25 September 1995


United Nations
Division for the Advancement of Women
Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development

                     RESPECT OF WOMEN'S HUMAN
                    RIGHTS IN FAIR PORTRAYAL

                          prepared by 

                       Janet. Z. Karim */ 
                         The Independent

*/ The views expressed in this paper, which has been reproduced as received,
are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the United


In most rural communities in Africa, women produce over 90% of the food and
about 65% of food processing is taken up by women.  Women comprise 52% of the
world's population and in some few cases they are about 54%.  Women are
employed both in the formal and informal sectors; their input to the economic
development of all countries is phenomenally overwhelming.  Coupled with the
unpaid labour that they contribute into their homes, women are an
indispensable force that none should think the world can continue to ignore. 

On the other side of the coin  however, women have little or no literacy
skills, whereby in some countries women register a low 3% literacy rate.  In
Africa over 60% of African women cannot read or write.  Politically, only 
2.5% of African women sit in their respective country's Parliaments; globally,
only 9.7% of the women are represented in Parliament, and for every 100
ministerial decision- makers there are only four women.1/  In Malawi out of 33
ministerial positions there is only one female minister and two female

Women are the silenced majority.  The global and African statistics on women's
economic, political and social contributions, believe their importance when it
comes to their access to and participation in the communication systems in
their local communities.  Women's unequal access to means of communication and
publishing in Africa is a major cause for the perpetration of the negative
portrayal women get in the Africa media and the absence of the respect of
women's human rights win fair portrayal.

With such starting contradictions, one is inclined to agree with the
conclusion drawn by Pakistani flag post for media women Razia Bhatti; this is
that media women "must seek and speak for we are the voice of the voiceless
millions."2/  And in her article "How Much Ink do Women Get?" Carol Wheeler
concludes that women, under-represented in the general media, are close to
being invisible in the business press.  This is besides the fact that 42% of
all managers in the United States being women, with one-tenth of sources and
experts named in business magazines and newspapers also being women.3/

The picture in African societies is no better; in fact it is worsened by the
fact that there are disparities of employment and prospects for promoting
women.  Men promote men, because men are still regarded as the bread-winners.

At a recent UNESCO-sponsored seminar, Media for Equality: Portrayal of Women
in Southern African Media, it was noted that many of the problems women
encountered in access to the means of communication and portrayal of women in
the media in Africa, and indeed in most parts of the world, are basically the
same.4/  This being the case, this paper shall limit the discourse to a case
study of the Malawi scenario.



Currently there is the traditional and non-traditional communication networks
at play in Malawi.  Both have very important roles viz women's statuses in the
society they operate.  However, it shall be shown that even with both
networks, women's access to and participation are either limited or hindered
by tradition and/or male domination.


In traditional forms of communication, women participation is more or less in
the social realm, viz upbringing of children, funeral, initiation and marriage
ceremonies, among others.  In this network, women neither need literacy skills
nor money to purchase either newspaper or batteries for a radio or have
electricity, licenses for television sets.

But women's full potential contributions are limited as men and traditional
factors tend to dominate in the processes, with women playing a passive and
sometimes insignificant role.  It is the dominant male models in the form of
husband, father, brother, in-laws and sons, that dominate and influence in the
information that is passed on for example to children in the upbringing

"The man is the head of the family, we are always told.  And if the man of the
house is dead, or for some other reason, not there (in the house), then the
other males in a women's life will always come in and dominate.  So there is
always a man lurking around somewhere, to tell you what to do or communicate
to your children, "University of Malawi lecturer in Communication, Flossie
Gomile- Chidyaonga counters.5/

Women's active non-obstructed participation in the traditional mode of
communicatoin becomes more visible in the women-to-girls networks found in
initiation rites.  Here elderly women of a community gather young girls for
puberty instruction formalities.  It must be noted from the onset however,
that while the women are in full control with little or no interference from
the men, tradition would have it that the communication here is also limited
by its one-sided nature.  This is that the girls are never to react,
contribute to or dictate the nature of the activities or information being
passed to them during the ceremonies.  The young girls play a passive role,
sponging up information being communicated to them by the elderly village
women "teachers" (Nankungwi).6/

A poem by University of Malawi lecturer, Charles Shumba, depiction of an
initiation ceremony, titled "Lero Kubmera Fisi", (Literary "Today the Hyena
will come"), an elderly woman is shown coaching hr young granddaughter into
accepting the age old tradition of having her first sexual encounter with the
"Hyena" (a masked man, engaged in the ceremonies to teach young initiates the
art of pleasing a man sexually).  This part of the ceremony marks the end of
her rites of passage.

