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GEM summit urges media to "get in step" with Africa-wide march to gender equality

(MISA/IFEX) - Johannesburg, 15 October 2010 - As the African Decade for Women is launched in Nairobi today, the Fourth Southern African Gender and Media (GEM) Summit has called on the media to "get in step" with the march to gender equality.

In a strongly worded statement targeting, among others, the All Africa Editors Forum meeting in Mali, participants decried the tabloidisation of the media, weak ethical practices and blatant violations of the rights of women that continue to occur, often unchallenged, in the media.

During the three-day summit convened by Gender Links (GL), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and the Gender and Media Southern African (GEMSA) Network, delegates protested an article in "Noticias", a Mozambican newspaper, identifying a 16-year-old girl who had a failed abortion down to her name, home and school.

Noting that it is highly unlikely a man would be treated in the same way, the summit compared such secondary victimisation in the media to "throwing acid in the face of the young woman."

The summit also strongly condemned the Ugandan tabloid newspaper "The Rolling Stone" for seeking out purported Ugandan homosexuals on Facebook and featuring them in a front-page article entitled "100 pictures of Uganda's top homos leak." This occurs against the backdrop of the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill seeking to ban homosexuality in the East African nation.

The 130 GEM summit delegates, who include East African and international observers, condemned the gross abuse of new media infringing on the rights of the individuals concerned. "The personal damage to those affected is incalculable," noted the delegates, who included a representative from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). "This is gutter journalism at its worst."

Expressing disappointment at the slow rate of change within the media and its editorial content, regulators, analysts, trainers and media practitioners warned that the media is failing to comply with the provisions of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development.

The Protocol brings together and enhances international and African commitments to gender equality by setting 28 targets to be achieved by 2015. Specific provisions on the media include achieving parity in decision-making (an area in which there have been rapid strides in politics); giving equal voice to women and men; challenging gender stereotypes; and sensitive coverage of HIV and AIDS and gender violence. The Protocol also calls on the media to mainstream gender in all laws, training and policy.

The Gender in Media Education audit launched at the summit shows that, while there are now more women than men in Southern African media training institutions, women media educators only constitute 36% of the total. The Glass Ceilings in the Southern African media report released last year showed that while women comprise 41% of media employees, they are less than one-quarter of the senior managers and only a fraction of top decision-makers.

The summit also takes place against the backdrop of the Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS), a follow up to a 2003 study, that shows that the proportion of women sources in the media has increased by a mere 2% (from 17% to 19%).

During the summit, the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) shared the findings of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) conducted at the same time as the GMPS in November 2009, showing that across the globe women constitute 24% of media sources, and 19% in Africa.

The Southern African proportion of women sources varies from over 30% in Lesotho and Seychelles to 14% in Mozambique. While some countries such as Malawi and Tanzania have made significant progress over the period, the proportion of women sources in Mauritius, South Africa and Namibia - three countries with supposedly the freest and most progressive media in the region - has remained virtually stagnant at 20%.

"These findings beg the question of what we really understand by freedom of expression, democracy and citizen participation" delegates to the GEM summit stated. "While more blatant forms of censorship may be subsiding, our media daily silences large segments of the population, notably women."

The delegates from 20 countries said the gender disparities in the news occur within a broader framework of lack of diversity in media ownership and "armchair" journalism which results in the media seeking out a few voices of authority, often men. The GMPS shows that 67% of stories in the Southern African media are based on single sources.

The summit ends on the evening of 15 October with the Gender and Media Awards, which feature examples of reporting celebrating diversity, challenging stereotypes and including the views of women and men on all subjects.

Recommendations from the summit can be found at http://www.genderlinks.org.za . They include the need for media regulators to adopt gender codes of practice that translate into policies in newsrooms. Gender Links has identified over 100 media houses that it is working with over the next year on such an initiative. Media trainers, with the support of UNESCO and the Gender and Media Diversity Centre are establishing a Community of Practise on gender mainstreaming in media curriculum. They are also working with GL and GEMSA on enhancing media literacy and activism.

"Our media is only as good as citizens demand a better, more responsive media," the Summit stated. "Our gathering, the SADC Protocol on Gender, and African Decade for Women has strengthened our resolve to score a goal for gender equality by working to achieve the 2015 targets."

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