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Culture of Peace
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Women’s equality in and through media is essential to achieving the SDGs

Leicester, August, 9th 2016 (UNESCO). The conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research took place last week in the UK. The members of the Global Alliance on Media and Gender (GAMAG) convened there a panel on gender equality in and through the media, called “Women’s right to communicate and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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IPDC Chair Albana Shala and academic Lisa McLaughlin © UNESCO

The goal of this session was to analyze different dimensions of this process for women to reach equality in all aspects of media and ICTs, and, in particular, due to the centrality of media to globalization processes, to confirm the necessity for inclusion of gender equality in and through the media as key to realizing the SDGs within the next 15 years and more. Its main message was that “Women’s equality in and through media and ICTs is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

Albana Shala, chair of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) moderated the panel. Participants included prominent scholars Carolyn Byerly, Anita Gurumurthy, Lisa McLaughlin, Aimée Vega Montiel, Gitiara Nasreen, and Katharine Sarikakis.

Ms Shala indicated IPDC’s involvement in developing the SDG indicators, and initiatives in advancing their operationalisation. She noted the low quality of media stories that challenged gender stereotypes, indicating that much needed to be done.
Many of the panelists regretted that suggestions which GAMAG had made in the process of formulating the SDGs and related indicators had not been taken up with the UN. In particular, they pointed to the absence of issues of women’s access to media and communication within Goal 5 on gender equality.

Howard University’s Carolyn Byerly said the targets of ending discrimination and violence against women and girls could not be accomplished without having the means to communicate. Women’s ability to communicate on key SDG issues is marginalized by media ownership, and the lack of access to media decision-making posts, she said. Women also continue to be marginalized as subjects and sources in media and new media.

From the University of Vienna, Katharine Sarikakis said that media should be considered among the institutions to be strengthened under SDG 16, and that this required addressing the issue of women within them.

Miami University’s Lisa McLaughlin criticized what she called an instrumentalism of harnessing media to reach women about the SDGs, rather than recognizing women’s rights to communicate.

The Executive Director of IT for Change, Anita Gurumurthy, warned against ICTs being “instrumentalised as magic bullets, and decoupled from fundamental freedoms”. She observed that women who speak out, including on the Net, are often seen as trespassers in men’s spaces, and are intimidated into self-censorship as a result.
Gitiara Nasreen, University of Dhaka, questioned the SDG dissemination process, saying that many women did not know about them or saw them as a top-down initiative.

Aimee Vega Montiel, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, expressed the hope that UNESCO could help influence the development of SDG indicators to include GAMAG suggestions.

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