This month, thousands of events are taking place around the world to celebrate women and their economic, political and social accomplishments. Also, this year is extra special since it marks the 100th anniversary of the International Women’s Day. In 1911, more than a million people took to the streets in several countries to campaign for women’s rights, including the right to vote. Today, the International Women’s Day, March 8, is an official holiday in many countries, and the celebration extends throughout the month in many places. Just a few years ago, for example, the U.S. declared the month of March Women’s History month.
A noteworthy initiative, and relevant to the discussions on this blog, is UNESCO’s “Women Make the News” initiative, which launches a global campaign each year during this time. Women Make the News is a global initiative that advocates for equality in the media. Specifically, the initiative seeks news coverage that is well balanced and represents the interests and perspectives of both men and women, and an equal balance of male and female producers.
The theme of this year’s campaign is “Media and Information Literacy (MIL) and Gender." The campaign aims to highlight the importance of building media and information literate societies to create a better understanding among men and women about gender perspectives in media and information systems. The initiative points out that in the past few years there has been much emphasis among global stakeholders on the supply side of gender equality in the media, such as promoting fair and well-balanced representation. While this is important, the campaign sees the opportunity to also emphasize the demand side, which would include empowering women to engage with the media.
For this purpose, UNESCO aims to promote MIL in formal and informal education systems through the soon-to-be-released “Model Media and Information Literacy Curriculum for Teacher Education.” They have also produced a handbook, in partnership with the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, entitled “Guidelines for Broadcasters on Promoting User-generated Content and Media and Information Literacy.” The handbook includes practical suggestions on media content and MIL for both media organizations and users. It’s currently being piloted by The Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU).
The under-representation of women in the media is of serious concern and ought to be addressed. Another major concern that’s been in the news lately is sexual violence against female journalists. However, there’s little data on these incidents. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), sexual assaults are usually not reported, because journalists don’t necessarily want to share this information. This threat, however, could potentially scare some women from taking up the profession. For women to actively engage with the media, as users and producers, they must feel that they are in a safe environment.
A comprehensive global report on the status of women in the news media will be released and discussed at the International Women Media Leaders (IWMF) conference in Washington DC, on March 22-25, 2011. The report will include an analysis of data from 500 broadcast and print companies from 59 countries about the challenges women are facing in the news media. The assumption that the under-representation of women in the media is a problem in mostly developing nations is not true. There is an existing gender gap in some of the most developed nations in the world. For example, according to the National Organization for Women in the U.S, “only one in four communication/media jobs created between 1990 and 2005 were filled by women.”
Media and Information Literacy (MIL) is critical and can help promote gender responsiveness in the media. The skills acquired through MIL, such as critical thinking, problem solving and communicative skills, can empower women and men to become more active users and producers of media, help them identify faulty media structures as well as appreciate and demand better media and information systems. While MIL is becoming more and more recognized as a crucial means of fostering an informed and active citizenry, it has a long way to go before it becomes an integral part in formal and informal educational programs. Thus, much more needs to be done to demonstrate the importance of MIL, and campaigns like the one discussed need our full support.
This month, Women Make the News provides an opportunity to discuss issues pertaining to gender and MIL on its website. The initiative invites everyone working on media issues to join the campaign, and share thoughts, ideas, and recommendations, by March 30. Contributions will be posted on the website, and also used to support the decision for UNESCO’s future MIL activities.
Photo Credit: Internews Network (on Flickr)