1- 3 November 2011, Cairo, EgyptNumber of visits: 2211
In line with its mandate to promote high-level scientific and academic debates on various aspects of socioeconomic development in Africa, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) hereby announces the 2011 edition of its Gender Symposium which will be held from 1st to 3rd November, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. The Gender Symposium is a forum organized annually by CODESRIA to discuss gender issues in Africa, and the theme of this year’s edition is Gender and the Media in Africa.
Democracy, globalization and the need for gender equality have put the issue of Gender and the Media in Africa at the forefront of the social science reflection. Revisiting this issue consists in placing it in a historical and political perspective that enables an understanding of its connection with the overall issue of development in Africa. The struggle for independence, in its political and trade-union dimensions, did not neglect the use of the media, especially the print media, even if those who had the chance to attend school were, at the time, very few in number. Subsequently, shortly after independence, the media played a major role in the political and ideological schemes that gave legitimacy to the progress of the public sphere in many African states. The crisis years, the so-called "lost decades" following the implementation of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), underscored the need to control the public sphere in a way that ultimately resulted in what became known as “authoritarian decompression” in some circles and “political liberalisation” in others. Indeed, the growing impoverishment of populations and the drastic reduction in their access to social services (education, health, etc.), resulting from the policies of state disengagement, led to the erosion of its legitimacy. Subsequently, the wave of democratization that blew on the continent in the last two decades has resulted in a recovery of the freedom of expression which resulted, among others, in an opening of the media space. Since then, political and media pluralism has characterised the political and civic practice on the continent in varying degrees. Thus, we have moved from a context characterised by the omnipotence of the state-controlled media, resulting from their legal and/or de facto monopoly of the public space, to a situation of large media pluralism. Under the the single-party system, the state-controlled media played a major role in the production and validation of a political, cultural and social ‘truth’ which no institutional or political mechanism could question. Yet, the liberalisation of the media space and the proliferation of the media (print, television, radio) that accompanied it facilitated the construction of a citizenship spirit based on pluralistic information that enables citizens to take better position regarding public policies, and especially to open the debate on a variety of issues that were previously seen as taboos or simply ignored. Women are among the most affected in this regard, especially as visibility in the public sphere does not automatically translate into equal gender proportion in the media. For instance, women are rarely mentioned in articles with political and economic content. In fact, global statistics has shown that only 18% of people given media coverage or, more accurately, mentioned in the media in the world, are women. This shows that women hold less than one-quarter of the space occupied by men in the media. In Africa, women’s place in the media has dropped from 22 to 11% in recent years. Nevertheless, women have been able to establish a new horizon of freedom, marked by advocacy for equality and equity, that has greatly benefited the international environment. It is therefore important to examine how the media have redefined themselves in the context of democratic pluralism and openness to take charge of the need to create more room for women in the media.
While the social science reflection has often been interested in the relationship between the media and democracy and/or governance, it has put little emphasis on the gender dimension of this issue. UNESCO had initiated a broad debate on women and the media, which was an opportunity to discuss the elimination of stereotypes in the media and stress the urgent need to counter the featuring of downgrading images about women as well as poor handling of information relating to women in the media. Developments in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) have opened up new possibilities for the participation of women in the world of communication and especially in the dissemination of information relating to women.
The objective of the 2011 Gender Symposium is therefore to renew the reflection and interrogation on the media, using the gender paradigm. Do the media contribute to the deconstruction of gender inequality relations, or do they only reproduce stereotypical images of masculinity and femininity that leave intact the power relations between men and women? What and how do they contribute to the building of the civic capacities of women and the construction of their leadership? Are they incorporating the gender dimension or just following the existing dominant ideology which plays down on the visibility of women? Are the alternative media (community radio, private radio and television stations, etc.) more sensitive to gender issues than the state-controlled media? Do the Web, the blogosphere, social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) offer new spaces for women to express themselves or do they operate like the traditional media? How can we rate women’s access to ICT and the policies of African states in terms of the promotion of women and gender issues through it? Do media pluralism and the commodification of information increase gender inequalities by crystallizing more the stereotypical images, especially those of women? What exactly can be done as a way of checking the so-called tabloids which use degrading images of women as illustrations? How do we resolve the issue of gender disparity in the media, with low number of women at the decision-making level of media outlets, resulting also in a poor representation of women in the contents?
These different questions have to be discussed in a context of globalisation, where Information and Communication Technology (ICT) gives particular resonance to the interaction between the local and global spaces, with some fluidity that is unprecedented in the movement of ideas, goods and values. The new ethical horizon that emanates, and which requires equality in gender relations and respect for human rights, inevitably gives a new mission and a new power to the media. How do the latter embrace their responsibility in the emergence of new femininities and masculinities in consolidated democratic spaces? These are some of the important questions that need to be given urgent attention in the African context.