Media linked to action key for gender justice

Media linked to action key for gender justice

By Rebekah Chevalier, Canada

Toronto/New York./ 8, 2008. “The media has huge and largely untapped power to promote and protect gender justice,” Joanne Sandler told Congress during a keynote presentation 7 October. Sandler is Deputy Executive Director-Program for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

As an example of the power of media she told the story of Mukhtar Mai from Pakistan, who was gang raped and, with the assistance of friends, was able to get the word out to local and international media, shaming the authorities into action.

Sandler paid tribute to the work WACC has been doing in monitoring how the media portrays women, a portrayal that is still abysmal. She showed a clip from the video Sexism Sells, which shows the stunningly sexist way American journalists have covered American politician Hillary Clinton.

To change the way media portrays women requires accountability. This means that power-holders must be answerable for policies and resources that protect women’s rights and that they must take corrective action. An important tool is what Sandler calls “purposeful media”—media that links people to action. Sandler shared the work of Breakthrough, an international human rights organization that has done some significant purposeful media in India. The Indian government passed a law on domestic violence but it was not being implemented adequately. Breakthrough created a TV commercial called “ring the bell,” that encouraged men and women to intervene to undertake simple acts like ringing a doorbell to stop domestic violence.

UNIFEM has also been experimenting with communications technologies to galvanize action. Its “Say No to Violence” campaign asks people to visit the website and support the campaign with the click of a mouse. “These examples do not represent fundamental institutional transformation in the media,” Sandler acknowledged. As one of the ways to achieve this, she recommended that social justice groups produce media content on gender issues with the same polished quality that people are used to seeing in mainstream media. Partnerships are also key to transformation. “We can’t do this alone,” she said. “Working together, finding a way to bring synergy…is a precondition for making the kind of change we want to see.”


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