Prevailing Issues: Media under Reporting on Gender Issues
In Sierra Leone the majority of women face serious inequities, most of which are not reported by the media.
While discrimination against women is multifaceted, traditionally it is more prevalent in areas that affects the economic status of women in society; lack of access to resources such as: loans to finance business undertakings, freehold land to serve as collateral on loans, education for a competitive advantage , healthcare to stay well and most important lack of representation at the political front to be part of the decision making process, since such decisions affect their lives and the lives of their children. (Photo: Zainab Tunkara Clarkson, author)
Furthermore, less attention is given to the role of social constructs such as norms, traditions and family law. Discrimination through social norms is often hidden, yet serves as an important source of gender inequality in Sierra Leone where formal institutions and governance structures are less robust.
Media outlets often fail to protect vulnerable communities. In some cases certain newspapers published pictures, address and full names of raped victims. These violations are arguably the worst for society as a whole as well as for the media. By revealing the identities of victims, the Media makes it less likely that families will come forward to report similar abuses in the future. Part of the question that needs to be asked is; are there enough laws to protect the right of the victim when it comes to issues like rape? If there are, I am sure they are not being enforced going by recent events.
The situation of business women is even worst, even though they contribute to the economic well-being of the country.
Men, control the means of production and other resources. They have decision-making power within households and within many institutions like the Banks and other finance institutions.
Sometimes our culture and religions tend to dictate and shape the way women are treated in society including business. This is reflected in the patterns of awarding contracts, employment or even in journalism, which is still heavily dominated by men.
As a result, there is an urgent and strong need to correct the situation and ensure gender equality, especially in the face of globalization and the increasing important shift in development policies around the world that brings necessary spotlight on the need for the rights of women in development.
In Sierra Leone, business women read newspapers, watch televisions, log onto websites and listen to radios. However, since the majority of them are not involved in politics they are less featured in the news.
The editorial of most media outlets, be it newspaper, radio or TV are often dominated by men hence dictating what goes on the news.
Decision-Makers in the Media usually ignore news items that relate to women:
- Except when moderating or reporting programmes that are focused entirely on business women such as the programme on SLBC, programmes featuring women generally focus on softer issues of women such as; fashion, home-making, etc.
- There is prevalence of gender stereotyping in the media, with reports on business women, but with tendency to shift the lens to their roles in the family or the support given to them by their husbands.
- We still see media blackout on women in business;
- Few women in business are featured
- little or no reporting on the issues that challenge the growth of women owned/led businesses such as financial inaccessibility, lack of relevant business information, institutional and cultural barriers preventing growth, etc.
- little or no research on the role business women (small and medium) play in the development of Sierra Leone through the direct provision of employment, credit, etc.
- In addition to less coverage of successful business women who could act as role models to emerging women entrepreneurs, women in general tend to be invisible in the media in the sense that they are less likely to be interviewed or asked for opinion than their men counterparts
- When they are featured they tend to be glorified because of their physical appearances or their gendered roles and less because of their abilities and successes
- Some Media publishers refuse to publish articles on female issues written and sent to them
Despite the fact that some of our women have proven records of being capable to serve in decision-making positions including ownership of any of the major companies, these companies are still dominated by men. This problem is compounded by the fact that the governance, editorial, ownership and publishing roles in the media are also mostly dominated by men so these inequalities are not reported.
But I would say to the media houses that this is a case of gender inequality; therefore since the noble profession of Journalism is rooted in the fight for freedom, the fight for progress and the rights for all, we call on the media houses to put some focus to these concerns. We call upon them to help us make the clarion call for attention by identifying the challenges, to the many gender inequalities in our beloved Sierra Leone. It is imperative, it is a must and it is essential for our economic development. Together we can come up with a plan to bring spotlight to this problem, identify cases of gender inequalities in our geo-political system, businesses; private and public and in our education system. We should then assess and report progress either on a quarterly or bi- annually basis. We should also push for the formulation of appropriate public policies to promote gender equality and the advancement of women in our country.
Every single woman today in Sierra Leone have experienced some form of sexual harassment or the other. But these violations are not reported, we must encourage people to speak out and we must be ready to protect them. We must explicitly make it clear to everyone that sexual harassment and uninvited sexual advances are unacceptable. We must educate our male folks to be aware of certain unnecessary advances or pressure that could amount to sexual harassment. We must include more women in the media – to help shape the debate.
We must encourage our women to be involved and try to break the glass ceiling in Leadership and Decision Making in both politics and business.
Sierra Leone news media must be improved upon in order to better push society to confront important social issues.
Such growth will give women greater autonomy over their lives, which is key to eradicating poverty and boosting our economy.
Zainab Tunkara Clarkson is a Development Consultant and heads the program for The Organisation of Women Networks for Entrepreneurs (Owners) a national network of female entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone which seeks to empower women in business. She has worked extensively in private, public and Civil Society sectors across UK in Senior Management positions. Zainab is a strong advocate for Race and Gender Equality and the welfare of African Children and she is an expert in the field of diversity issues. Zainab currently serves as a Chairlady and Trustee on the Board of the Greenwich Inclusion Project, as well as AFRUCA – Africans Unite against Child Abuse (UK). Ms Tunkara Clarkson is also a Board Member of Teach For Sierra Leone. She is the Children and Gender Editor and Marketing Director of Voices from the Diaspora Radio Network. She has a BA degree in Business and Marketing from Sussex University, a postgraduate degree in NGO and International Development Management from the University of East London. She also has a postgraduate Diploma in Market & Service Development For Public Care from Oxford Brooks University, UK and a Diploma in Public Health.
By Zainab Tunkara Clarkson
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