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Overlapping agendas, different priorities
Executive Summary



The Arab region

Latin America and the Caribbean

Europe and North America

Latin America and the Caribbean

Based on a regional report prepared by Sally Burch, Irene León (Area Mujeres ALAI, Quito) and Daphne Sabanes Plou (APC, Argentina) in the year 2000. Updated by Daphne Sabanes Plou in 2001.


"Tiempos... distintos para dar"
Photo from the 3rd annual contest: "Women, Image, and Testimonies," Ecuador.

(click to enlarge)

In the last five years, many strides have been made in the region on issues of women and media. Some had to do with the importance of journalism and social communications as a career in universities. In Argentina, for example, 52% of students at the graduate level were women and 70% were in postgraduate studies.

As a result, more women work in private and State-owned media, especially in radio and television. They are announcers, reporters, programme conductors, interviewers, and information analysts. There are more women in radio and TV working as producers of journalistic programmes. Print dailies hired women journalists to write about politics, economics, and social issues. Women are still scarce in decision-making positions, but the fact that they have a stronger presence in the media contributes to the possibility that one day they may be in larger numbers at the top.

Although this description sounds positive, according to the 2000 World Media Monitoring Initiative, the region posted the lowest figures of women journalists in the media, compared with the world figures. Although, at a world level, women working in the media were 41% of all workers, in Latin America, the figure was 29% for news announcers and 27% for reporters, and, in the Caribbean, 43% for news announcers and 39% for reporters. The highest figures were for women announcers in radio and TV, but once it came to reporters, especially in newspapers, the numbers lowered dramatically.

A similar report in 1995 showed the scant importance that media in the region give to women’s issues. Although, in North America, 20% of the news had to do with issues of interest to women, in South America, only 6% of the news had to with them, and, in the Caribbean, the percentage was 10.5%.

The year 2000 media monitoring showed that, in Latin America, 22% of the women who make the news do so as victims. In the Caribbean, it is up to 13% of women who make the news, while world-wide only 7% of men in the same situation make the news. This monitoring report concludes that it is not just the number of women who appear in the news, but the structures, values and routines that determine how news issues are selected and presented.

In October 1997, Cotidiano Mujer, an NGO in Uruguay, monitored newspapers, TV news and radio. Only 8% of the newspaper news coverage had to do with women; women's human rights and sexuality were not even mentioned. In TV news, only one woman was interviewed for every seven men, and for each hour that a woman journalist spoke on TV, men journalists spoke four. In radio, out of 7,000 minutes of broadcasting analyzed, only 301 minutes were dedicated to women’s issues. Men were interviewed during 2,384 minutes, whereas women could be heard during 449 minutes.

In Bolivia, la Red de Trabajadoras de la Información y la Comunicación-Red Ada held a similar experiment in July 1998 during which monitoring reached the five most important newspapers in the country, which are published in the main cities. Women in news made up 18.49%, and most appeared in the pages dedicated to describing social events (20.3%), whereas for issues like education, women or women’s issues were mentioned in 6.25% of the news and in health and legal issues, 2.34%.

In Cuba, the Federation of Cuban Women recorded that 40% of radio professionals are women. As well, out of ten men, only one woman appeared as the subject of information in the news, speaking from her home, the street or a shop, while men spoke from their work places or within the scope of political responsibilities. Some years later, the proportion was better: one woman for every four-and-a-half man. But still the scenario was the same.

Globalization of communications meant, among other things, cable channels broadcasting programmes from outside the region. Media concentration has resulted in big multimedia companies being owners of newspapers, as well as radio and TV networks. This trend has been counterproductive to the democratization of communications and to a more fair representation and voice of social actors – women in particular. The limited or weak democracies that govern in most of the countries, within the straightjacket of structural adjustment plans imposed by the international financial system, are vulnerable under the pressure of big economic interests, the media among them. With economic deregulation and free markets as an excuse, ethics and equity have been set aside. Information is no longer considered a right of the people’s, but has been turned into a commodity, and the media keep very few links with the public service concept that was promoted when they were created.

The data obtained in these surveys suggest that, to change the status of women in the media, it is insufficient to insist that women should go on training as journalists or social communicators, or that news and information should be treated from a gender perspective. Media policies and codes are also needed to promote affirmative action.

The Internet

1995 marked the commercial boom in 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. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the region has 8% of the world’s population but only 3.5% of the 340 million Internet users and less than 1% of the global electronic commerce.

Aside from the commercial use of the Internet, civil society organizations began to use electronic communication in the region as early as the late eighties, and there was a significant increase in use by women's organizations as of 1994-95. Women's organizations have continued to use these technologies creatively, particularly to coordinate activities and exchange information via e-mail and lists, but there is also an increasing presence on the World Wide Web.

Emerging issues

During the last decade the communications industry in the region has been characterized by the privatization of telecommunications, the implantation of new communications systems (satellites, cable TV, digital technology, the Internet, cellular phones), the concentration of media ownership, etc. These have been accompanied by changes to the legal framework in which these systems operate, spurred on by recommendations from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU), designed mainly to remove constitutional restrictions on foreign investment in this sphere and to open the path to the expansion of transnational media and communication systems.

