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Women in the Media - Beyond Clichés

Tuesday 8 December 2015, by SIGNIS

Lomé, Brussels, December 8th, 2015 (SIGNIS/All Africa). The Conference of the International Francophone Press Union (UPF) held on 25-27 November in Lomé, Togo, brought together 300 participants who debated the place of women in the media. Journalists from 39 countries shared their experiences in the field and expressed their determination to bring about change.

Women badly represented in news reporting

The results of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) announced on 23rd November indicated that women represent only 24% of the people seen, read and heard about in reporting. "Women are quantitatively underrepresented and qualitatively poorly represented," concluded Martine Simonis, Secretary General of the Belgian Association of Professional Journalists (AJP). In the online press, the results are slightly better, with women representing 26% of people cited.

The solution is to produce different news, respecting gender parity in the treatment of information and giving a greater say to female experts. This requires a genuine commitment on the part of editors and press barons. The news website Les Nouvelles News, as presented by its deputy editor Arnaud Bihel, thus offers an alternative to traditional news coverage and aims to "remove gender stereotypes" in the news.

The results of various studies presented in Lomé illustrate women’s lack of access to positions of responsibility. The conclusions of the Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media (2011) reveal that women occupy just 27% of these posts. In France, women are only appointed to 17% of positions of governance. In European journalism unions, the representative of the FEJ, Pamela Morinière, noted a positive trend towards parity. The latest FIJ/FEJ survey conducted in 2013 shows that women represent 42% of the membership and 36% of the decision-making posts in trade union bodies. "The statistics for female representation in the media are essential, but have to be followed up by genuine information campaigns," she stated.

The participants at the Conference decried the lack of transparency in job offers, the absence of gender equality policies in companies and the need for leadership training for women journalists, who are often hired to cover the news but not to manage media companies. Many people questioned the legitimacy of quotas, which would conflict with traditional recruitment criteria based on competence.

Urgent security support for war reporters

The need for security training for women journalists working in war zones was raised urgently. Solange Lusiku Nsimire from the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC), described her reports from the Province of South Kivu, the roadblocks which she frequently had to pass through at the risk of her life, the pressure and threats from the armed forces, the disguises that she and her colleagues have to dress up in so as not to be arrested when they go to get their newspaper printed in the neighbouring country, owing to a lack of available local printing centres. "We expect to be liquidated every day," she concluded.

Apart from the absence of adequate security provision for many journalists in Francophone Africa, the issue of rape in risk zones and the measures which can be taken to protect oneself from it were discussed widely. "My trousers saved me," stated one journalist from Burkina Faso who narrowly escaped aggressions by demonstrators. "Previously, it used to be completely shrouded in silence, but since the incidents endured by our female colleagues on Tahrir Square in Cairo, the taboo of rape has been shattered," explained Sophie Marsaudon, training manager for the Académie France Médias Monde, which will soon be launching a post-sexual aggression kit. "The risk of being raped is also highly present for men in captivity," added Sophie Marsaudon, "although they do not always realise it."

Social networks, a coveted means of expression

The boundary between journalists and bloggers remains tenuous, but certain women are increasingly carving out a place for themselves on social networks and attracting thousands of "followers" in their wake by providing news that contrasts with that from traditional information channels. This is the case in Tunisia, where uprisings and political changes have been widely and successfully relayed by women bloggers and tweeters. In Mauritania however, "women represent 1% of workers in the electronic media sector," laments Mariya Ladji Traoré, Deputy Secretary General of the Mauritanian Journalists’ Union (SJM). "They are not well trained and this setback prevents them from progressing in line with their male counterparts, as they do not know how to use new technologies," she specified, emphasising the need for training for her female colleagues.

It will take time and perseverance to respond to the many needs expressed in Lomé, but this Conference can be credited with having offered journalists a space to express their views, to help reinforce networking and solidarity among francophones on the issues surrounding gender equality in the media. Vigilance and awareness will be essential tools for ensuring that women are really taken into account at all levels of news reporting.

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