How Media Can Advance Women Narrative, by Experts

How Media Can Advance Women Narrative, by Experts

Say Sexist Hate Speech Undermines Human Rights for Women, Girls Experts at a Round Table in Lagos want women to seize the cudgels and adopt a more aggressive strategy to engage both the mainstream and social media to alter its narrative, effectively promote their cause and eschew their pervading negative portrayal in the public space.

Say Sexist Hate Speech Undermines Human Rights for Women, Girls

Experts at a Round Table in Lagos want women to seize the cudgels and adopt a more aggressive strategy to engage both the mainstream and social media to alter its narrative, effectively promote their cause and eschew their pervading negative portrayal in the public space.

“Women should make conscious efforts to aggressively access the media not only to canvass their issues but also provide useful information to make the headlines,” says Mr Bolaji Adebiiyi, Editor, This Day while explaining reasons women politicians get poor coverage in the media.

Decrying the attempts by what’s perceived as a “tyranny of a highly patriarchal political leadership” to confine and relegate women to the back burner, the experts also want women to use their numerical strength to advance their engagement in politics and radically alter the contestation of “who gets what and how.”

They counsel that “Women need to do their permutation on how to empower themselves in the various political parties by ensuring that they adopt a strategy that will put them in prominent leadership positions from the ward, LG and State levels up to the national executive council and board of trustees. It’s important that they are where the critical decisions are being taken to advance their interests.”

While noting that harnessing the massive population of the womenfolk for development will be positive for Nigeria, the experts advocate a tacit collaboration with the media towards ensuring that all encumbrances against the cause of women are erased.

Sponsored by Peace Tech Lab, the Round Table with the theme, The Role of the Media in Combating Gender Related Hate Speech Online, Through Objective and Conflict Sensitive Reporting,” was organised by the International Press Centre (IPC) in partnership with West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP-Nigeria) and Humanity Family Foundation for Peace and Development (HUFFPED). The discussions from participants were highly stimulating.

Leaning from his several years experience as a political correspondence, Adebiyi argues that while “the male politicians through their personal assistants work strenuously to access the media by providing vital information, the women are shy of working out a similar strategy.”

“The journalist is more interested in getting someone who has information to share. It’s like approaching Gani (Fawehinmi) or (Femi) Falana on bad any day when there’s news drought, you can be sure of getting stories that will make the headlines,” he quips.

Adebiyi however contends that the media should make deliberate efforts to step up women coverage. “It’s the media that created all the big politicians that we now have, we can also consciously create others”, Adebiyi says, disclosing that This Day under his stewardship is now giving prominence to issues concerning women.

Stridently calling on the media to alter the prevailing negative narrative when reporting about women, Mrs Yinka Shokunbi, Editor, HealthPlus, an online publication, decries the stigmatisation of women on the basis of gender.

“Women have been known to characterize the high level of poverty in most countries of the world. Whenever there is the need to show the face of poverty, it’s often the picture of a woman beaten out by disease and violence. Yes, women bear the brunt of poverty the most; but the narrative needs to explore how women who are empowered are changing the world today.”

“Perhaps what Beijing agenda has achieved since 1995 is captured in the agenda that the eradication of poverty cannot be accomplished through anti-poverty programmes alone but will require democratic participation and changes in economic structures in order to ensure access for all women to resources, opportunities and public services and that economic performance must be from gender perspective among others,” she says

Continuing, Shokumbi says, “The narratives equally need to change on access to inclusive and equitable quality education without prejudices and discrimination based on gender. The strategy as being reinforced in the (Sustainable Development Goals) SDGs demands for safe school and veritable friendly environment for the girl-child to access education with curriculum that provides life-saving skills to empower the girl-child to make informed decisions beyond just formal education.”

“The SDGs supports lifelong education for women. So when the media is reporting, it needs to be mindful that every day, new opportunities are opened for learning and women must be recognized for the process.”

“Increase women’s access throughout the life cycle to appropriate, affordable and quality health care, information and related services. Give equal opportunities to women to leadership positions in heath profession among others.”

She also argues for a broader media narrative on the impact of violence on women.

“On this agenda, media reporting of (Gender Based Violence) GBV is expected to take a broader look at the vulnerability of women and girls to various forms of violence especially on issues around sexual exploitation, rape, of trafficking and (Commercial Sex Workers) CSW and various degrees of human rights abuses which thrive where women are less empowered to take decisions.”

