The women-in-media recipe

by Bianca Silva

Fifty years after 20 000 women voiced their protests against the extension of pass laws to black women, Jane Duncan of the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) addressed a packed Rhodes University lecture theatre on the issue of women’s equality in the media. Current studies conducted by Genderlinks, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and The South African National Editor’s Forum (Sanef) report a hostile environment in newsrooms for women as well as under-representation of women in the media.

Duncan addressed this in her speech entitled “Towards a Women’s Media Movement”. Sanef reports that
“structural inequalities, prejudice, patriarchy and sexism” are present within South African newsrooms and “It is clear that, although South African society is supported by a constitution that entrenches equal rights, this only exists on paper.” Women’s marginalisation within the media has been categorised by unequal gender relations and addresses the source as being structural rather than voluntary. Globalisation has aggravated women’s marginalization in the economy and increased the amount of unpaid wages, leaving women to compensate for the cutbacks and affecting their manner of media consumption.

The women’s media movement challenge is in the current affairs programmes, a challenge which the South African Broadcasting Corporation should rise to, considering that 49% of women rely on TV as a news source, as reported by a survey conducted in 2002. Duncan presented the view that apartheid has been replaced by a global apartheid, a harder to define enemy. The situation requires a new form of struggle: “The media is not a monolith. “How we analyse the media determines how we change it,” she says. Duncan says that contrary to the current tame women’s media movement, the movement should be more committed to changing both the media and social relations and should regard the politics of both areas.

Furthermore, Duncan said that the women’s media movement should address stereotypes, the unpaid work women do, the gender quotas in newsrooms and the representation of women in media. “Women’s marginalization in the media is not simply a result of a lack of sensitivity in media circles; it has a highly complex political economy,” she said, adding that an “add women and stir approach” is not the solution to this problem.

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