Physician, heal thyself

By Audrey Gadzekpo

Based on new statistics, Professor Audrey S. Gadzekpo shows how women are almost invisible in African media. Africa lags behind the world both in terms of the share of news stories reported by women and the number of times women feature in news stories. Read Audrey S. Gadzekpo's full story here. Audrey S. Gadzekpo, School of Communication Studies, University of Ghana, is currently a guest researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute. The title of her project is “The media and peaceful elections in Africa”.

Some 17 years ago, the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China identified the media as one of 12 critical areas of concern. Section J of the Beijing Platform for Action called for “increased participation, and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication; and promotion of a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media” (Beijing Platform for Action, Section J, Women and Media).

In Africa the Beijing call galvanizing feminist scholars, gender activist groups, as well as media associations to address the gendered dimensions of media more concertedly. But are they making any difference?

The verdict is still out on how much change has resulted from the numerous initiatives and interventions to improve women’s participation and coverage in the media in the last decade and a half. If media monitoring research is anything to go by though, the African media is still miles behind in achieving gender parity in all aspects of industry practice.

The 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), which includes data on 26 African countries, shows there has been only a slight improvement in women’s representation in the African media since the first report came out in 1995. Africa lags behind all other regions in terms of the share of news stories reported and presented by women (34 percent compared with a world average of 42 percent). Women are also near invisible in the news in Africa; only 19 percent of the people in the news are female. When women do appear in the news they are more likely to be represented as homemakers (68 percent) and as unemployed persons (58 percent), while being severely under-represented in more empowering roles as experts and spokespersons.

The news media are one of the most powerful sources of information and ideas and hugely influential in how people perceive the world, the reason their help is always solicited in the struggle for social justice. But in order for the media to influence change in the lives of women, it would, like the proverbial physician, have to heal itself and address how it is implicated in reproducing the patterns of gender inequality that continue to be a source of concern for us all.

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