Women very underrepresented in Southern Africa's Media

The southern African media give very little space to the views of women, and, when it comes to subjects such as politics, economy, sport or agriculture, their voice is virtually unheard. Women journalists are, however, given more exposure than men in reporting on subjects that have to do with the body, home and beauty. It is in television that they find the best professional opportunities – essentially as presenters – but they are only employed for a limited time, because in that part of the world it is uncommon to see women working beyond the age of 50 in any media. 

These are some of the findings of Southern African Gender and Media Baseline Study. Here is the News: Where are the women? Where are the men?, a study by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and the non-governmental organization Gender Links (GL), to which UNESCO gave financial support. It will be made public at the Johannesburg Visitors' Resource Centre on March 7, the eve of the International Women's Day. The study analysed 25,100 news items broadcast and printed during September 2002 by 116 media in 12 southern African countries: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Although women in that region represent more than half the population, they constitute only 17 percent of news sources: this means that women’s experiences, opinions and thoughts are hugely under-represented. This figure is slightly less than the 18 % obtained in 2000 by the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) in its study "Who Makes the News", in which the group monitored 16,000 news items published in 70 countries during one day (see table).

Representation of women working in the print media is also poor: only 22 % of the journalists who write news are women. The only media profession where women have almost equal representation with men, and where the term parity could be used, is that of TV presenter. But even in this domain, men are in the majority in each of the countries surveyed except Angola, Swaziland and Zambia. While broadcast media employ the largest number of women, it favours young ones aged between 20 and 34. In Zambia, for instance, 63 % of television reporters are women. But, according to the study's authors, the main reason for their success has more to do with their looks than their abilities.

The presence of women in government and parliament is not enough to bring them media coverage. Even though women account in average for 18 % of the members of parliament in the region, they are the source ofonly about 6 % of political news. The proportion is even lower in South Africa, where 31 % of members of parliament and a similar ratio of the cabinet are women, but they constitute only 8 % of the politicians quoted in the media.

On only a few subjects do women's voices predominate: beauty contests, sex workers, and all to do with the home. On others, such as in agriculture, an area where women do most of the work, it is men, paradoxically, who are interviewed the most. For example, in Mauritius – southern Africa's “little tiger” which has full employment and where women's entry into the labour force has played a crucial role in economic growth – men are the source of 92 % of the economic news.

Of the 25,100 news items analysed in the study, nearly a quarter dealt with politics or economics and 20 % with sport. Only 2 % treated gender specific subjects – and half of those were on gender violence.

In most of the southern African countries, women are primarily identified as wives, sisters or mothers, unlike men who are rarely described as husbands, brothers or fathers. When their jobs put them in the public eye, men are able to “shed” their private lives; women, in contrast, are split between their private and public lives, and are expected to always carry their private identities with them.

Experience shows that gender parity does not happen all by itself and the stated purpose of the study by MISA and GL is to start an advocacy campaign to ensure that the voices of women and men are equally heard on all subjects in the news.

(*) “Southern African Gender and Media Baseline Study. Here is the News: Where are the women? Where are the men?” published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and Gender Links (GL). Johannesburg, March 2003, 78 pages.

Source Press Release No2003-21
Generic Field
Publication Date 07 Mar 2003

2004 - UNESCO