Women, Media & ICTS: Where Do We Go From Here?

1. The Persistent ‘Lack’ Of Women as Decision-Makers





According to the recently
launched Global Media Monitoring
Project (2005)
[1] (GMMP),
women are subtantially under-represented in the news. Appearing only 21% of the
time, the likelihood of women visibly occupying positions of authority is even smaller
– eight times as unlikely as men in fact, to feature as representatives of
organisations, communities or individuals. In the 76 participating countries of
this media monitoring project, men are overwhelmingly seen as knowledgeable
experts (83%), while women are more than twice as likely as men to be seen as
victims.





In short, these findings do not craft
an empowering contemporary worldview for those who happen to sit as females in
the mainstream gender divide. At a glance, the representation of women in the
media carves a self-perpetuating reality of the gender disparity that exists in
decision-making positions at all levels (including the media itself). As gender
justice, feminist and women’s rights advocates, the struggle against distorted
and disabling representations of women have
been a consistent, if uphill, effort.





It is difficult, if not
impossible, to dispute the power of mass media as an institution and landscape
that reifies or subverts existing social relations. The need for strategic
interventions in the media to counter limiting cultural norms and to positively
affect all dimensions related to the advancement of women and women’s
empowerment has been clearly expressed at numerous gender advocacy platforms.



2. An Overview of CSW, Women and the Media





The Fourth World Conference on
Women, held in Beijing on 1995, outlined Women and the Media as one of the
critical points for State and civil society intervention. Section J of the
Plaform for Action (BPFA) presented two strategic objectives; namely to “promote a balanced and
non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media
” (J.1) and to “increase the participation and access of
women to expression an
d decision-making
in and through the media and new technologies of communication
” (J.2).



Since then, numerous media monitoring initiatives such as the GMMP have
been implemented across the world to acquire har
d data for policy and legislative advocacy. The
Beijing Plaform for Action also formally recognised the emerging importance of
information and communication technologies (ICTs) in both the media and gender
equality. As exemplified at the Beijing
+ 5 review process, women’s rights activists have utilised ICTs in creative and
productive ways to mobilise for action, form lasting networks, generate content
and increase the participation of women into the review process through enabling
dialogues an
d disseminating information.





The scope and

analysis
of the issue, and subsequent strategies for action have also deepen in
sophistication, with the complexity of the field being progressively
unravelled. From November 8-
December 17 1999, WomenWatch (a UN initiative to measure
progress and obstacles since the Beijing Conference) and Women Action (a
network of national, regional and international organisations focusing on
Section J) coordinated an online discussion on women and the media. Over a
period of 6 weeks, participants from 42 countries discussed and fleshed out the
issues surrounding the themes of women and the information society, paying distinct
attention to new communications technologies.









In Beijing + 5, the impact of globalisation onto
mediascape and its concomittant effect on the lives and socioeconomic and
political status of women was introduced into the discourse, notably through
the Declaration
to UNGASS of the NGO Caucus on Women and Media
. ICTs gained further
visibility and priority through the Beijing + 5
Outcomes Document
, adopted at the 23rd UNGASS special session in
2000, which stressed the importance of women’s access and capacity to utilise ICTs
for countering negative stereotypes, and in particular, to form networks and
share knowledge towards gender equality, peace an
d development (para 100).


At the 47th
session
of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in 2003, women, the media,
and information and communication technologies was one of the two thematic
issues focussed on. The adopted agreed
conclusions
included twenty four specific actions that governments, the UN
system, international financial institutions, civil society and the private
sector should take to realise the potential of media and ICTs towards the
advancement and empowerment of women, which in turn, are reaffirmed as
effective ways to counter poverty, hunger an
d development and to stimulate sustainable
development. The World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) was also
specifically mentioned as a critical platform where the stated recommendations
and gender dimensions should be integrated.





3. Gender, Media and ICTs:
Disconnected Peripheries



Once again, the importance of the media is raised through this year’s 50th CSW.
Women’s participation in both development an
d decision-making are the themes that are being
deliberated. The Agreed
Conclusions
(currently in Draft format at the CSW website) explicitly
acknowledges the need to address women as decision-makers in the field of
media, and the importance of accurate representations of women that counters
stereotypes, particularly in positions of authority. This reaffirms both
strategic objectives of Section J from the BPFA.





