If women participation in the 2019 election is anything to go by, the impact of the media cannot be toiled with. The media serves as a source of powerful tool in mirroring and influencing the thoughts, world-view and philosophy of a human community. This emphasise the role of the media as an agenda-setting platform for
If women participation in the 2019 election is anything to go by, the impact of the media cannot be toiled with. The media serves as a source of powerful tool in mirroring and influencing the thoughts, world-view and philosophy of a human community.
This emphasise the role of the media as an agenda-setting platform for development. Women issues are development issues. Check all the Millennium Development Goals, it is the women that will benefit most if the goals can be achieved. Unfortunately, these cannot be unless media mainstream women issues. If there must the desired change and development we want to see in our world, the media must give priority and consciously accord the issues of women prominence, fair coverage and equitable access they deserve in the media space, particularly as far as their political and electoral participation are concerned.
As observed by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, IDEA (2011), studies have revealed that the structural and institutional obstacles women face in political competition are compounded by the lower levels of media coverage of women candidates and their proposals. According to the report, the Beijing Declaration (signed in 1995) “already expressed the need to coordinate actions from all sectors to increase women’s participation and access to expression and decision-making in and through the mass media, and the need to foster a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media”. So, going by this assertion, media, overtly or covertly have been part of the factors bedeviling women visibility in the first place.
Given the power of the media, it remains the only platform through which the electorate get information on, and about contestants. So, the level of understanding and conviction assumed by the public concerning a contestant depends on media angle given to the coverage of political and electoral activities of a candidate and their political parties. Media discuss analysts refer to this ‘media angle’ as ‘framing’ or ‘agenda-setting’.
Several reports have revealed how media reported women issues from social and cultural angles, leading to sorts of bias, unbalanced and stereotyped assessment of issues affecting them. In most cases, media framing of women issues has tended to reinforce a “society in which men have been culturally considered to be the center and the point of reference of all things, whereas women have been seen as dependent on and subordinated to men”.
This mind-set pervades all strata of the society ranging from social and economic set-up, arts and entertainment, academic and political endeavours. By extension, this eventually finds its way into the media coverage. This also accounts for reasons the media portray, through their reports, ideas or images that reinforce the unequal treatment in the social mindset. Incidentally, consciously and unconsciously, journalists tend to project this cultural ‘framing’ in their reportage because they, themselves are products of the same society that sees women as belonging to the ‘other’ room (Kitchen and bedroom).
Media framing occurs in the point of view of the news story, the kind of questions asked in an interview, the use of language, and the selection of images. These are all factors that have their weight in the messages that emerge in the news, and that result in specific representations of women and men in the news.
In a 2015 media monitoring report conducted by the International Press Centre, (IPC) Lagos, a total of 16,046 male and female voices were captured as sources in the media reporting of election issues between November 2014 and May 2015. Of these, only 4.68% constituted women population speaking to the media as against men’s domination of the voices heard in the news at 95.32%. Again, findings in the same survey reveal that issues of women and their interest featured in only 330 reports, representing an abysmal 1.23% of all the reports (a total of 26,638) monitored within the period (see Reportage of 2015 elections: A monitoring scorecard of print and online media, pg. 31).
So, what is the point here? Media has under rated the power of women by under-reporting them. Why is it that women issues are not accorded similar prominence such as we have issues on sports, politics, economy and what have you trending on the strategic positions in the media? The answer is simple: Media, as an ideology is macho! Manly! So, it promotes the same masculine psychology in other areas such as politics, sports and economy. Oloyede O. (2015 as referenced in ActionAid: Women in the electoral process, 2018, pg. iv) opined that “the under representation of women in political participation gained root in Nigeria due to patriarchal practice inherent in our society. Majority of women in politics face disproportionate discrimination at all levels: They are less likely to get support from family members, less likely to have resources and connections…”
The impression created with regards to media framing of women issues is one that invokes patriarchal model historically used to filter women folks: A model that sees women as passive objects which should not be seen, heard or act. A model that confines women within the whims of menfolk. So, using this model, it is this that underscores media coverage of women issues within the inner pages of the newspapers, for instance, and particularly on the sections, stereotypically feminine, such as “entertainment, travel and tourism, fashion, music and dance among others.
