Commission on the Status of Women
27 January 1995
COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN
New York, 15 March-4 April 1995
Item 5 of the provisional agenda*
MONITORING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NAIROBI FORWARD-
LOOKING STRATEGIES FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN
Second review and appraisal of the implementation of the Nairobi
Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women
Report of the Secretary-General
II. CRITICAL AREAS OF CONCERN
J. Insufficient use of mass media to promote
women's positive contributions to society**
** The text for this section has been derived from a contribution
prepared by UNESCO for the 1994 World Survey on the Role of Women in
Development in light of its relevance for the review and appraisal.
1. The many and complex issues that are raised in the phrase "women, media
and development" are finally being recognized as central elements of local,
national and international agendas of research, policy-making, funding and
other action. This recognition reflects the immense burgeoning of women's own
media-related activities world wide, the impact of feminist theory and
research in gender and communications, and recognition of gender by
international movements. The Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the
Advancement of Women said very little about media and communication. In
resolution 1990/15, regarding the review and appraisal of the Strategies, the
Economic and Social Council mentioned media only in the context of elimination
of violence against women, including the recommendation, in paragraph 23,
"The United Nations system, Governments and non-governmental
organizations should study the relationship between the portrayal of
violence against women in the media and violence against women in the
family and society, including possible effects of new transnational
In the mid 1990s, it is clear that the broad issues inherent in the concept of
women, media and development demand and require serious analytic attention and
2. Media have been established in different parts of the world at different
times, in different order, and are used differently within various social and
cultural milieux. Commercial television delivery to the audience in the
United States of America, familiar with the form since the 1950s and now
watching an average of six hours a day, cannot be seen as the same phenomenon
as the satellite-based television delivery now reaching some rural Asian
populations, as yet unused to the form and just beginning to integrate it into
their lives. Video use, which implies mainly time-shifting and ease of access
for Europeans and North Americans, may have political overtones in more
regulated cultural environments where video recorders and satellite dishes
have been banned. Different political contexts and cultural milieux, the
structures of media ownership and control, including tendencies towards
concentration and globalization, differing legal and regulatory environments,
and the availability of foreign cultural products all affect the nature of
media provision. For women particularly, the impact and patterns of use
around various media differ depending on the pre-existing cultural patterns,
especially women's access to public space and participation in the public
sphere. Thus, many crucial contextual differences require detailed
3. Media effects are also a contentious issue. Scholars debate how media
texts circulate, with arguments ranging from the powerful hypodermic needle
image of direct effect - what the media shows is what the audience absorbs -
to a cultural studies approach which suggests that audiences are active and
"read" media products differently, depending on their social and cultural
locations. These arguments about cultural politics have implications for our
understanding of women's media involvement and the nature of our concerns.
4. While globally, not everyone yet has access to mass media, everyone does
have forms of cultural expression. There are oral traditions of
story-telling, poetry and recitation; performance traditions of drama, dance,
puppetry, melas (fairs), jatras (cultural walks) and cultural rituals;
traditions of music and song etc. These forms can be used with great
effectiveness, particularly by women to tell their own stories and histories,
and should be taken on board in development-oriented campaigns by Governments,
non-governmental organizations and others.
5. A focus on women and empowerment through communication leads to broader
issues of women's participation in the development process; 1/ of access to
economic resources 2/ and of political influence. 3/ As Heyzer says, 4/ it is
increasingly recognized that "the women/media relationship can only be
analyzed, and successful strategies for changing it can only be developed, if
we take into account the entire cultural, political and ideological spectrum
and study the economic context in which this particular relationship (between
women and the media) is created and takes shape."
6. It must be acknowledged that women are the cornerstone of development
and that the involvement of women in the planning and process of development
has immense ripple effects. Women do not live alone but rather in families,
tribes and communities, connected to many social networks and participants in
civil society. Women's knowledge and achievements help everyone. Women are
concerned with the basic needs of society, with the creation of life and the
preservation of the environment. While the most urgent issues of poverty,
illiteracy and malnutrition continue to confront developing countries, a
broader framework suggests that much remains to be done in the economic,
political and cultural spheres everywhere. Women are redefining development.
1. Measures of equity and empowerment:
two kinds of representation
7. The nexus women/media/development is of immense complexity. A large
body of literature documents the many different kinds of involvement women
have with the media. Unlike the provision of formal education, it is harder
to see media provision as a simple, self-evident good. Given the hugely
varying contexts of women's involvement with the media and the many issues
involved, the criteria for judging good practice need to be examined. Two
useful approaches to the situation of women have been labelled the "equity"
and the "empowerment" approaches. The former argues a human rights position
and supports a 50 per cent solution to certain areas of women's social
practice - for example, women's access to media employment. This may be of
greatest significance in industrialized societies with comparatively open
political cultures and a history of women's rights, although this kind of
argument is increasing world wide. The latter approach tends to suggest that
women's self-defining activities - the development of alternative media,
women's networks, for example - are a good thing in themselves and that simple
equity may be a thin victory. This may be of greater significance in contexts
of developing economies, of continuing cultural barriers to the promotion of
women's status and of political environments in which human rights are
8. These two approaches reflect huge debates within global feminist
movements, and each has its pitfalls. Mattelart 5/ has suggested that the
media spectacle of egalitarianism, women in high visibility in mass media,
actually invokes women as the "strongest redeemers of patriarchy". The tack
towards difference supports arguments about women's unique contributions,
women's voices and their perspectives on all issues. Yet concerns have been
raised about the marginalization of women's voices and, consequently, of their
real social and political impact. Perhaps the more quantitative orientation
towards equity needs to be supplemented by the more qualitative orientation of
empowerment, mutually necessary and supportive.