Many of these changes have been too rapid for women's organizations to react adequately. There is a growing awareness of the significance of communication and new technologies in the context of globalization. An increasing number of women's and other social movements in Latin America and the Caribbean are promoting the need to democratize communication and to open a broad public debate on issues of communication and citizenship. From this framework arose the proposal, originally put forward by human rights organizations from this region, which stated that the UN should organize a world conference on communication, as a place to air this debate with broad participation of all actors concerned, particularly from civil society.


Most of the obstacles identified in 1995 to women's access to expression and decision making in the media and to changing women's images in the media persist in Latin American and the Caribbean, to a greater or lesser extent. The democratic right of citizens to pluralistic information sources and the means of expressing their viewpoints are endangered due to the concentration of the media and communications industry. Women suffering from 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 place for citizens to participate or express their opinions. Even where such places exist, women's organizations are often not aware of them.

Communication and media policies

The concentration of the media in a few hands has been an issue in some countries, like Argentina, where new regulations allowed for the creation of powerful multimedia. The need to give space in the media to better representation of the different actors in society – women among them – was relegated. Once more, the market economy dominated over political decisions and the consequences are that men and women are seen only as consumers and not as people with the right to full citizenship.

However, in several countries there were threats against community radio and TV stations. In some cases, such as in Paraguay and Uruguay, the people in charge of them were threatened with prison, as if they had committed a serious crime. In community media, women play important roles, both conducting and planning the programming and in the decision-making processes, management, 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 from a gender perspective. In Colombia, a new law on broadcasting passed in 1998 has legalized community media.

In some 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 major cases that had to do with infant pornography, the apology of violence against women in a popular salsa song and sexist advertising. At the Bolivian Peoples Ombudsman, a woman is in charge of citizenship promotion and education. In 1997/98, she took part in the first-ever national research into images of women in the press, on radio and on television. The results were published in the book La Mirada Invisible.

The women’s movement has implemented its own communication policies, in accordance with the Platform for Action. Latin American and Caribbean women decided to prioritize some of these recommendations. In a meeting held in Santiago in 1997, the participants considered that there were three recommendations that were central to developing joint strategic actions:

  • Encouraging communications networks among women, including electronic networks (par. 239, f.)
  • Creating networks among NGO, women’s, and professional organizations to facilitate greater participation of women in the media (par. 242, c.)
  • Promoting training in gender issues for media professionals to avoid stereotypes and encourage gender equity when reporting the news (par. 243, c.)

The Women’s Office in Colombia and Venezuela has taken into account these principles in the TV programmes that they produce regularly. The need to put into action their rights in the communications field made Chilean women struggle for a place in the National Television Committee.

Since 1992, the Women's Network of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) developed a series of gender and communication workshops as key to their policy of equal opportunities for women in radio production. In 1999, this network had 245 members in 21 countries: 26% were radio directors, 64% producers, seven percent (7%) journalists and three percent (3%) researchers. The network has links to seven national networks that total approximately 1,500 community radio women in Latin America and the Caribbean. At the beginning, these workshops focused only on women. In 1995, men started to be invited to the training workshops, where people learned about radio techniques and gender theory. The workshops introduced the issue of masculinity and the cultural construction of men’s identity was also analyzed. Men attended the workshops timidly, but lately there has been an almost equal participation of women and men in these activities.

In 1999, AMARC Women's Network conducted a survey analyzing 36 radio programmes produced by their members in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru. It showed that women were in charge of all sorts of radio programmes: magazines, clips, micro-programmes, dramas, soap operas, interviews, news and information, story telling, debates, etc, where they discussed and presented all sorts of issues. Most of the women belong to the community where the radio station is located, and know the needs and struggles of their audience and their message is not divorced from their people.

Women's Media Watch (WMW) in Jamaica repositioned itself after working some years as an action group against media violence, exploring how this may contribute to legitimizing and perpetuating violence against women in Caribbean societies. WMW developed an image as a "group of men-bashing feminists." So, instead of criticizing, they established the Media Awards commending journalists and media houses for their achievements. They discovered that they could build alliances with media workers so as to portray a different image of women in the media.

The Caribbean Institute for Media and Communication (CARIMAC) began to change its focus in the area of research on women/gender and media. Its previous work had given great emphasis on quantitative baseline studies. It changed its emphasis from figures on job and task descriptions to the use of gendered symbols, values, meanings, and signification. This perspective has enriched research and has opened the way toward cultural interpretation, analysis of actions and language and studies of the relations in the media organizations.

In the last five years, women’s organizations have advanced in raising awareness of their right to communicate as part of their citizenship. For this reason, they devoted their efforts to putting into practice the Platform for Action recommendations to civil society. They led advancements for equality within the media; created and strengthened their own media and communications devices; initiated networks to facilitate their interactions as citizens; and encouraged women’s access to new communications technologies.