Incidentally, when issues that are solely and directly affecting women such as politics, state policies, economy, health and education are being reported, we find more of men speaking to the media, suggesting policies and programmes and even taking decisions on behalf of women. All these underlie images that affect women chances in the electoral process.
How Media Can and Must Boost Women Participation
Challenge the Stereotype
It is evident that, given the right media coverage, women have the capacity to change the game. Media has the responsibility to challenge the stereotypical narratives around women. Evidence abound that the seeming dichotomy in the ingenuity and mental sophistication between women and men has been a myth, ab initio! As revealed by West Africa Examination Council (WAEC), and as reported in the media (see ThisDay, July 5, 2018, pg. 48), a total of 1,572,396 candidates sat for 2018 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASCCE). Of these, 823,424 were males (52.36%) while 748,972 were females (47.63%). Meanwhile results show that more females candidates got better results (52.92%) than males (47.32%). This is real development and it shows women have not been inferior to men in the first place as we were made to believe culturally and ideologically. Media should toe more of these lines by writing more stories that challenge stereotype.
Make Women’s Issues More Visible in the Media
Media should accord more prominence to women and issues affecting them. Women should be encouraged to provoke issues and thoroughly debate these issues in the media. Media has the capacity and the responsibility to ‘re-tell’ narratives around misconceptions about women, not to reinforce it. At least women make up to 50% of the Nigerian population (INEC, 2017) and we cannot afford to keep their issues at the brim in the electoral and political space.
Exploring Right-Reporting Model
As revealed very recently by the Project Director of The European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), M. David Le Notre, “women demography makes up the largest chunk of voters’ population, but the women in Nigeria constitute only 5.8 per cent of the political space”. Media can change this by exploring ‘right-reporting’ angle of development journalism. It can change the percentage by asking the right questions. Really, it is one thing for journalists to be equipped with the right skills and capacity to report from the ‘fundamental human right’ angle, it is another to educate the public, particularly the women, to understand that they have one. For the record, there are a few strategies media should keep talking about. Some of these are:
• International Legal Framework: The convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and the Beijing declaration and platform for action on women;
• The Electoral Quota such
• The protocol to the African Charter on Human People’s Rights on the rights of women in Africa;
• Domestic Legal framework such as the Nigerian 1999 Constitution as amended, the Electoral Act 2017(as amended);
• Nigerian National Gender Policy which stipulates 35% affirmative action for women in Nigeria.
Developing Good Gender-Policy on Recruitment
In a report by the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP, 2015), finding shows that “news stories by male journalists contain fewer female news subjects (people in the news) than those by female reporters. In 2015, 29% of news subjects in stories reported by female journalists are women compared to 26% by male reporters”. This is the more reason media houses should develop good gender policy that allows more women journalists covering issues affecting women. As it is today, check has shown that only Blue Print newspaper has a dedicated section as “Women” on its medium such as others have ‘Health, Arts, or Education’ sections.
In another instance, Nigeria’s major carrier, Air Peace had planned to operate all-female flight in honour of Air Peace’s first female captain, Sinmisola Ajibola. This is a good roadmap to gender parity. Media should do more in this regard by training journalists on the best way to promote gender participation in the electoral process, through their reportage. Yes, there is a sizable number of female editors even in the mainstream media. But, how many of them are on the political desk? If there are, how many of them CONSCIOUSLY push for more reportage on women politicians?
The way to achieve all these is not rocket science, anyway. It can only be by CONSCIOUS and DELIBERATE efforts at breaking structural barriers to women’s participation in elections.