9. These two approaches also reflect the double meaning of
representation. 6/ On the one hand, there is the notion of speaking out in
political and social representation. On the other hand, there are the
discourses and images of gender - how women are represented in mediated texts
and cultural products. In both kinds of representation, the concern is that
women represent themselves and be appropriately represented.
2. Kinds of systems and levels of analysis
10. An analysis of women, media and development has to take into
consideration the different "levels" at which media can function, of which the
three most significant are the local, the national and the global.
11. The cultural and regulatory framework for most media activity and
development planning is most often dictated by government policy and, mainly,
political considerations. The State's role as constructor of development
priorities and allocator of resources needs to be interrogated in terms of
gender-friendliness; definitions of national identity and development
priorities have often neglected to include women's needs. Commercial, State
and public-service broadcasting, none the less, may have different impacts on
gender. A commercial media system may support certain kinds of freedoms, but
the market does not necessarily reflect national developmental or women's
12. The local, or community or grass-roots, level is where most alternative
or participatory media projects occur. Here questions need to be raised
concerning their influence in wider social and political arenas, the numbers
involved and the range of impact.
13. At the global level, the ever more complex flows of media products and
the diffusion of communications technologies are equally cause for concern,
but they also offer promise for women. This is where issues about the role of
the global international organizations, non-governmental organizations,
regulatory frameworks, structural adjustment programmes and the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and their impact on development, media
and women need to be raised.
3. Positive contributions of the media to women and development
14. The significance of media for women and development are multiple:
(a) Media are increasingly important social institutions, act as
definers of meaning and play a role in determining and maintaining cultural
definitions of gender and sex roles. In a global media environment, there are
concerns about conglomerization, monopolization and disempowerment as well as
about the impact of foreign definitions of sex and gender systems on differing
(b) Media can help to set the social and political agendas of the
crucial issues of the day, define the salience of social and political issues,
focus attention on issues of significance to women, and include women's voices
and perspectives - or not do so. Media can foster debates on development and
on human rights, including women's rights, and the position of women in
society - or not;
(c) Media could provide a broad range of representations of women,
reflecting the broad range of activities women actually perform in every
society, including positive role-models: women experts, professionals,
careers in both rural and urban settings;
(d) Media can provide information and understanding about the world, key
resources and aids to empowerment. That information and understanding must be
gender-sensitive and gender-inclusive;
(e) Media are in themselves potential sources of wealth-creation and
employment opportunities. Women-owned and women-managed media structures
could provide employment opportunities for women, as well as producing
(f) Media can provide information and strategies towards wealth-creation
and the elimination of poverty; media can raise the level of public discussion
about women's roles and contributions to development;
(g) Media can be used in informal and non-formal education, health and
other development campaigns, involving women and targeted towards them;
(h) Media are a resource for women to disseminate alternative kinds of
information, imagery and analysis, and to build networks.
15. In this view, media are ends in themselves, influential sites of
representation where gender sensitivity and new imagery, women's creativity
and women's voices can be presented. Media are also means to other ends,
vehicles to facilitate public debate about broader social issues and concerns
- the eradication of poverty, sustaining the environment, health, peace -
about which women have a great deal to say.
4. Change over the past two decades:
mainstream and alternative media
16. One of the key things that needs to be said is that there has been great
change, much of it positive, in the condition of women and media over the past
20 years, since the beginning of International Women's Decade (1975-1985).
Women are active in every cultural and media practice, from the most local and
indigenous of musical and theatrical forms (community theatre, video and film
collectives) to radio and television broadcasting, magazine and journal
publishing, news-gathering and networking at national, regional and
international levels. "Most regions have seen a steady growth in the domain
of women's alternative media, as well as in that of women's associations and
networks. Almost everywhere an increase in the number of women working in
mainstream media has been recorded. But the power to develop media policy,
and to determine the nature and shape of media content, continue to elude
a. Mainstream media
17. In regard to mainstream media, research has had two major foci: one
analyses the relative position of women within media organizations and other
relevant organizations to examine the career paths and access opportunities
for women. The other examines the images and manner of representation of
gender in mediated content.
18. There is an acute lack of empirical data, even from Western industrial
societies, concerning the situation of women in the media. Information on
gender trends in employment within the media is equally patchy, data are
seldom comparable, and definitions concerning categories of employment are not
constant. Figures or tables contain estimations, compiled from several
national and regional reports, and are merely indicative, rather than
19. Notwithstanding these caveats, there nonetheless appears to be a growing
disjunction between the number of women in media training compared with the
actual number employed in the media. Broad data on women and men from the
UNESCO Communication Division databases on selected communication training
institutions suggests that in four regions (Africa, Europe, North America,
South America), in the institutions surveyed, women constitute half or more of
those in media training. Even in Asia, which showed the lowest rate, the
female figure is around 30 per cent.
