This week Gerald Kitabu interviewed Mramba Makange Manyelo, a specialist on how the media can either perpetuate gender inequality, stereotypes and sexism or act as a catalyst for change.: Excerpts:
Question: There are claims that the media can perpetuate gender inequality, stereotypes and sexism or act as a catalyst for change through gender responsive media content and structure: Why do we experience gender insensitive contents in our media?
ANSWER: Gender issues have a deep root in the way we behave in our society starting at the family level to the institutional level. At the family level the society believes that the man is the head of the family and is the one who is supposed to make all key decisions.
That is why when a woman takes this role everybody around that family feels that the man has failed to take the lead. This does not end there but on top of this the surrounding community conclusively believes that the man is weak. It is from this fact that men who can’t see beyond the sight of their eyes become violent to their wives so as to maintain male chauvinism.
It is from this background that the media houses do reflect what the society believes. Most media houses are dominated by men who make decisions on what to publish and what should not be published.
Under these circumstances it is the world of men that dominates the media. But above this the media is in business, they want to sell so that they can maximize wealth through direct selling and through adverts, so they must give the people what they want to see and hear.
Q: What should be done to address this problem?
A: The solution should come from me and you. Here I mean the lowest unit of the society. Men should understand that the family is made of father mother and children. The woman and the man are the major component. So the roles of both sexes should be same except where biological roles are concerned.
For the biological roles such as breast feeding for women or spermatozoa production for men, the other social political and economical roles are all the same. Men should realize this fact at the family level and it must be escalated to our children, that the boys and the girls in the family are equal. If the society grows in this way of thinking then the problems in the news room will soon be eliminated. For the time being the editors have a pivotal role to play.
They are the key holders of all articles and news stories that are allowed to come out to the public; they need to understand that women need justice from the media. Is it fair to portray women as entertaining beings and men as leaders, heroes etc? Let us think about our own daughters at home. Would we like this to happen to them? Same is the challenge to the reporters.
Q: What are the challenges of reporting gender issues?
A: There are several challenges but the following are more serious.
Ownership: The owners of most of the media companies are men who determine gender balance in staffing and other matters. So where you have 80 percent of media staff being men and worse enough holding all key positions as editors, it is a serious challenge when it comes to balanced gender reporting.
Religious beliefs: We understand what all religions say about the role of men and women in the society but still it remains in the hands of the media to balance between what we are told in the church and mosques and the social economic world surrounding us.
Our traditions towards women: The society has generally placed women as second from men and therefore this is a challenge to the media to make the society believe in a different way especially on issues such as inheritance, ownership, right to education, leadership etc. In Kilimanjaro for instance, it is very difficult to convince a Chagga man that a woman can become a king, in this sense a voted member of parliament. But they must take it as a challenge and promote the reverse.
Business against gender sensitive media content: The media is in a battle to balance two contradicting sides; on one side there is pressure from activists and scholars who demand balanced media content but on the other side there is what the buyers of media products need which is obviously the reverse.
Q: You have said the solution for gender inequality starts from the lowest unit of the society where men should understand that the family is made of father mother and children. What is the situation like in your family?
A: This is an interesting question. I was born in a polygamous family where my father had many wives. My father was very uncompromising when it came to issues involving our mother and in most cases he used his strong fist to silence her. We were very young then and unable to defend our mother but being young as we were we needed love from both our parents something that we were denied of.
This history of our life remained an agony among all of us in the family. It is from those days that I hated oppression against women and children.