Commonly known as “Beijing +10,” the role of the official UN session is to evaluate what governments have done to implement the Platform for Action (PFA) of the Fourth World Conference on Women 10 years ago in Beijing, China. The review and appraisal process will take place from February 28 to March 11, 2005 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
Despite the fact that the PFA contemplates Section “J” in Chapter 3, about Women and Media, the issue is hardly found in the provisional agenda for the evaluation process. The U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) has also ignored “Women and media” in its web page discussion topics towards the process.
The European Women´s Lobby document for Beijing + 10 recognizes that “women in the media is one of the objectives that is most neglected by the European Union.” The same assessment is true of most NGOs in the regions.
Yet Section “J”, adopted for the first time in a UN Conference 10 years ago, is even more critical today than it was 10 years ago, especially when considering the advancement of women and their rights in general, which is the bottom line concern in the Platform for Action.
As African activist and communicator, Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki told “Women in Action”, 2004: “The need for a timely strategy to enhance women’s development, equality and human rights is critical…because information plays an important role in building on the successes and failures of women seeking to involve ourselves in the development and peace processes across the world.”
Two parallel trends have coexisted globally in the issue of women and media. One is the growing presence of women in the media and the emergence of a global movement of women in the media and communications that has mushroomed in the international arena. Women users of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) have doubled in the decade according to Internet statistics. Also greatly expanding are the numbers of women in community radio and media, as well as other forms of media, be it magazines, newspapers, commercial radio and electronic news.
UNESCO's Secretary General Koichiro stated in 2004 that women make up more than a third of the world's journalists. “However, despite their increasing presence in all media, women are still a long way from achieving equality with men in the newsroom.”
One example of this problem is evident in one of the countries in the world, the United States. In statistics compiled by Sheila Gibbons of the Media Report on Women by the Communication Research Associates, Inc., Gibbons reported an analysis of the evening news programs on CBS, ABC and NBC on the percentage of female protagonists in news stories in 2002, which showed an average of 14% female protagonists, compared to 86% males. She also noted that there were no significant differences among the networks in this trend.
Since the IV World Conference on Women in Beijing 1995, women have also joined hands and pens, microphones and computers, voices and ears, to form and expand networks and media monitoring bodies at every international forum where the issue is discussed and policies adopted, in order to influence those agendas. Such is the case of the Women Action initiative in 2000 at the Beijing + 5 evaluation, the Gender Caucus at the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 and the Women’s Media Pool towards Beijing + 10 in 2005, among others.
Mavic Cabrera, an Asian Pacific activist and media practitioner noted that “across the world, media monitoring initiatives abound. Efforts around media literacy education or capacity building to empower people to be critical thinkers and creative producers of non-profit media are likewise increasing. Communities and non-government organizations are producing their own magazines, news and video projects. Some are setting up their own TV and radio stations. Media reform groups are being formed to expose and oppose commercialization of the media, protect public broadcasting, and promote community and independent media initiatives” (ISIS, Women in Action, 2004).
The other coexisting trend is the growing concentration of media in the hands of less than 10 corporations. For example, in 2001 the Time Warner-AOL merger brought, under one single owner, many of the media and entertainment corporations, electronic networks, etc. “Homogenization that comes with concentration has never been favorable to women,” says Latin American communicator, Katerina Anfossi who adds that “women are about diversity.”
This decade has also seen the commercialization of information to its outmost. Ignacio Ramonet, European journalist, shows in his 2004 speech, “Media and Globalization,” how “the advent of the Internet and electronic communications is what has allowed globalization to take place, because these technologies do not transport only messages any longer, but they transport merchandise.”
Today, the cyberspace superhighway has also become a global shopping center, and in this dynamic, women have become a type of merchandise to be bought and sold. The Bangkok Communiqué of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific, which serves as the Asian Pacific contribution to the Beijing +10 review process states that there is “…a persisting portrayal of women and girls as sexual objects and commodities in media and ICTs” (UNESCAP, September 20, 2004).
In addition, mainstream media in the Internet has reproduced the stereotyping of women that has taken place in conventional media. For a single massive example, photos of the tragedy of the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean show that day after day of coverage, women appeared in Microsoft’s portal online as the “tear bearers”, rather than the active agents or social workers who turned their pain into action, when other aid was nowhere to be seen. These same distorted images of women were true in most of the traditional mainstream media reporting.
One issue that is strong in the agenda of the 49th Session known as “Beijing + 10” is the negative impact of globalization on women. Common sense would tell anyone - U.N. and governments included - that in order to tackle globalization’s negative trends, they would have to tackle media!
The Latin American and Caribbean Economic Commission’s Consensus Declaration towards Beijing + 10 calls to “… promote access of all women to all information and communications technologies towards the eradication of poverty and the promotion of development.” (Section xvi, ECLAC, June 2004).
In today’s globalized world, media and information and communications technologies play a defining role in shaping agendas. Furthermore, they are a big part of the agenda. To be in media is to have a place in the world; therefore, to leave media out, really implies to “be out of it”!
One good way to be relevant is to contribute to place media in the hands of women themselves - decision-making included - and supporting women’s media and ICTs, especially community media efforts in counteracting those trends.
Until this happens, words will have little meaning towards the advancement of women, no matter how many commitments are made to other sections of the agenda, such as violence against women, health, political participation, poverty, etc..