While the author of the poem is male, his sentiments are clearly shown through
the young girl's new thinking about unacceptable traditions - especially ones
that are harmful health hazards.  The grandmother's insistence that the young
girl goes through with the encounter, is a big indication of how rural women's
entrenched values and attitudes about themselves and their position in the
patriarchal setup, has not allowed women to ostensibly chart their own

Another point to note with the one-way mode of communication in initiation
rites, is that "many of the information being discharged during the rites, are
in direct contradiction with modern trends and expectations of our young
girls,"8/.  Minister of Women and Children's Affairs, Mrs. Eddah Chitalo has
said. "Some example of this are that girls should be timid (which is not a
good prerequisite for girls challenging traditional modes of communication or
even entering the media profession), that the girl's role in life is to please
her man, among other things.9/


Malawi has no television.  Methods of communication are therefore limited to
the radio, newspapers and magazines.  An overview of all these indicate
however that women in general have little access to and rarely use either the
radio, newspapers or magazines as sources of information or as communication

The scenario in the Malawi media is male-dominated.  Men control the media. 
The employment statistics in both print and electronic media point to a
continuation of this control.  Because men control the media, news is
relatively still about men.  In most cases if it is about women, then it is
negative ones.  This inhibits women from utilizing the media either for
information or communication.

There are no women in management levels of either print or electronic media. 
The minimal representation of women in the media in the first level management
post, affects their general representation and also their progression
routes... The women have no voice and it is practically impossible for them to
gain access to the recognition that men have.10/

The country's sole radio station, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation has
about nine women out of 50 people in its News and Current Affairs section.11/ 
This affects the amount of news about women one hears on the radio.  Headline
news items are either about prominent local or international politicians or
business persons.  Items on other women, paint a gloomy picture of the woman
as mother, prostitute, obsessed with the horoscope or beauty.  But nothing
positive about women's contribution is aired or ever makes the news.

Out of 180 programs broadcast each week, only 12 are for or about women.  To
top this, messages aired on radio and staged through theater, paint horrific,
negative pictures of women.  These images of women are of women at their worst
in society.  Just as women only make news when they are victims or have done
something wrong, these drama presentations depict female characters that are
villainous to the core.  Furthermore, the drama is filled with violent scenes
against women.

The playwrights for these productions are mostly men. 

The injustice that women suffer through either absence in the news or negative
portrayal on radio, also exists in the print media.  At the Daily Times, the
country's oldest daily, there are only four women out of about 30 people in
the editorial section.  Here the overall percentage of space on women's
stories is three per cent.12/

The current employment pattern and news content in the media impacts
negatively on women getting into the media profession. And because more women
do not enter the media profession, the process - of keeping women out of the
media through employment or news items - is perpetuated.13/

Deputy Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Ms. Cathleen Chipembere
says that she does no read the news because women are never put in the front
pages of newspapers unless they have done something wrong or they have been
victimised.  She said that she was tired of only reading about criminals and
murderers on the front pages.  She decried the fact that women's achievements,
however small or big, are not being celebrated in the media.  The deputy
minister deplored the media's practice of making heroes out of male criminals
by placing their pictures on front pages of newspapers or highlighting them on
radio, when women were not even getting half the space when they have done
something good.14/

Women's under representation in the media, entails adverse results viz their
portrayal.  The portrayal of women is biased in favour of men.  Literature is
full of books, articles and papers on women.  The sad thing about this is that
most of these are written by men.  so it is the opinion of men on women. 

"Men are writing about women.  What images are they projecting about women?" 
asks Flossie Gomile-Chidyaonga.