20. Yet when that figure is compared with the figures for gender
distribution in media employment (broadcast organizations only), the highest
figure for female employment as a percentage of the total number of employed
persons, without taking into account the type of function or level of
position, is just over 30 per cent in North America (the highest figure),
dropping to less than 10 per cent in Asia.
21. Even in developed countries and socio-political contexts where
legislation for gender equality is more developed and women's movements are
long-standing, evidence shows large gender differences in the kind of work
undertaken and the levels reached. Thus, evidence from the European
Commission, the United States 8/ and Australia shows female clustering in
administrative jobs (secretariat, advertising, accountancy), low female
presence in technical sectors, and an even lower presence in the top-ranking
managerial positions. Across Asia, the number of women joining media
organizations has increased, yet they still constitute a low percentage of
active journalists, often with the unexciting desk-bound beats; rarely have
they progressed to managerial levels. Similarly women represent less than
20 per cent of the workers in African media industries. 9/ There appears to
be some indication that women progress faster in broadcasting organizations
than in print, an issue that would be worth systematic research.
22. Equality between men and women in employment can be a useful goal, 10/
but one which needs to be put into effect at every level and in every area of
23. However, it is by no means clear that increased numbers of women
employed leads to improved representation. There is considerable evidence
that an increasing number of women employed in the media does not of itself
translate into qualitative differences in programming (as in the Republic of
Korea) or a radically altered news agenda of priorities (Australia). For most
of Asia, the growing numbers of women journalists "has not made a significant
change in the content, style or presentation of information. News decisions
are still made by men; even if news is increasingly reported and edited by
women, the employment of women has not radically altered news agendas or
priorities." 11/ In Asia, most of the "soft sections" - the weekend
supplements, the health, culture and education beats - are now "almost
exclusively the beats of women; defence, commerce and foreign affairs are
still largely male strongholds, as are the editorships of most general and
specialized publications". 12/ Although statistics for training programmes
"reveal that women are increasingly opting for careers in communications, the
past experience shows that this is rarely converted into a restructuring of
the media agenda". 13/
24. Mainstream media content does change, but slowly. Much of the concern
is about stereotypes - that is, the narrowness of the range of representations
of women in the media. For example, a broad critique of media representation
in the Middle East is that it veers towards two narrow image-sets: "the
conservative-traditional native woman, or the seductive foreign woman" and
thus "the reality, complexity and multicultural dimension of gender roles is
not addressed directly". 14/ Yet similar concerns are still raised about the
skewed nature of women's representation in British media after many years of
the women's movement and growing gender consciousness. 15/ An essential
concern is that media should reflect a range of realistic and diverse
representations of the complexities and variations in women's lives.
25. Another set of concerns in regard to popular culture is the sexually
objectifying or violent gender imagery - women as objects of the male gaze,
male sexuality, male violence. This is one of the most controversial areas of
media content, even in the West where the debates about pornography and about
the relationship between the effects of media representation of violence and
real violence in society still rage. MediaWatch Canada is most explicit at
arguing that such concerns are not about censorship but about human rights,
including the right to be represented appropriately.
26. In regard to information genres, such as news, there is another set of
concerns, which is essentially "where are the women?" The answer does not
reveal significant North/South differences. For example, Adagala 16/ argues
that in African media, news is urban-centric and stories of women are rarely
treated as newsworthy. Recent reports from both the United States 17/ and
Britain 18/ suggest that women are still sidelined into stereotyped roles,
with far fewer women than men presenting or appearing in factual programming.
27. Some writers talk as though there are definable women's issues, while
others ask whether media should try to reflect women's perspectives on all
issues. The former position risks ghettoizing women's concerns and further
devaluing the public saliency of many social issues. The latter reinforces
the obvious but often-forgotten point that women are everywhere and that
women's perspectives in regard to issues - political, economic and all
others - must be heard.
28. Thus in many regions, women still suffer both horizontal segregation,
clustering in the lower-paying and lower-status jobs, and vertical
segregation, clustering in women's assignments and "interests", not the
"hard," socially significant, political and economic stories. 19/ This might
partly be explained historically; having fewer women in the media has meant
fewer opportunities to affect the organizational culture, management style,
and actual media output. As more women gain access, the sheer weight of
numbers may begin to change things. However, we should not underestimate the
lethargy inside organizations, the dynamics of socialization and conformity
within them, and the sheer desire to maintain the status quo. Active policies
of equal opportunity, gender equity at each and every level of media
organization, the identification of "glass ceilings" and the reasons for them
are needed. Since it is often the "invisible barriers" 20/ of attitudes,
biases and presumptions that hinder women, assertiveness-training and support
groups within organizations can help women feel less isolated and alienated
and empower them to try to behave differently. Women's professional
organizations, such as the International Association of Women in Radio and
Television also provide international solidarity and support.
b. Global communications
29. Current writing stresses the need to examine the relation of women to
the media in a global context - specifically, the increasing presence and
potential impact of "transnational materials" on women. 21/ Transnational
media conglomerates can undermine attempts to develop national cultural and
media policies; national broadcast norms concerning nudity or the advertising
of liquor on television are flaunted through satellite broadcasting even in
some countries that forbid this kind of imaging.