“Where women are victims of trafficking, offenders caught are to be punished to serve as deterrent. Rather than report women as greedy, reports should centre on the dominating nature of culture which takes advantage of poor education level of many women and so, advocacy must be on how the country nay world would be a better place with more girls’ education.”

Managing Editor, The Nation, Mr Lekan Otunfodunrin in his presentation, wants the media to do away with “All communications (whether verbal, written, symbolic) that insults a racial, ethnic (gender) and political group, whether by suggesting that they are inferior in some respect or by indicating that they are despised or not welcome for any other reasons.”

He identifies threats and violence against women thus: “Incitement to Gender Violence, Celebration of Gender Violence, Sexual and Gender Harassment, Glorification of Sexual Denigration of Women in Pornography, Morality Policing/Hierarchy Policing, Stigmatisation and Sexist Rhetoric based on Prejudice and Stereotype.”

Presenting the not too heart warming outcome of a survey on “Assessment of Gender Related Hate Speech on Women Political Leadership,” Head of Programmes, WANEP-Nigeria, Mrs Patience Obaulo says,

(i) In Nigeria, women’s participation in political and social development processes continues to be hindered by gender based hate speech and discriminatory utterances.

(ii) Social media platforms are being used as tools to foster discriminatory patriarchal views and perceptions about women’s roles in democratic governance.

(iii) Also, it had portrayed women as being unfit and incapable of assuming political leadership positions. This has resulted in shrinking political space for inclusive participation of women in political and governance structure.

Welcoming participants to the Round Table, Director, International Press Centre, Mr Lanre Arogundade noted that “Despite the immense benefits that digital connectivity and the increasing availability of the use of Internet and social media platforms have delivered, the online media has led to the growing occurrences of sexist hate speech during elections and therefore has opened the doors to new forms of oppression and violence against women politicians.”

If such trend is allowed to continue, the “online spaces could widen sex and gender based discrimination,” he says, explaining that “A research by Amnesty International revealed the alarming impact that abuse and harassment on social media are having on women, with women around the world reporting stress, anxiety, or panic attacks as a result of these harmful online experiences and in so doing restricting the already limited public space afforded to women politicians.”

“It is expected that this media roundtable will therefore enhance the capacity of online journalists/bloggers in using online media for fair, balanced, language sensitive and conflict sensitive reportage towards to promoting counter narratives for inclusive and peaceful political participation that will enhance more participation of women in politics ahead the 2019 elections”, Arogundade says who was represented at the event by Programme Officer, IPC, Stella Nwofia.

Also contributing to the discourse, Mrs Itunu Dave- Agboola, Project Coordinator, HUFFPED, says “Gender sensitive/Sexist hate speech is often treated as a harmless and non-serious issue and women are explicitly or implicitly told to bear with it. However, not only does sexist hate speech undermine freedom of speech for women and girls, but its psychological, emotional and/or physical impacts are real and severe.”

“The aim of sexist hate speech is to humiliate or objectify women, to undervalue their skills and opinions, to destroy their reputation, to make them feel vulnerable and fearful, and to control and punish them for not following a certain behaviour. Sexist hate speech has the effect of silencing women, obliging them to adapt their behaviour and limit their movements and participation in diverse human activities,” she says.

“Sexist hate speech needs to be addressed by all stakeholders, including the media, the public, international organisations, law enforcement and other actors of the justice system, the private sector and civil society. In doing this, a balance must be found in providing a platform for free speech without tolerating sexist hate speech.”

According to her, a checklist of indicators and actions to eliminate sexist hate speech may include:

(i)The media should strengthen self-regulatory mechanisms and codes of conduct to condemn and combat sexist hate-speech and ensure more effective moderation of social media, including the setting of clear standards for the industry and putting in place mechanisms to monitor progress,

(ii) Ensure the integration of a gender equality perspective in all aspects of education and media policies,

(iii) Promote gender equality,

(iv) Promote civil society initiatives in this area and,

(v) Join the No Hate Speech Movement.

Dave Agboola who represented the Executive Director, HUFFPED, Mr Henry Adenigba, says, “Practitioners and professionals must integrate a conflict-sensitive “do no harm” approach that is professional and ethical. Regardless of time and resources, before beginning the process as well as throughout, one should always ask: What is my motivation? Why am I using particular words and pictures? Am I taking something out of context? Am I causing harm?”

“Focusing on neutrality and facts is another way to achieve conflict-sensitive reporting. Misinformation and suppression are often associated with conflict; therefore, practitioners and professionals must verify facts to ensure they are delivering precise and reliable information. Media can and should act as educators for the public and must prioritize accuracy over agenda,” she says.

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