In the newspapers and radio, most journalists take the issue of women's
portrayal lightly with most brushing it aside with a smile and a joke.  In
many cases the jokes are translated into an article in the paper or a quip
that is then aired on the radio.  This is done with little or no recourse for
the women to take.

The big culprit in the negative portrayal of women in the media however is not
the journalist.  It is the advertiser.  And since media is about selling
audiences to advertisers, the evil that exists in both print and electronic
media persists despite the desire to clean up the adverse image of women in
the communication channels. 

If these channels, complete with negotiation leverage, cannot control or put a
stop to the continuing stereo-typed and negative images effected by
advertisers, women themselves have less of a chance.  Most advertisers, are
from the international community with million-dollar budgets for Third World
country media.  In this set-up, chances are that there is little impact women
can have about changing the manner in which advert wares are paraded in the

Advertising spells competition, because of this, local advertisers tend to
mimic their international counterparts.  Thus every time an add appears in the
paper, magazines or on radio and TV, the image even when the product has no
relevance to women, or does not need packaging involving the female sex,
perpetuate the image of the woman to persuade the prospective buyer. 
Advertisers show women "either as housewives whose interest are limited to
domestic needs or else as the sexually alluring background which makes
consumer good more attractive by association."15/

Women who take part in advertising in n newspapers and commercials on radio
and television, have no choice either; they go into them for the money,
setting aside principles.  Although women's groups decry the abuse or misuse
of women coupled with the negative portrayal of women, not much ground has
been gained on the reduction of negative images women get through advertising.

Chilimampunga, in his study on radio commercial, counters that commercials
which denigrate women help to shape and reinforce the women's views of
themselves and their place in society.  The moral suassion inherent in these
commercials further entrenches the patriarchal society to maintain the women's
subordination by justifying the existing gender inequalities.

The denigration of women in advertising and commercials, Chilimampunga
concludes, leaves women with no sense of value at all and they are unable to
realize their own full potential.16/

The women's voices are muffled by a male's voice in an advertising in that his
voice comes on last in many commercials.  The effect this has is that of
perpetuating the commanding tone of the male  - the more persuasive in getting
people to make a choice for the product.  Through this Chilimampunga says that
women are symbolically  silenced and hardly appear to be creating history, or

Apart from having little authority, the women in the commercials are also
portrayed as being dependent on men, non-competitive, and are useful only as
an allurement - through he feminine sexual appeal.

There is no fairness in the way women are being portrayed in the media either
through adverts, negative news items or gaining  access to the media in
employment or making the news.  This is a violation of their human rights. 
There is a backlash on women's wove to advance themselves in Malawi, very
similar to the backlash elsewhere in the world.  And the media perpetuates
this by the continual denigrating of women through adverts, commercials and
news stories.

This in turn, systematically keeps women out of seeking public office.  The
less women that get into public office, the less the media will report
positively on them.  If the media is not reporting positively on women, women
have fewer role models to look pu to, and therefore will not aspire public
office or beyond what the media says about them.

This is an unfortunate set-up, that has to be halted as it infringes upon the
rights of women.  Betty Friedman argues that it is time to transcend sexual
politics, calling for the establishment of a new social policy and a sense of
community that "transcends" identity politics' - whether for women, blacks, or
other marginalized peoples.18/  As long as women remain dependent, confined,
subordinate and without power, women cannot take part in the democratic
process or at the very least experience democracy.

There is perhaps also the need to redefine what constitutes the news.  As long
as we continue to flood our front pages or headline news with events about
politicians and other high-profiled men, women's achievements will not be
covered, or at the very least will continue to be relegated to the inside of
women's pages. 


The publishing industry, like the media world is the monopoly of men.  Apart
from the natural difficulties that surround the industry -i.e. finance,
competition, legal wrangles, risks, etc.- men do not seem to take favorably to
women that plan to enter this field.  The mystic around the publishing world
which men paint, scare and ward-off any daring women.

There are only four women in the country that have ventured into this
predominantly male domain.19/  Three women published women's magazines (Woman
Now, Genuine Female and Young Housewife).  Of the three that had launched
women's magazines, only two are still publishing, with one magazine coming on
and off the shelves due to printer problems and advert sponsorship.