30. More problematic is that transnational media content works to further
disempower the powerless. Groups - minorities, indigenous peoples and women -
that have struggled for space to voice concerns, find that "with media
structures changing and more sophisticated messaging entering even the
hinterlands, the spaces constructed within mainstream and alternative media
appear to be shrinking. The protection of constructed spaces will need the
formulation of new strategies which can keep pace with technology." 22/
Advertising is problematic for the consumerist dynamics and sexualized imagery
it promotes. Marketing managers are trying to mould all Asian markets into a
single mass entity, using images of luxury supported by made-over European
faces, a return to the conventional idea that sex sells.
31. The spread of media transnationals has raised considerable international
concern for some time, including issues of cultural imperialism and the threat
to diversity through a homogenizing global media culture; it is only recently
that women are being written into the international debate. Yet there are
also counter-arguments about heterogenizing tendencies, new sources of
cultural and media production, and multiple flows, as well as the importance
of creative "readings" and uses of media products. For example,
anthropologists Abu Lughod 23/ and Davies 24/ show how Western videos are used
playfully by women in some traditional societies to open up their private
spheres to new images and ideas which patriarchal cultures still seek to
32. Recent studies on women and new communication technologies stress
similar central dynamics - notably, problems of unequal development which
creates technology and information gaps between peoples and the
transnationalization and increasing concentration of media processes. 25/ At
the same time, women are very effective networkers. The development and the
spread of new technologies allow women to build networks as never before,
creating a new kind of global alternative public sphere.
c. Alternative media
33. One phenomenon that very strikingly reveals the changes that have
occurred over the past decade is the immense increase in the number of
alternative media run by women which are neither part of the State or public-
service broadcasting systems nor part of mainstream commercial production.
This increase can be documented in all regions of the world and for all forms
of media. The initiatives cited below are indicative of the range of
activities that exist but are by no means exhaustive. 26/
34. The print media - newspapers, journals, magazines, newsletters,
occasional monographs and leaflets - are perhaps the most established of the
alternative media. Those with the widest circulation are in the United States
and Europe, but there is significant development in the South. In 1990 the
directory Third World Women's Publications listed over 300 titles. Some of
the newer publications are Sister (Namibia), Speak (South Africa), Tamania
Mars (Morocco) 27/ and Asmita (Nepal).
35. Print activity raises questions about the appropriateness of a medium -
print in a context of massive female illiteracy? - and thus about intended
audiences. The experiences of the Tamania Mars collective, for example, raise
concern about the potential for dialogue among women across class and
urban/rural divides and bring to light the problems that exist in obtaining
financial support, both national and international, for women's projects.
Tamania Mars demonstrates the many struggles involved in women's right to
speak, argue, occupy public space and open up public debate, but also shows
how much can be done and shared with others.
36. Services supportive of a feminist press have emerged around the world -
such as DepthNews in Asia; the Women's Feature Service, based in New Delhi;
the Women's International News Gathering Service (WINGS), in the United
States; and FEMPRESS, in Chile.
37. One of the main questions surrounding these alternative news services is
how much of their material actually circulates internationally and whether it
ultimately makes its way into the mainstream press. Indeed, it can be asked
whether their stories might become useful sources for broader discussion of
the situation of women. Monitoring research on these issues would be useful.
38. Although electronic media have been utilized by women in North and
America and Europe for some time, they are increasingly available in other
regions and put to many different uses. In local contexts - as with the use
of video by the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) in India or the use
of video and radio by indigenous women in Bolivia and other parts of Latin
America - they help women define their roles, develop skills and dispel fears,
remember, and build for the future. 28/ There is Radio Tierra in Chile and
Feminist International Radio Endeavour (FIRE) in Costa Rica, which aims to
give voice to those who never had one. The FIRE collective conceives of radio
as a process of meeting, dialogue, and participation with other women and puts
great store in the transformational power of women's personal testimonies.
Other radio projects are oriented towards more specific development needs and
empowering women to play a role in development planning.
39. Radio remains one of the cheapest and most widespread forms of
electronic media in the South, accessible to women and enjoyed by them. The
Development through Radio project in Zimbabwe has created a unique way of
communicating horizontally among communities, vertically up to responsible
officials, and back down and out to the rural areas, yet its very success and
its desire for expansion threaten to overburden the system in terms of demands
on resources and personnel. As a model, it shows how to foster participation
of women within their communities and how to link media to development
efforts, one of the few precise examples of the women/media/development nexus.
40. Women are active in many other media also. Latin America is home to
Cine Mujer, a collective of women film-makers, film being well-established and
popular in many regions and all too often omitted from media analysis.