However, despite significant strides being made in various platforms and
spaces since 1995 to now, more than a decade later, Women, Media and ICTs seems
to hover uncertainly at the peripheries of priority gender-related issues. The
Beijing + 10 review process scarcely mentioned the issue of Women, Media and
ICTs, with activists – notably the women’s
media pool
consisting of a network of media and ICTs women’s rights
advocates – questioning audibly about Section J being a
missing element
of the agenda.





At the same stroke, gender issues edge around the politicised field of
ICTs, especially evident at WSIS. The paragraph on gender was nearly dropped
out of the Geneva Declaration of Principles during Phase I of WSIS. During its
three year process from 2003 to 2005, only a handful of – albeit determined –
gender advocates were visible and present throughout. This included the
multi-stakeholder Gender Caucus, who together with the NGO Gender Strategies
Working Group, m
anaged to ensure that gender received seven
specific mentions in the four official documents produced out of the WSIS
process.





What are the reasons for this disconnect? The Millenium Development Goals
have concretised the language of development in high-level policy making, and
both gender equality and women’s empowerment as well as ICTs have been asserted
as crucial components to development. However, the dissipation of gender in the
field of ICTs for development, and that of media and ICTs in the field of
women’s rights, is a confounding reality.





There are many sources of this problem. One much explored one lies in the
multiple obstacles that face women to engage with the issue of ICTs. They
include access to infratructure, literacy, gender sterotypes, roles and norms,
just to name a few. This leaves few gender advocates equipped enough in terms
of technological literacy to fully participate in the global processes that
deals with ICTs, such as WSIS.





Another is perhaps the disjunct between ICTs and the media. Although the
media features as one important component of ICTs and vice versa, in terms of
tools and spaces for communication, they cannot be conflated into one field.
For example, producers of news and content on the internet does not function
through the same kind of institutional structure as the media. As such, policy measures
and specific strategies that are needed to increase the participation of women
would be different.





A third difficulty is possibly the plethora of UN
processes, institutions and entities that have been constructed in relation to
all three issues. On the status of women alone, there is the annual CSW that is
under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Committee on the
Elimination of Discrimination against Women that
reviews national reports from countries that have ratified to the Convention on
the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women (CEDAW), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
under the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Division for the Advancement of
Women (DAW) within the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) of the
UN Secretariat, the UN International Research and Training Institute for the
Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) that implements a series of activities for the
implementation of BPFA, and more.





Each organ, institute, fund and programme has its own specific function
and has  greatly supported the advancement
of women’s rights at the global platform. They have created concrete spaces for
women’s rights activists to intervene into high-level policy processes, provided
substantive and material support towards projects and activities, collated and
built knowledge on the status of women, investigated, measured and assessed
compliance to principles of non-gender discrimination as agreed by member
States, facilitate
d dialogue
and catalysed women’s movements that traverse national boundaries.





Comparably, there are also entities that focusses on the issue of ICTs,
such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the Internet
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the UN Information and
Communications Technology Task Force (UN ICT Task Force) [2],
UNDP and so forth. Not all of these are UN entities, though all have major
roles in shaping the discourse around ICT policy development. In addition to all
these are regional bodies, structures and programmes that have also extensively
contributed to the development of the issues and politicised field.





Not only can this labyrinth be formidable to most women’s rights
advocates, particularly those with limited access to resources, it leaves the
question of how the different nodes communicate with each other to ensure that
there is no replication of work, and that existing agreements and strategies
are augmented rather than fragmented.





4. Strategies that Bridge?
Gender Mainstreaming and Reform of the UN





One of the BPFA’s most prominent innovation is gender mainstreaming as an
effective approach towards integrating gender dimensions into the development,
implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programmes to address the 12
critical areas of concern. Two years after the
Beijing conference, ECOSOC took on this commitment
and forwarded a call all UN bodies and committees to mainstream gender
systematically in all their work[3].
This strategy has also been visibly applied in the field of ICTs, as can be
seen through the UN ICT Plan of Action
that explicitly highlights the gender disparity in the field, and makes
specific linkages between development and gender equality within its
objectives. 





Further, shortly after Beijing + 5, the International Telecommunications
Union (ITU), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations
Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in
July 2000 that affirmed their commitment to work towards narrowing the gender
disparity on access to ICTs.  This was
followed with the establishment
of a gender unit
within the ITU Development Sector (ITU-D) at the
Telecommunications Development Conference in 2002, whose task was to mainstream
and advance gender perspectives into all areas of its work, and into the policy
and regulatory efforts of its State and Sector members[4].
In fact, mainstreaming as a concept has gained such acceptance that the Global
Alliance has taken up this language in its most recent statement
of principles and elements
.  The
first of its objectives is stated as “mainstreaming of the global ICT agenda
into the broader United Nations development agenda”.





