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African newsrooms have long way to go to reach gender equality, media summit finds

A 16-year-old girl from Mozambique who had a failed abortion is identified down to her name, home and school in a local paper. A Ugandan tabloid scans Facebook for purported homosexuals to feature them in a front-page article on the country's "100 top homos". Delegates from 20 countries at the fourth Southern African Gender and Media (GEM) Summit meeting this week in Johannesburg, co-organised by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), used these cases to express their extreme disappointment at the slow rate of change within African newsrooms and their coverage of gender issues.

For instance, while women comprise 41 percent of media employees, less than a quarter of them are senior managers and only a handful are top decision-makers, according to findings released at the forum.

And although only 24 per cent of people heard, seen or interviewed in the news are women, according to the study, "Who Makes the News", by the Global Media Monitoring Project, that number drops to 19 percent in Africa - and a mere 14 percent in Mozambique.

"We cannot talk about freedom of expression when half of the population is effectively silenced," said Gender Links for Equality and Justice executive director Colleen Lowe Morna. "It is disturbing that progress is so slow in countries like South Africa, Mauritius and Namibia that have the largest, most diverse and supposedly most 'free' media in the region."

The proportion of women sources in those three countries has remained stagnant for the past six years at about 20 percent, says Gender Links.

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

The delegates pointed out that the media is nowhere near meeting the provisions of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, which sets 28 targets to be achieved by 2015. Media goals include: achieving parity in decision-making; giving equal voice to women and men; challenging gender stereotypes; and ensuring sensitive coverage of HIV and AIDS and gender violence.

Gender Links has identified more than 100 media houses that it will work with over the next year to adopt gender codes of practice in newsrooms. More recommendations coming out of the summit can be found on Gender Links's website.

Convened by Gender Links, MISA and the Gender and Media Southern Africa Network, the three day event was held on 13-15 October under the theme "Gender, Media, Diversity and Change: Taking Stock."

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