Satellite EVE, based in Buenos Aires, has a national focus and aims
specifically to stimulate women's creativity and ability to organize and use
the power of the media for the construction of a more pluralistic and
equitable society, using video, photography and investigative journalism as
its main vehicles. WETV, being developed in Canada, intends to provide an
alternative, global television service available on every continent through
international satellite services, providing the first global access television
service; it has a particular concern for women. The World Association of
Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), in Montreal, is a network of new
communicators who identify themselves with the construction of a new world
order in communication and in society, and also support initiatives to support
women's voices on the global airwaves.
41. Women have shown themselves to be excellent networkers, living locally
but thinking and acting globally, expressing solidarity across boundaries.
Some of the networks with a focus specifically on women are the Caribbean
Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), Trinidad and Tobago; the
Women and Development Unit (WAND), Barbados; SISTERLINK, Australia; the
Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW), Lebanon; and FEMNET,
42. An organization such as the International Women's Tribune Center, New
York, acts as a clearinghouse of information about women's activities
globally. It also publishes The Tribune and manages Women, Ink., a marketing
and distribution service funded by UNIFEM, which subsidizes distribution to
the South by sale of publications in the North. Isis International, operating
out of Santiago, Chile, and Manila, Philippines, was established as an
non-governmental organization in 1974, as a women's information and
communication service supporting the empowerment and full participation of
women in development processes through the formation of networks and channels
of communication and information. Isis has over 50,000 contacts in 150
countries, and it publishes Third World Women's Publications and Powerful
Images (1986), which lists over 600 films, videos and slide shows by third-
43. There are regional networks like the Asia Network of Women in
Communication (ANWIC), New Delhi, which publishes Impact and aims to mobilize
Asian women, through communication, to achieve a more equitable and just
social order, recognizing the diversity present in the region. There are
networks operating within a religio-cultural milieu, like Women Living Under
Muslim Law (WLUML), which publishes a quarterly news sheet as well as
monographs on varied topics, including violence against women, reproductive
rights and disenfranchisement. They have strong links with women's groups in
the North (Women Against Fundamentalism in the United Kingdom) whose focus is
often on the dilemmas of women in minority ethnic groups whose voices are
often not heard by the dominant culture.
44. Networking is facilitated by the use of the INTERNET and e-mail, with,
for example, the Women and Environment Network (WEDNET) forging links between
its Canadian base and African researchers, and Mujer a Mujer, a Mexican-based
women's collective concerned with free trade and structural adjustment,
coordinating projects in Mexico, Canada, the United States and Nicaragua.
There are a variety of electronic bulletins: Women Envision, by Isis; the
South East Asian Women's Information Project (SEAWIN), in the Philippines;
feminist list-servers and discussion groups, many under the aegis of the
Association for Progressive Communication. Electronic mail can be cheaper
than the telephone, faster than "snail mail", and many women's groups are
providing training for women activists and organizations on computers and
d. Media monitoring
45. Another key activity that has increased in the past decade is media
monitoring. One example is MediaWatch, Canada, whose goal is to transform the
media environment from one in which women are either invisible or stereotyped
to one in which women are realistically portrayed and equitably represented in
their physical, economic, racial and cultural diversity. Monitoring bodies
focus on specific areas for media change, such as the use of non-sexist and
"parallel" language, depicting women as experts, depicting women
realistically, depicting contemporary families, and seeking an end to the
portrayal of women as sexual objects. They provide media-literacy training so
as to empower audiences. Indeed, their materials could be used as the basis
of clearly focused international activities to improve the media
representation of women. Other organizations such as the World Association of
Christian Communication (WACC), London, are also involved with media awareness
e. Indigenous culture and performance
46. One other area of alternative communicative activity that often gets
overlooked but may be of special relevance for women is the use of and support
for folk cultures and oral traditions in development-oriented and
participatory communication projects - among them, dance in the United
Republic of Tanzania 29/ and story-telling by African-American women. 30/
These are no-cost or low-cost, low-technology practices. They have the
potential to ensure that one builds on the past and develops existing female
knowledge and skills, creating dialogue and equal relations, and not
separating media makers from media consumers. 31/ Indigenous modes of
performance can also be used as a bulwark against cultural imperialism,
encouraging women to take pride in their own authentic forms of expression.
47. One women's collective set out to weave performative narratives out of
ordinary women's lives. Their experience raised many issues about self-
management; internal democracy - in particular, the emergent class
distinctions among women; the financing of women's groups - in this case, from
external sources; and the need to become self-sufficient.
f. Blurring boundary between mainstream and alternative media
48. With the rise of so much activity, discussion increasingly revolves
around the distinction between mainstream versus alternative media. The once
clear, even radical, distinction seems increasingly blurred. A feminist
publishing house that struggled at one time to survive financially, build a
reputation and an audience and find manuscripts may at another become so
successful that the main factor that distinguishes it from any other
publishing house is that it is run by women (albeit an achievement in itself).
