In September 2018 alone, Civil Societies, media experts and development partners in Nigeria and South-Africa have held series of workshops and conferences on the menace of Hate Speech and its negative impact on Women’s political participation, particularly in Africa; and, experts were unanimous that gender-related hate speech is anti-development. In a conference held in Gaborone,
In September 2018 alone, Civil Societies, media experts and development partners in Nigeria and South-Africa have held series of workshops and conferences on the menace of Hate Speech and its negative impact on Women’s political participation, particularly in Africa; and, experts were unanimous that gender-related hate speech is anti-development.
In a conference held in Gaborone, South Africa by the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians under the aegis of the 49th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association African Region Conference, Cyberbullying was identified as major impediment on the rights and privileges of female members of parliament.
As a take-home information on measures taking so far to stem the tide, a participant at the event, Stella Moroka, from the Attorney General’s Chambers in Bostwana was reported to have mentioned that new provisions were being introduced to curb cyberbullying and relating harassment. Other countries such as Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria also have their new and revised enactment targeted at cyber-related hate speech.
Also, in Nigeria, a just-concluded media roundtable, jointly organized by the International Press Centre, (IPC), West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP) and the Humanity Family Foundation for Peace and Development (HFFPED) and funded by the PeaceTech Lab, was centered on the “Role of the Media in Combating Gender-Related Hate Speech Online”.
At the event, while sexist hate speech was identified as undermining human rights of women and girls, general consensus of the roundtable was that female politicians seeking political office should adopt a more aggressive strategy to engage the mainstream and social media for appropriate media visibility and objective narrative. So, more or less, hate speech is global threat and needs to be tackled head on.
Put in proper context, it can be argued that the kind of different measures being put in place by several countries, particularly in Africa to curb hate speech would not have been necessary if media had played its roles effectively. An integral part of these roles is mainstreaming women issues in, and through the media.
Unfortunately, states’ laws enacted to curb hate related speech are now becoming an albatross to the press freedom and free speech, and by extension, shifting women more to the margin in the scheme of things. Whatever happens to the media will also rub off on women. In essence, the media, not states, is well-placed to stem the tide of hate speech, by striving very hard to re-tell negative narratives wherever they exist.
This position is in tune with that of Victor Bwire of the Media Council of Kenya, having said in an event: “Journalists need new narratives…” Also, Khadija Sharife, African Editor, Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), had corroborated this stance, saying “for members of the public to get the most out of democracy, they must become conscious, and it is journalists who have the power to awaken them by writing against official narratives”.
Sadly enough, greater percentage of these unchallenged narratives, have had unquantifiable adverse effects on women, particularly in politics. In fact, empirical findings have shown that media consciously and, or, unconsciously, perpetrated hate speech against women.
First, it is important to admit that underreporting women issues, in itself, is hate. Two, trivializing, or being subjective about women issues is also gender-related violence. Women, from time immemorial, have lost voice in the mainstream media space because media coverage of women has always been defined by the error of omission (what is left out) and error of commission (how it is reported). There are questions that don’t get asked by the media. For instance, there is National Gender Policy that guarantees 35% quota for women in politics. Yet, this policy is not backed by the Act of National Assembly because there is a clause in the Nigerian constitution that stands as a barrier to this policy. Today, a number of political parties are proposing quotas for women in politics. Whether this is changing the number of women in politics is not reflecting in the media reportage.
Hate against women is a phenomenon occasioned by age-long socialization that is romanced by our World with the instruments of culture, custom and religion.
Women issues are development issues, and as much as they constitute almost half of our national population shows that, no meaningful development can take place without mainstreaming their issues in, and through the media. But media is patriarchal, it mirrors the society, through the lens of the dominant voices who abinitio defined what features in the news, and what does not. Women have never been part of these voices. That is why they are not interviewed as party leaders, spokespersons, newsmakers, experts.
There are statistical evidence to these assertions.
For instance, findings of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP, 2010) reveals the existence of a male vision of the world on the part of the media and speaks of worrying levels of exclusion of women in the media…Only 24 per cent of persons about whom one reads in the news as the subjects of information are women (in print media, radio and television).