Perhaps this is an indication of where advocates of gender, media and
ICTs should go next. With the increasing specialisation of issues and entities
that respond and take responsibility over their advancement, a logical method
to minimise disconnection is to ensure that every issue is mainstreamed into
each other; in the process, new perspectives may surface through the productive
encounter of diverse priorities.





Nonetheless, for this to function materially instead of being merely yet
another swift adoption of a buzzword, women still need to be adequately
represented at decision-making positions. Hillary Charlesworth who explored
the efficacy of gender mainstreaming in the UN system
maintains that after
a decade of gender mainstreaming practice, the impact is limited. One of the
key reasons was forwarded as the lack of women who are appointed in high-level
positions even within the UN, who are needed to demonstrate full commitment to
the mandate of mainstreaming gender. The majority of women employed occupy
positions at the lowest professional level (83.3%) while only 16.7% are at the
highest staff level (as of June 2004).





If this is the case, then the theme of this year’s CSW that centralised
around women’s participation in decision-making could not be more timely. Even
with mainstreaming, the actual presence of women seem to be necessary to push
for the visibility and inclusion of women’s interests and concerns. As the UN
is currently undertaking significant reform to its work and structure, it bears
reminding that there is a notable lacuna between text and action. This gap is
one that seriously needs mending to prevent the puzzling retreat of hard-earned
agreements with regards to Women, Media, ICTs and Development.





However, thus far, reform proceedings have been less than satisfactory. Not
only did the parallel talks on the formation of a Human Rights Council m
anaged to overshadow the CSW proceedings, proposed
reforms conspicuously failed to prioritise gender within its agenda. One
example is in the primary issue of gender parity in participation, such as
membership within the High Level Coherence Panel on Environment, Development
and Humanitarian Assistance that was established to ensure coherence within
programme areas of UN agencies’ development: only three out of its total fifteen
members are women.





5. What Next?





What else needs to be done by women’s movements to ensure that efforts to
underscore the importance of gender dimensions into all facets of socio,
economic and political rights an
d development
are not dissipated through an ever more manic attempt at seizing fragmented
opportunities located in the footnotes of broad gender-unconscious gestures? Concrete
action needs to replace repeated platitudes and rhetorics.





There are many issues to seriously reconsider in reflection of the many
advances and retreats that have occurred. Some of the more evident ones
include: a reassessment on the strategy of gender mainstreaming, given the
effect of further submerging of gender issues without an accompanying
commitment to investing related mechanisms with decision-making power; a frank
questioning of the UN’s political will to assert the priority of women’s rights
within its internal structures and mechanisms, and the subsequent effect this
has on national policy making levels – or in fact, a frank questioning on the
relevance of engagement at the UN level in itself by women’s rights advocates; the
urgent need to consolidate the many pockets of spaces and ‘opportunities’
available to women’s rights advocates for intervention, and make connections to
the multiple issues that are grappled with and continuously emerge in new
forms; specific actions for implementation and evaluation that can ensure that
global commitments materialise into actual change at local and community levels,
at the reality of women’s daily lives.





In all aspects, the capacity for women to be able to develop critical
knowledge, access information, form communities and strategic partnerships,
share resources and create radical imagination of tangible equality. More so
than ever, media and ICTs need to urge its way into the centre.













[1] The
Global Media Monitoring Project was conceptualised at the Women Empowering
Communication
Conference held in Bangkok
in 1994, organised by WACC, in association with the International Women's
Tribune Centre, New York and
Isis-Manila, just prior to the Fourth World Conference on Women at Beijing
in 1995. Since then, the project has been implemented at five year intervals in
1995, 2000 and most recently, 2005, where 76 countries around the world
participated in systematically coding and analysing
12,893 news stories that appeared on 16th February 2005 on
television, radio and in newspapers. The final report can be downloaded from http://www.whomakesthenews.org/who_makes_the_news/report_2005







[2] The
UNICT Task Force expired at the end of 2005. The Global Alliance is formed
after WSIS Phase II in Tunis as a
multi-stakeholder platform to facilitate dialogue on the issue of internet
governance.







[3] Report
of the Economic and Social Council for the Year 1997, U.N. GAOR, 52nd Sess.,
Supp. No. 3, at 24, U.N. Doc. A/52/3/Rev.1 (1997)







[4] ITU
Resolution 44 (Istanbul 2002)

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