Womens networks like the European Womens Lobby have highlighted the near complete absence of gender-planning approaches in national, regional and international Information Society policies.
Gender planning and gender perspectives, though sometimes acknowledged as a need in policy planning and sometimes sought, is often seen as an "add-on" with womens groups being asked to contribute on policy planning well after the conceptual framing stages.
New alliances, new news
An encouraging trend is womens use of media and ICTs. Women and civil society are developing new strategies to combat the decreasing media spaces accessible to women, the "men-led" gender perspective, which permeates most of the information we receive through mainstream media, and the devastating effect globalization is having on all of our lives.
The organizations and networks described above, such as European WomenAction, the KARAT Coalition and the Network of East West Women (NEWW), are building bridges amongst and between womens and alternative media and generating women-focussed content from a gender perspective. They are using a multitude of media to provide a platform for womens voices on womens issues. Working with a combination of new (Web-TV, Internet-radio, Web sites, mailing lists) and old (newspaper, analog radio, video) technologies womens voices are being heard at the regional and international level in ways we have not seen before.
Partnerships with new independent news and information services (particularly in the NIS and CIS regions) are important for claiming new media spaces. Initiatives such as IndyPress, Internews and the International Journalists Network are some of the important alternative media movements that womens organizations can become involved with.
Womens groups have seen the Internet as a relatively free space and as a platform for their voices. The European region is advocating legislative changes that could fundamentally affect this relative freedom. This area of work is commonly referred to as "Internet Rights" or "Cyber Rights".
While advocating for full freedom of expression and information in the media, and acknowledging the damaging effects of censorship for democratic societies through its Freedom of expression and information in the media in Europe the Council of Europe (which comprises 43 member states in the European Region) is currently the driving force behind the draft "Convention on Cybercrime," which is seen by many civil society Internet rights advocates as having serious implications for the right to privacy and presumption of innocence before proven guilty (acknowledged as human rights in the European Human Rights Act and Charter of European Human Rights).
Initially, Internet legislation in Europe was seen as the domain of national governments. What we are seeing now is a shift towards European institutions taking on this role, which will potentially impact on all countries in the region, and, eventually, the rest of the world.