Again, in its GMMP (2015) report, media coverage of women had remained static as they stood at only 24% of people seen, read, or heard in the news. In news about politics, it was also observed that women only made 16% of people in the news.
Also, in an on-going media monitoring project being conducted by the International Press Centre, (IPC), Nigeria, findings released for the month of July, 2018, showed that women’s voices were heard only in 1.88% of all political reports published in the print media. In addition, while women politicians made only 1.6% of people mentioned in the news, male politicians made 23.6%.
A report was published in Nigerian Tribune (June 30, 2018) captioned: Which of these PDP men can beat Buhari? Same photograph with headline was also on ThisDay’s front page (August 19, 2018). The newspapers featured photographs of notable male contestants in the opposition party, whereas, there are scores of notable female politicians contesting for the same presidential position. They were left out in the report. What does this simply tell us? It simply means, no matter how many women contestants there may be, they are a crowd in an election rally. Media has shown, so far, that what we think election result will be is what ‘men’ have already decided.
This is nothing less than hate because it is a reporting that perpetrates sexism.
From the foregoing, it can be concluded that the media so far has fallen short of the established principle of engendering gender equality in our democracy, whereas ethics of journalism beckons on the media to ensure equitable access to the media space. As a platform for campaign and public forum during elections, the media has the capacity to explore the enabling professional instrument to provide balanced, fair, and equitable representation of all strata of the society, particularly persons at the margin such as women and persons with disabilities.
One major spectrum to reverse the trend of gender-based violence against women is the imperative of a reporting style that pushes for a deliberate and conscious editorial policy that targets quality coverage of women issues in the electoral process. In the near absence of a widely acceptable media gender policy in Nigeria, this is the gap the revised Nigerian Code of Election Coverage (2018) aims to achieve.
The Code as Media Handbook
It is the newly revised Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage (2018) recently published by the International Press Centre (IPC), Nigeria’s notable advocacy Centre for media professionalism, with funding from the European Union Support for Democratic and Good Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) under component 4b of the support for media.
The code was lunched in Abuja, the Nigerian capital and was subsequently distributed to several media houses in Nigeria. Also, thousands of journalists, editors, and other media practitioners have received copies of the code. What makes the code more significant to the issues of gender equality is the section that demands equitable access to the media space of all contestants in the 2019 elections as well as their party platforms.
Section 1 of the Code on the Equitable Access states that: The performance of campaign platform and public forum role of the media during elections requires deference to the right of parties and candidates in elections to equitable media access.
Section 1, sub-section 1.1.1 of code states that “A broadcast medium shall ensure equitable allocation of airtime at specific but similar periods for all parties contesting elections to present their manifestoes”;
Sub-section 1.1.2 states that: “A media organisation shall regularly apply the principle of equity in the coverage and reportage of campaigns and other activities of parties and candidates contesting elections”;
Sub-section 1.2.1 specifically mentions the role of the media to the coverage of the under-represented groups that: “A media organisation shall, as a matter of deliberate editorial policy, target under-represented groups…in the coverage of electoral process”;
Sub-section 1.2.2 also states that “A media organisation shall consciously reflect the views and perspectives of women, youths, persons living with disabilities and rural dwellers in electoral reports”.
Interestingly, all the representatives of the Nigerian media organisations, institutions, professional bodies and support groups adopted and agreed to this code. If the Code insists on DELIBERATE and CONSCIOUS effort to report women issues, it is to change narratives about these issues; and it should be mentioned here that media organisations should also make DELIBERATE and CONSCIOUS use of the code.
The letters of the handbook are very clear on how to tackle HATE SPEECH and STEREOTYPE against women. Women accounted for 49.32% of Nigeria Population (according to World Population Review, 2018). As it stands today, over fifty-seven presidential aspirants jostle for 2019 elections. Media should ask the right question as to the percentage of women aspiring, and why they are so few.
Some critics have spoken of shyness on the part of women to speak to the media. But who are these women who are too “shy” to speak on what and where the shoe pinches? Why do reporters approach women that will not speak? It is quite uninspiring to tag women as too shy to engage media.
It’s the responsibility of the media to seek appropriate information about barriers against women, put these information in the public domain. Of course, women confidence will boost if consciously supported by the media. Reporters should go out, seek out women that’ll speak and report appropriately. This is good journalism!