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Sierra Leone News: Women changing the narrative… let’s tell our stories

Too often the story of women has been told by people who do not know the issues affecting women, andoften these stories do not portray the actual picture of women’s lives.
The 2015 Global Media Monitoring Report notes that there have been few positive developments in women’s representation in the media.
The 2015 report comes two decades after the Beijing Platform for Action and was based on data collected from 114 countries. It included analyses of global, regional and national patterns of women’s status in the media.
Despite the fact that there are lot of women working in traditional as well as social media, this situation has not changed.
A key finding of the global report was that the rate of progress towards media gender parity had almost stalled over the past five years.
It was because of these factors that UN Women launched a project titled ‘African Women Changing the Narrative’ in 2015. Its aim is to engage journalists to tell positive stories of women.
In support of this goal, UN Women recently conducted training for African journalists. It took place 8-11 August in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, and was attended by journalists from 13 African countries focussing on how to change the narrative on reporting on women.
Helen Yosef, a UN Women Programme Specialist, said that as part of the project, they want to see more media stories highlighting the contribution of African women.
“We want to see African women in a more positive light. We want to see African women reported on as strong characters, not as mere by-standers for development activities,”said Yosef.
“Because the media has been marginalising women, always depicting them as victims and secondary citizens while they are 50% of the continent and the globe,” said Yosef. “That is why we want the journalists to be equipped to be able to report on these issues.”
Going through samples of news stories and photographs accompanying news stories during the training it was evident how women were portrayed. In most newspapers front covers did not have pictures of women to illustrate the article. Even articles where women were the main subject were illustrated with photographs of men. Often women were portrayed in the media as victims.
UN Women’s Tanzania representative, Hodan Addou said that while telling the story of your life, “It is important not to let anyone else hold the pen. And, in the case of African women, far too often they are never given the chance to share their journey, or their stories are hijacked by stereotypes and biased narratives”.
“We need to change this narrative that relegates African women,”she said. “Studies have proven that the effective promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment through role models and a positive narrative of the African woman not only contributes to the benefit of the women in terms of their individual capacities, but also contributes to the well-being and development of communities, countries and the continent as a whole.”
Valerie Msoka, former Executive Director of the Tanzania Women’s Media Association (TAMWA), said that gender-sensitive journalism is also about the language we use in writing stories or making programmes. “To be truly equal, women must be seen and heard.”
Msoka said that if women’s issues are reported by the media, it would create a positive impact on society.She cited the consistent coverage of reports of child marriage. “In 2016 from January to November 248 stories on child marriage were reported in the newspapers. Through these stories and features, ending child marriage is now on the agenda.”
Gertrude Mongella, former President of the Pan-African Parliament, emphasised how biased the media has been in reporting women’s issues. “If there is any area we have suffered mostly, it is the portrayal of women in the media,” she said.
However, she emphasised that the recently-launched Women Advancing Africa Forum fulfils the dream of her lifetime as engaging the media in a broader aspect will help change the narrative of women’s story.
By Betty Milton
Friday August 11, 2016.

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