The remaining magazine is currently in its second issue, but it faces problems
of closure, as advertisers only promise to place adverts in future issues. 
They insist that they wish to see whether the magazine will stay on the market
or go off like the other two women's magazines.  One wonders and questions if
male publishers get this kind of treatment?  They do not; there have been a
lot of men that have ventured into this industry and have sometimes had only
one issue, and yet they have enjoyed advert patronage that exceeds three
issues of some of the women's magazines.

Two women are in the newspaper industry as publishers.  The hardships
experienced by both are varied, but central to both, as is true of many
business ventures, is seed capital.  The amount and even source of funding for
the business is a determining factor for success or otherwise.

One women publishes a daily newspaper (The Nation) that was launched by her
father (a cabinet minister in the UDF government).  The paper started as a
weekly, grew to thrice weekly and now it not only publishes the daily but also
has a weekend edition (The Saturday Nation).

The workforce in this paper has grown in the two years since the launch.  Many
people however ascribe success of the paper to the fact that the publisher's
father ia s cabinet minister in the present government and also that her
husband is a prominent businessperson.  Both these men in her life are able,
the story goes, are able to pump money into the business when thing go wrong. 
The men are also the pull for the amount to adverts that flow through the
paper --the paper draws adverts from both the government and private
enterprises.  While the father owns the paper, the legally registered
publishers are the daughter and her husband.

While this notion may hold water politically, professionally, the publisher,
who runs the company as general manager, has managed to put together some of
the finest trained journalist and media support personnel available in the
country, even poaching journalist straight from their training
leave-of-absence.  Although all government and private enterprise adverts are
always placed in this paper, giving credence to the father-daughter link, the
fact that there is a dearth of expertise working for the paper, has assisted
her create and maintain professionalism in the handling of news and
advert-procurement, matched only by the 100-year old Daily Times (owned by the
former head of state Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda).

This in turn attracts adverts, putting government officials at ease, as they
explain that their adverts are only placed in the paper because of the quality
and frequency of the paper.  The more adverts are procured, the more she has
been able to raise the professional standards, and of course pay off for it
through amenities that even out -do the other daily.  The paper is also able
to engage in massive advertisement campaigns for the paper --busses, radio and
fliers--attracting more advertisers and thereby increasing readership with the
inherent necessary spill-over effects.

The irony here however, still rests on the fact that despite the successes she
has made in her paper, rarely do people ascribe credit to her.  Even when her
journalists meet with colleagues at seminars and elsewhere, it is never her
paper; this is except perhaps when she is being compared with the other women
publishers; it is always the finance minister's paper.

The other women, publishes a weekly that started out as a bi-weekly newspaper.
The paper has, since its launch three and a half years ago, suffered in that
government refuses to place advertisements in her paper due to infrequency -it
is not a daily- but more important, it is as a result of a cabinet decision
that dissuades government departments from placing adverts in newspapers that
are critical of the new democratic government.20/ 

The economic-political privilege of the one woman coupled with the hardship
being faced by the other, hardly make good role models that would attract
other women to join the industry.

Apart from the phobia women have of getting into the publishing industry,
generally women also lack education, and exposure.  Women need to be assisted
both financially and morally to enter into this industry as through women
getting into publishing is a major means of promoting the positive portrayal
of women in the media.

On the moral issue, women need to be encouraged to work with other women.  The
importance of this can not be emphasised more, as at every fora where gender
issues are discussed, men persistently argue that it is unfair to expect men
to work with or regard women positively when women do not do likewise with
their fellow women.

While this point can be debated upon and be said to be a matter of crossing
t's and doting i's, it is a point men are going to throw into the discussions.
Rather than hamper the progress being made in the movement for the advancement
of women, it is still a point that needs to be considered.  Thus training on
gender for both men and women, must be an on-going process.  This process
should always included the networking component.


We need to swell the ranks with women in all the spheres that make headline
news if there were many women, say for example in Parliament, civic offices,
in cabinet and in corporate society, coverage of their functions would make it
to the front pages, etc.  This in turn would encourage more women to enter and
stay in the media profession.  Consequently with more women in the media,
women would be encouraged to use the media.