The firm Kali for Women, in New Delhi, started in 1984 to support writing by
and about women in the third world, had to raise funds for each publishing
venture; by 1994, it was financially solvent. The Women's Press, Virago, and
Sheba in the United Kingdom were created expressly to publish women's writing;
now many mainstream publishers and booksellers do so as well. Recently, one
of the first feminist book shops in London, SisterWrite, and one of the first
feminist magazines, Spare Rib, ceased their activities, eclipsed by mainstream
economics. The development of new commercially run cable channels for women
in North America and Europe fit into mainstream patterns of organization and
finance yet produce mainly for female audiences - an alternative in the
g. Researching alternative media
49. One problem with the research done on alternative media is that much of
it describes rather than analyses and can be too easily celebratory, without
asking the difficult questions: who constitutes the audience for such media -
that is, are they used only by women? are they internally democratic? do they
represent the concerns of all subgroups (class, race, sexual preference) of
women? do they aim to become redundant as the mainstream changes? do they
remain marginal and serve to further marginalize the concerns of women? are
they and the cultural practices in any one location translatable to others? do
they really "empower" and, if so, what are the indicators of that empowerment?
do they help women participate more fully in other areas of socio-economic,
political and cultural life?
50. Critical and analytic studies are needed to answer these questions. The
International Association for Mass Communication Research (IAMCR) has a
network of researchers interested in gender issues, and a new network of
feminist researchers in media was formed at the Bangkok Conference in February
1994. More and better trained researchers can play a significant role in
asking important questions and producing new evidence.
5. Women as audience and cultural consumers
51. In the debate about women and the media, the lack of studies and
information about women as audiences, women's cultural tastes and media
habits, and what women like and want from the media is glaring. While
audience studies and reception analysis have slowly become a more central part
of the North American and European research landscape, "there are no
documented data or literature on the topic of women or men in the audience of
the media in the Arab World" 32/ and the same is true for other regions.
52. It cannot simply be suggested that all images of women are negative or
disliked by audiences. Nor can it be suggested that women always read media
content "critically" or "resistively". It is generally agreed that women hold
views both at variance with the media and in conformity with them. This
indicates that further and more profound research is needed on what women do
like and how media are used and fitted into daily routines and family lives.
6. What still impedes women's media empowerment?
53. Many of the world's people have access to broadcast messages today,
since radio and television, spurred by new systems of delivery such as
satellites and cable, diffuse globally. But access to electronic media is by
no means universal. Radio signals are globally available, and transistors
have overcome any lack of infrastructure; nationally based television services
have been established in all but the poorest and smallest of countries of the
South. Yet actual audience access to television remains poor. For example,
while the average number of television sets per 1,000 people is 783 in North
America, the equivalent figure is only 13 in Africa, and 39 in developing
countries as a whole. 33/ The provision of telecommunications, cinema seats
and other kinds of media services are even more skewed globally in favour of
the industrialized world.
54. Access may be inhibited in various ways - by, for example, a lack of
national infrastructure (transportation and electricity) or a lack of the
financial resources to purchase receivers. Access to print media (books,
newspapers, magazines) and electronic print (computer technologies, e-mail,
INTERNET) is denied to many because of the on-going problem of illiteracy,
where women have an unequal share of the burden. Literacy is increasingly
seen as the key to development. While "the extensive primary education of the
past few decades has boosted literacy rates, particularly among young people,
there are still far more illiterate women than men in every part of the world.
Moreover, illiteracy rates have fallen faster for men, so the literacy gap
between men and women is still growing". 34/ UNESCO confirms this view:
"Female literacy is a problem in most regions, and especially so in the least
developed countries ... one out of every three adult females in the world
today is illiterate, compared to only one out of five adult males". 35/
Access to and development of the media - and social development as a whole -
is predicated on far better access for girls and women to basic education,
literacy programmes and other forms of technical training.
55. Access to different forms of cultural consumption (cinema, theatre,
opera, dance) is often denied through cost, difficulty of physical access,
control over women's use of public space, and class-bound cultural habits.
Access to media use is also denied through the sheer exigencies of
time-consuming work, and lack of "leisure" time. Women often do an undue
share of work.
56. Access to resources is also gender-skewed. Resources means funds to buy
equipment, pay for travel, pay for salaries (is too much of women's activity
volunteer?). Women often lack the political and social clout or the
well-oiled networks needed to raise funds. Lack of funds then impedes access
to other resources, such as information. The potential use of INTERNET to
build global movements of solidarity breaks down when the actual grass-roots
groups cannot afford the equipment or the sign-up costs.
57. Women's media activities are also determined by broader contexts, such
as the scope of political democracy. Globally, many nations have embarked on
difficult transitions to democracy. For many this has been the occasion to
rethink their legal frameworks and structures and to formulate broader media
laws, including the right of expression, as in article XIX of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. In that work, it is vital for gender equity and
the rights of women to be recognized from the beginning. As the Fiji Women's
Rights Movement proclaims, democracy without women's human rights is not
58. A major concern must also be that, if a tyranny of political elites is
overthrown, it must not be replaced by the more anonymous but all-pervasive
tyranny of the global market. Bahsin, 36/ among others, warns about the
trends toward centralization, monopolization, globalization, and the dispersal
of power from, for example, national radio/television organizations to global
media moguls. Here women should make common cause with other international
organizations and movements concerned with national media policy-making and
cultural heritage, and develop inventive strategies of audience response.
