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Zimbabwe: Women’s voices in media content

Womens RightsZimbabwe, 14 May: Despite all the accomplishments of the women’s movement in the past 50 years, women today still live in a world that celebrates a femininity that is passive, submissive, and essentially silent. Women who dare seek power, speak up or act publicly, particularly in Southern Africa, are reviled, vilified and society seeks to punish them. Society is still strongly patriarchal.

Women in Zimbabwe continue to suffer wide-spread discrimination in almost every sphere. President Robert Mugabe and his officials pay lip service to gender equality, but men are still in control of almost everything. Although 35% of parliamentarians are women, in reality women are a tiny minority in the cabinet and management of the civil service. The Africa for Women’s Rights Campaign states that it remains particularly concerned by the following violations of women’s human rights in Zimbabwe: the persistence of discriminatory laws; discrimination within the family; violence against women; obstacles to access to employment; under-representation in political life; and inadequate access to health services.

 

These excerpts from recent articles in The Zimbabwean bear testimony to this tragic reality:

When Nyarai Nyirenda (25) joined a local women’s group in her village, she did not realise that the decision would save her life. She grew up in Gaza Village- a rural area about 20km from Murambinda Growth Point. Like many young girls in her community, Nyirenda did not learn much about her reproductive health. “Traditionally I was taught that whatever a man tells you to do, you have to do it because he is the head of the house. This includes sex every day when I am not having my monthly period, having a child when a man needs to have one and doing all the domestic work and growing food crops to feed the family,” she explained.

“The high prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV) in this country remains a serious concern as reflected by the huge turnout of survivors of violence at these centres. Documented statistics show that 80% of murders committed in 2009 claimed the lives of women,” said Damiso, noting that gender violence, mainly perpetrated by men against women, was widespread with the majority of cases committed in the home. “Zimbabweans in general believe that violence is a way to resolve disputes. In fact, 40% of men and 30% of women believe that men are entitled to beat women for one reason or another,” she said.

I have been a journalist for close to 50 years so I might be biased, but I believe the media has a vital role to play in the next phase of the battle for women’s rights. It is shocking to note from a UNESCO study, that at this advanced stage of our civilisation (and I use the word advisedly) only 24% of persons seen, heard, spoken of or read about in the media are women, and only 6% of stories highlight gender issues. Furthermore, according to a 2014 Gender Links (GL) spot monitoring exercise, women constitute a mere 21% of news sources in Southern Africa.

When the media does actually feature women, it portrays them in very stereotypical ways that only perpetuate. The media regularly presents women as victims or sex objects – not as role models and positive contributors to our society. I believe it is vital that the media be encouraged to increase the voices of women, and to portray women as vital to the advancement of society.

In recognition of this, we at The Zimbabwean decided, more than a year ago, to start a special four-page section in every issue dedicated to gender and women’s voices. Once we started looking for stories to fill these pages – we found a gold mine of wonderful and diverse copy.

Since then, a wide range of key issues have been brought to the attention of the general public and discussed in depth in our pages and among readers. These include child marriage; Lobola or bride price; reproductive health, child and marital rape and rape used as a political weapon; women in politics; women who challenge patriarchy; women in business, female role models; and women in generally male-dominated careers or spheres.

The bottom line is that the media needs to champion women’s voices in a serious and sustained manner. It is not rocket science! We need to portray women as leaders in society, as agents of change, as positive role models, as fundamental to the survival of the human race – of which women constitute more than 50%. For the sake of humanity, we have to change the way people think, behave and relate to each other. The time is now!

The Zimbabwean is the embodiment of the life and work of its founder and editor, Wilf Mbanga, who has dedicated his life to championing press freedom and access to information for all the people of Zimbabwe. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service, which is part of the Women and Media campaign in partnership with UNESCO and theGlobal Alliance on Media and Gender (GAMAG). Next week’s theme gender in media policy and regulation.

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