This spiral effect is what has to be conceptualized in Malawi to impact
positively on women gaining access to the media, which would enhance their
portrayal.  The cynege inherent in such an effect would achieve far greater
spill-over effect in social, political and economic development of our

1/   UNDP. Women:  The Silenced Mayority, November, 1989.  Current statistics
should be better with massive wins by women in Both the Western and Third
World Parliaments.  

2/   Bhatti Razia "Even half a chance would help women in the media", Panos
feature, August, 1995, p. 1,2.  Ms. Bhatti is editor of Pakistan's Newsline,
recipient of International Media Women's Foundation 1994 Courage in Journalism

3/   IMWF Newswire, December, 1994, Vol 4 No. 3, p.3.

4/   Summary and Recommendations, Media for Equality: Portrayal of Women in
Southern African Media, December 15-16, 1994.

5/   Ms. Flossie Gomile-Chidyaonga and her colleague, Ms. Grace Kaimila-Kanjo
are communications lecturers at the University of Malawi.  In 1994 the two
conducted a research on the situation of the Malawi media woman.  They
recently organised a seminar on gender sensitization for media personnel which
drew both male and female media workers.

6/   Add number to text as well as to footnote 

7/   Moto, Francis.  Of Human Hyenas and Woemn: Reflection on Reading Charles
Shumba's "Lero Kubwera Fisi," Paper presented at Workshop on Gender
Sensitization for Media Personnel November-December, 1995, pp.

8/   Quote from Minister of Women and Children's Affairs at Press Conference
on ICPD, 1994.

9/   Karim, Janet, "Media and the Advancement of Women", paper at the SARDC
Women's Rights are Human Rights, Harare, Zimbabwe, August, 1995, p.1.

10/  Gomile-Chidyaonga, Flossie and Grace Kaimila-Kanjo, The Representation of
Women in Malawi mainstream Media, 1994, research paper, pp.

11/  Mr. Nkhata is head of News and Current Affairs at the country's sole
radio station, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation.

12/  Gomile-Chidyaonga, Kaimira-Kanjo research, Appx. 1-3.

13/  Karim, Janet, "The Tale of the Media in the Advancement of Women," paper
presented during Workshop on the Sensitization of Media Personnel, November-
December, 1995, pp.

14/  Formal interview with Deputy Minister of Education, Science and
Technology, Ms. Chipembere, September, 1995.

15/  Chilimampunga, Charles, "Radio Commercials in Malawi: Denigrating Women
in the Process of selling Products and Services" paper presented at Gender
Senzitization Workshop, 1995, pp 3-5.

16/  Ibid. p.6.

17/  Ibid, p.12.

18/  Friedman, Betty, "Time to Transcend Secual Politics," Newsweek, September
4, 1995, pp.16-17.

19/  Malawi's Women publishers are Eunice Gumbi, Mbumba Atchutan, Janet Karim,
and Roziliro Tembo.  Eunice and Mbumba have no media training background and
both went into publishing as a business.  Eunice used to publish Genuine
Female magazine and The Voice for many years.  Both publications have folded. 
Mbumba publishes The Nation and the Saturday Nation newspapers.  She is the
daughter of Finance Minister Rieke Banda, who owns the paper.  Janet and
Roziliro have a long background in the media, both having worked for the Daily
Times for many years.  Janet launched Woman Now magazine in 1989; in 1993 she
joined the bandwagon calling for political change in Malawi by launching The
Independent newspaper. Woman Now has been coming on and off the shelves. 
Roziliro has recently launched Young Housewife magazine to fill the void in
this area.

20/  The Independent, which was launched during the drive for political
pluralism, is one the country's few papers that have retained being criticle
of government --regardless of who is in power.  Other papers changed colours
and started praising government when the new democratic government under the
United Democratic Front took power from the Malawi Congress Paty in May 1994.

Janet Karim is editor-in-chief of The Independent newspaper, editor of Woman
Now magazine.  She is also chairperson, founder-member of Malawi Media women's


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