59. In parts of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, as elsewhere, it
is sometimes traditional culture and traditional concepts of patriarchy that
inhibit the free movement and self-expression of women. Across Asia, for
example, "the portrayal of women and the representation of feminine values and
attitudes towards women in media is governed by indigenous social norms ...
cultural and religious traditions have governed the imaging of women by mass
media in the region. The traditions have also influenced the participation of
women in the industry as well as patterns of their social behaviour". 37/
Tamania Mars, the networks of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, and Women
Against Fundamentalism are all involved in ongoing struggles to gain
recognition for broad human rights movements and specifically to secure for
women the right to speak and participate in the public sphere.
60. Feminist theory has long argued that the public and the private are not
separate spheres and that, thus all attempts at regulating the public spaces
of politics, employment, and media representation in a society will be
meaningless if the private spaces of family and community life remain under
traditional patriarchal control. Indeed, even in the "modern" West, public
discourses about family life, moral values and sexual violence remain strongly
patriarchal - personal struggles continue over the kitchen sink and the
61. Economic inequality and rural poverty have a major impact upon women and
media. Current funding mechanisms and structural adjustment policies employed
by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), often formulated to
support human rights, appear to have quite the opposite results. Prices of
subsidized materials rise so that paper becomes too costly or media projects
have to be run at a profit in order to survive, and consequently, voices
supporting democracy cease to be heard. Careful analyses of the impact of
structural adjustment programmes on women and media and a rethinking of the
conditions imposed for receiving aid are necessary. As Bam points out,
"Elimination of discrimination against women cannot be fully realized when
there is inequality among members within a society, which in turn is partly
the cause of unequal relations among nations". 38/
62. In certain countries legislation and media guidelines or codes of ethics
have been developed to improve women's representation; some of them may be
applicable elsewhere. The Fair Exposure guidelines issued by the Status of
Women office in the Australian Prime Minister's Secretariat or the Indecent
Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act passed in India in 1986 or the
Canadian court's agreement that obscenity is to be defined by the harm it does
to women's pursuit of equality are worthy of analysis as to their
effectiveness, replicability and limitations. Similarly, citizen initiatives
such as the Tokyo-based Forum for Citizens Television need to be studied.
63. The struggle for increased and enhanced access of women to relevant
media work and decisions in media operations and to equity in all forms of
freedom of expression is not finished but is a continuing endeavour. The vast
number of women's media projects, movements, organizations and networks the
world over have produced some significant successes, but it must be recognized
that they are but a few steps in a long march towards women's equality and
empowerment. However, perhaps now more so than a decade ago, political and
economic contexts and new technologies are emerging which can be appropriately
harnessed for women's needs. Based on the research and experience of the past
two decades, the points outlined below may be considered for an eventual
platform, a foundation for future strategies.
(a) Since functional literacy is key to social and economic development,
programmes and projects which seek to strengthen the basic education and the
training of girls and women to fulfil more dynamic roles in development and
media production should be given priority. There is also need for teaching
women media literacy and basic research skills as tools of empowerment;
(b) Women should have equal access to further training and higher
educational opportunities as well as equal access to employment opportunities
in the media, as elsewhere, at all levels and types of employment: technical,
budgetary, managerial, administrative, creative, performative. Competence and
quality, not gender, should be the operant criteria for employment or
(c) Women have the right to see the range of their values and
perspectives and their varied lives adequately and appropriately represented
in the mass media, with due respect for their ethnic and social backgrounds
and their cultural, religious and ethical mores;
(d) Women's perspectives, views, experiences and expert opinions
concerning any news issue should be actively sought and given equal importance
to those of men; confining women to the role of dealing only with "women's
issues" is an inadequate and impoverished solution;
(e) Women's work in alternative media has shown remarkable progress over
the past 15 years and should be further strengthened in terms of financial,
moral and intellectual support; where feasible and appropriate, these efforts
should be more concretely integrated into development plans. As the
distinction between mainstream and alternative media continues to blur,
further support should be given to initiatives that encourage a full range of
women's expression and creativity in all kinds of media operations, at
national, regional or global levels;
(f) Development organizations and technical agencies should support
positively those projects that seek to strengthen and secure positive and
public roles for women in media and development. Conversely, they should be
alert to the potentially negative effects of projects and programmes that
isolate women and confine them solely to household roles, and should even
abstain from supporting such projects;
(g) Research itself is a mode of empowerment, since enhanced knowledge
of a problem can lead to more comprehensive and effective solutions. Basic
research is still needed to monitor media employment patterns and media output
for gender bias in every region. Concomitant with this is a need to develop
more appropriate, feminist modes of research, with possibilities for issues to
be defined by local peoples, and for the research findings to be fed back to
the subjects of study. Research strategies need a more focused, comparative
and analytic approach, particularly on the role of women as readers, audiences
and consumers of cultural products, and in relation to the multiple flows of
global media products. Given the too facile misinterpretations of data,
quantitative research should be supported by qualitative studies. Research
training programmes involving women trainers and trainees from all regions
would greatly enhance this work;
(h) Although published research on women and the media has increased in
volume, much of it is inaccessible, particularly to women in the South. There
is need for further development of regional documentation centres and
libraries, the publication of bibliographies of international research work on
gender, media and communication, and better dissemination of research
(i) The significant gains made by grass-roots activists, media
researchers, non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups and policy makers
show the need for ways to interlink them. Similarly, stronger links are
needed across disciplinary and sectoral divides (media workers, development
workers, health workers). If media can play useful functions in specific
campaigns and if women are active in producing media content, existing
positive activities could be directed to new issues and concerns, thus
eliminating the need of putting up new structures;
(j) It is important to acknowledge the initiatives taken by major
international and regional organizations in support of women's media and
development activities. Given scarce resources, however, consolidation,
partnership and twinning of efforts would result in more economic use of funds
and more dynamic and solid cooperation. In view of the trickle-up effects
evidenced by a number of women's media programmes and projects, it might also
be considered whether a certain proportion of development funds should be
earmarked a priori to favour those activities.
