Rights myth unless women take arms

12Mar 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Rights myth unless women take arms

The world in 20th Century began to acknowledge the role of women in society and power as reflected in its great focus on creating gender equality.

It was the Century that witnessed the growth of women involvement in decision making in socio-political issues unlike in the previous decades when major decisions were made by men.

This remarkable progress has seen women already in the 21st Century becoming heads of states, not by virtue of inheriting the thrones, but on popular majority approval through a ballot box. They include President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, former president of Malawi Joyce Banda, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil and Mauritius’ president Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.

American celebrity Oprah Winfrey of Hapro Productions Inc, also leads the list of the world’s female billionaires now after starting from scratches to host television talk shows in hardly two decades.

Indra Nooyi leads one of the world’s business success stories as PepsiCo’s Chief Executive Officer while Christine Largarde is in charge of the planet coffers in her role as the Managing Director of the world’s highest and most influential financial body, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In its fourth through fifth phase governments, Tanzania has also seen an influx of female folk into politics like nowhere else in the East African region, with female lawmakers flocking both the parliament and ministerial cabinet.

Halima Mdee, Esther Bulaya, Mary Nagu and Jenister Muhagama, who is also a minister, are but just a few female parliamentarians with the power to reckon in a largely patrimonial echelons of Tanzania’s politics.

In line with their international peers, they have indeed redefined the role of a woman in the 21St Century, challenging men in all walks of life including science and technology, arts and entertainment, judiciary and military and even at home and in offices at both local and international levels.

But in spite of the achievements, much more effort is still needed to ensure the accomplishment of this difficult and most challenging mission of modern times. Viviane Reding, the vice president of the European Commission argued that “gender equality is more than just a slogan; it is a social and economic responsibility”. But the situation of gender equality in developed nations is a bit ahead as opposed to Africa where the situation is very disappointing.

The UN Women report of 2015 shows that 95 per cent of more than 190 countries in the world have men as their heads of state, while Africa with its 54 countries has only one female head of state, namely the popular elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, who will go into history as the first ever female president in the continent.

Even with the availability of mass media platforms seen as a driving force for democracy, still the issue of gender inequality has remained a major challenge in a situation where male dominance in all spheres of human life is still a tradition.

The 2015 Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) report has revealed bitter reality about Tanzania’s state-of-affairs in gender balance, portraying below average female participation in a contest for political posts in the October General Election and that the number of women used as media sources was also alarmingly low, reaching only 11 per cent compared to 88 per cent shared by male folk.

The report further shows that even that small number of women that were used in developing news stories for mass media, were mostly used as secondary or rather surrogate sources to boost opinions of authoritative male sources.

But other organizations give higher figures on women media sourcing, with the Global Media Monitoring Project depicting as high as 24 per cent, Gender and Media Progress Study, 21 per cent, Global Media Monitoring Project under World Association of Christian Communication of 2005 shows 18 per cent, but back in 2003 the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Gender and Media Baseline Study (GMBS) Gender Links’ study revealed 16 per cent of female media sourcing.

They would also be left out in other topics such as crime, energy and government. When the media thrown some weight to female voice, it is seldom for the story to appear on the front page of a newspaper, but on the non-conspicuous pages in the middle, the activists say .

They believe that the bias tendency of sourcing is not a coincidence, but well orchestrated practice typical of a patrimonial society where delicate positions worth news for journalists are dominated by men as opposed to women whose majority are jobless and too domesticated to go politics, too illiterate to give the media what they need, but worse still is their uncompromising submission to men under whose care is their life.

In broader sense the war for gender equality seems to be fought with poor strategies, making it impossible to win, despite deployment of individual group and institutions in the battlegrounds. They focus their struggle on the outcomes, instead of going to the root of the problem that owes its origin to family unit.

In areas of conflicts such as Syria, Northern parts of Nigeria, Central African Republic, Somalia, Burundi and many others, women are the major victims. The world is witnessing the ever growing sexual assaults on women, domestic violence, physical and psychological torture and so much more.

Yet, there are some places in the planet where women’s freedom is highly limited not only by traditions but also by state laws. For example in Saudi Arabia, among others, women are prohibited from driving, while in neighbouring Jordan, its common for women to pilot military jets.

In most African societies, women consider themselves as mere assistants to men. In Tanzania as one, some women would even reject decision making positions when offered, saying they are men’s jurisdictions. Therefore there is no way men could build trust in women, if the later do not even believe in their strength. The best fighting strategy starts with ensuring security at home before planning an attack outside its folds.

The report by TAMWA as well recommends that media and gender monitoring is important to be carried out by the media and gender professional organizations before, during and after election and that media should undergo intensive training on human rights coverage.

They also challenge the media houses into establishing election desks that should be provided with gender and media trainings at the start of the election year.

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