The outcry to achieve gender parity and shed light on women and issues affecting them across the globe is still of big concern. Cultural, social and political barriers of established thoughts of women’s subordination create preconceived notions on what women can or cannot be.
As we celebrate International Women’s day this year under the theme Breaking the Bias, we acknowledge that the journey towards women empowerment is far from the envisaged goal. However, it is important that even as we set sights on the future, to take stock of the gains made and appreciate the power of media as the agent that has made the journey so worth the while.
Media is a powerful tool, an interconnection of veins that run through the body of society to reach the masses at large. The media delivers crucial knowledge, information and updates to the citizenry with great potential to alter their perceptions on issues. Through print, visual and audio, we witness every day how diverse mass media platforms bring things to light and make information more convenient and accessible. Recently, NTV aired a documentary of a predatory doctor in Laikipia who was sexually assaulting his patients. Without such coverage, this could not have reached the masses and prompted the government to act in haste to shut down the operation.
Media has been considered a powerful tool for bringing women’s rights issues to the attention of a wider public and doing wonders in sensitizing society about the elimination of derogatory practices to women such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early marriages and Gender-Based Violence (GBV). The media has also been instrumental in empowering women by increasing their participation and access to expression opportunities. It has highlighted the tribulations of women and children in times of human conflict and war and uncertainty during election periods. We have seen the media rise in support of women by providing them with prime coverage. This was unheard of decades ago.
With the evolution of technology, the Internet is now more readily accessible to multitudes. Social media as a consequence is now an undeniable force in modern society. These platforms have created and sustained global connections, provided outlets for self-expression and fundamentally changed the way we communicate. Social media has also come forward to support women to ensure that their voices are heard through different campaigns to safeguard women’s rights.
Through participation in media and new technologies, we have created role models for younger girls by focusing on the success stories of exceptional and renowned women despite the indecent representation of women in programming as sex objects, especially in the entertainment industry.
Mass Media has made a strong contribution, through its coverage in the understanding of the concept of gender equality such as the 2/3-gender rule while also influencing policies geared towards the enjoyment of women’s rights and freedoms. This powerful and positive role by the media should be encouraged and further supported.
However, with great power comes even greater responsibility. Due to the media’s immense influence on people, it should act with more accountability and gender sensitivity when reporting and publishing news.
The Achilles heel with the media has been that fewer women occupy levels of influence and as a consequence makes the content gender-biased. In addition, figures show that women’s contribution as news sources is at a partly 35%.
With fewer women in key decision-making positions, it is nearly impossible to influence a gender-sensitive media policy. In addition, stereotypical portrayals of women as incapable of handling the assumed ‘confrontational’ nature of the media industry persist and this can explain the high attrition rates and stifled career progression in the job market for women. In addition, the lack of proper anti-sexual harassment policies greatly promotes atrocities of sexual nature as perpetrators walk scot-free.
Very interconnected, women and their contribution to society has always been overshadowed by the news of the atrocities inflicted upon them. This could explain why we do not have a high number of women represented during professional live show discussions. Institutions like the Media Council of Kenya has investigated the gender distributions of both genders in media debates and called out to the media entities to break the bias. Slowly, we are changing course and seeing a more deliberate move towards women being called in to give their expert analysis of not only issues about women, but also issues of national interest and importance.
Just like the way mass media has been used in changing people’s attitudes and habits about global issues such as the Covid-19 pandemic, it continues to positively change perceptions on women empowerment from micro and macro levels. This is by representing women’s participation in broader unrestrictive spectrums and urging society to intensify its efforts against the barriers that form the bias.
By Judie Kaberia, Executive Director, AMWIK