1/ Caroline Moser, Gender Planning for Development (London, Routledge,
1993); Julia Cleve Mosse, Half the World, Half a Chance (Boston, Oxfam, 1993).
2/ Jocelyn Massiah, ed., Women in Developing Economies: Making Visible
the Invisible (Paris, Berg/UNESCO, 1993).
3/ Anne Phillips, Engendering Democracy (Oxford, Polity Press, 1991).
4/ Noeleen Heyzer, "Women, communication and development: changing
dominant structures", Media Development, vol. XLI, No. 2 (1994), p. 13.
5/ Michele Mattelart, "Women, media and power: a time of crisis",
Media Development, vol. XLI, No. 2 (1994), p. 11.
6/ Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Can the subaltern speak?" in Marxism
and the Interpretation of Culture, Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, eds.
(New York, Macmillan Education, 1988).
7/ Margaret Gallagher and Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, eds., Women
Empowering Communication (Bangkok, WACC/IWTC, 1994), p. 7.
8/ George Gerbner, "Women and minorities in TV: a study in casting and
fate", Media Development, vol. XLI, No. 2 (1994).
9/ Esther Adagala and Wambul Kiai, "Folk, interpersonal and mass media:
the experience of women in Africa", in Gallagher and Quindoza-Santiago, op.
10/ Vijayalakshmi Balakrishnan, "Indigenous social norms and women in
Asian media", in Gallagher and Quindoza-Santiago, op. cit., p. 45.
11/ Ibid., p. 42.
12/ Ibid., p. 43.
13/ Ibid., p. 55.
14/ Julinda Abu-Nasr and Randa Abul-Husn, "Among veils and walls: women
and media in the Middle East", in Gallagher and Quindoza-Santiago, op. cit.,
15/ Broadcasting Standards Council, Perspectives of Women in Television,
Research Working Paper IX (London: Broadcasting Standards Council, 1994).
16/ Agadala and Kiai, op. cit.
17/ Gerbner, op. cit.
18/ Broadcasting Standards Council, op. cit.
19/ Margaret Gallagher, ed., Women and Media Decision-making: The
Invisible Barriers (Paris, UNESCO, 1987).
21/ Adagala and Kiai, op. cit. Balakrishnan, op. cit.; Khamla Bhasin,
"Women and communication alternatives: hope for the next century", Media
Development, vol. XLI, No. 2 (1994); Teresita Hermans, "Women and the media:
a global perspective", Mass Media Awareness Seminar: Media and Women in the
90s (Bangkok, WACC, 1990).
22/ Balakrishnan, op. cit., p. 57.
23/ Lila Abu-Lughod, "Bedouins, cassettes and technologies of public
culture", Middle East Reports, vol. 159 (1991).
24/ Hannah Davies, "American Magic in a Moroccan Town", Middle East
Reports, vol. 159 (1991).
25/ Silvia Perez-Vitoria, "Women and new communications technologies",
Reports and Papers on Mass Communication, No. 108 (Paris, UNESCO, 1993).
26/ See also World Communication Report (Paris, UNESCO, 1989).
27/ Peter Lewis, "Alternative media: linking global and local", Reports
and Papers in Mass Communication, No. 107 (Paris, UNESCO, 1993).
28/ Carmen Ruiz, "Losing fear: video and radio production of native
Aymara women in Bolivia", in Women in Grassroots Communication, Pilar Riano,
ed. (Newbury Park, CA, Sage, 1994); Clemencia Rodriguez, "A process of
identity construction: Latin American women producing video stories", in
Riano, op. cit.
29/ Penina Mlama, "Reinforcing existing indigenous communication skills:
the use of dance in Tanzania", in Riano, op. cit.
30/ Susan Dyer-Bennem, "Cultural distinctions in communication patterns
of African-American women: a sampler", in Riano, op. cit.
31/ Bhasin, op. cit.
32/ Abu Nasr and Abul-Husn, op. cit., p. 155.
33/ World Communication Report, 1989 (Paris, UNESCO, 1989).
34/ The World's Women: Trends and Statistics, 1970-1990 (United Nations
publication, Sales No. E.91.
35/ UNESCO, World Education Report 1991 (Paris, UNESCO, 1991), p. 27.
36/ Bhasin, op. cit.
37/ Balakrishnan, op. cit., p. 37.
38/ Brigalia Bam, "Women, communication and socio-cultural identity:
creating a common vision", Media Development, vol. XLI, No. 2 (1994), p. 15.
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