In 2013, Zimbabwe endorsed a new supreme law, but the country is still struggling to comply with Constitutional requirements that provide for equal representation between men and women in public affairs.
Women, who constitute 52 percent of the population as per the 2012 national population census, are less than one third of the country’s parliament and still under-represented and misrepresented in media.
Speaking during a Landscaping Gender Conference at Cresta Jameson Hotel recently, Agnes Nhengo of the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development said inequality is still rife in newsrooms as women are not evenly represented both in leadership roles and in media coverage.
“On the very powerful and important platform that is media, women are still not sufficiently represented and are prevented from enjoying their rights and freedoms simply because they are women,” she said.
“While lack of access to good education is usually blamed, some women have the necessary qualifications, skills and potential, but they are silently overlooked for promotions.”
According to the 2015 Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS) conducted by Gender Links in partnership with media training institutions across the Southern African
Development Community (SADC), women predominate in media studies (64 percent) yet constitute only 40 percent of media employees and 34 percent of media managers.
The report also noted that women’s views and voices account for a mere 20 percent of news sources in the southern African media, a fact supported by media lecturer, Terrence Antonio, who added that since women constitute only 34 percent of media managers, girls and other women lack role models in the media sector.
He also said patriarchy is another reason why girls and women are still under-represented either in leadership roles or in media coverage.
“We live in a society that silences women all too often and some times, women decline to be interviewed when solicited by journalists, thanks to cultural practices that belittle girls and women.
Fiona Magaya of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) concurred: “Women continue to be affected by stereotypes, myth and a lot of imbalances and where issues of gender violence or sexist language are concerned, women who raise these issues are often not taken seriously; in actual fact, male bosses sympathise with perpetrators of gender violence and at times try to underplay the charge at hand.”
As for Media Monitors Programme Officer, Sharon Mawomi, women in Zimbabwean media houses are under-represented in most areas of work, but are found in higher proportions in soft beats like entertainment as well as support roles such as Public Relations (PR), advertising, sales and marketing as well as human resources.
She added that under-representation in either leadership or in media coverage is badly affecting political, economic, social, technological, legal, environmental and gender development.
“Media are key sources of information to cover priorities of girls and women as well as boys and men and the centrality of equal participation to Zimbabwe’s human and national development cannot be disputed.
“Nevertheless, under-representation and misrepresentation of girls and women in the media mean they are being left out of developmental issues and this halts sustainable economic growth in Zimbabwe,” she said.
Concurring, gender activist Daphne Jena argued that due to under-representation or underrepresentation in the media, women are still portrayed in a narrow range of characters in mass media.
“Media in the country whether print, electronic and online continue to have discriminatory attitudes towards girls and women as they rely on male worldview when portraying girls and women,” she said.
“Granted that the media is one of the most strategic spaces for shaping views on humanitarian issues, women’s potential to influence their societies is injured and harshly compromised.”
Jena also believed women and girls in the country are substantially misrepresented both in leadership roles and in media coverage because they are still under-represented at the top of fields such as politics and business.
“Gender parity in politics and corporate governance is ‘a pie in the sky’ as leadership positions in both private as well as public sectors are still male dominated.
“Statistics show that women are still under-represented in decision making positions in all sectors and this clearly violates the spirit of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, especially Section 17(1) (a) which provides that the State must promote the full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society on the basis of equality with men.
“Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe also obligates that the State and every person, including juristic persons, and every institution and agency of the government at every level must respect, protect, promote and fulfil fundamental human rights and freedoms.”
A 2015 study titled ‘Measuring Gender Differences on Board of Directors of Companies Listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange’, conducted by Tavonga Njaya and Zvinaiye Chimbadzwa also revealed that out of the 406 directors, 40 (10 percent) were women and 366 (90 percent) were men.
The study also showed that 27 (45 percent of the listed companies had one or more women on their boards and 37 (58 percent) of the listed companies did not have a single female board member.
The image of girls and women as well as the voicing of women’s concern underwent a radical change due to the emergence of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), but the Chief Executive Officer of AB Communications, Susan Makore, said this digital shift has led to additional discrimination against women.
“With the digital swing, the challenge of gender inequalities multiply,” she said, adding that under-representation of girls and women in both media and digital sectors converges online.
While women’s issues continue to be ignored and their contributions to national development downplayed in the media, their access to the media in order to inform its reports is also poor as revealed by the Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2014, final report on Media, Information and Communication Technology, which stated that the proportion of women age between 15 and 49 years who read newspapers or magazines, listened to radio or watched television at least once week was 8 percent and 15 percent for men age 15-54 years.
Conversely, Makore urged female journalists to be bold and claim their professional place at all times if they are to be respected as well as recognised in the country.
Guided by the Constitution of Zimbabwe, she avowed, media houses in Zimbabwe, training institutions such as universities and colleges, journalism unions like the Zimbabwe Union of Journalism (ZUJ) as well as gender and media activists need to promote gender equality with the media sector.
Journalist, Best Masinire, emphasised that gender equality in and through the media is fundamental to freedom of expression, accountability, democracy, good governance and transparency and encouraged media houses to take an industry leadership position in creating change, as well as aim for equal representation in all positions in order to reflect the population of Zimbabwe.
“Women should not only be represented in strategic management, but they should also have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres as enshrined in Section 56(2) of the Constitution of our country,” he said.
Antonio subscribed to Masinire’s notion and added that the media should network with tertiary institutions to advocate gender sensitive policies.
He also said ethical codes and editorial guidelines promoting gender equality ideals should be developed and widely disseminated to soak the media industry with enlightenment about the value of women in their diversity.
Presenting at a two-day workshop organised by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) to train media practitioners on Gender and Safety held at the Cresta Oasis Hotel in Harare recently, Media practitioner, Victoria Mtomba, urged the government, at every level, to support women’s education, training and employment so as to effectively promote and ensure women’s equal access to all areas and levels of the media.
She also said the government, together with other stakeholders, should promote women’s full and equal participation in the media, including management, programming, education, training and research as well as at gender balance in the appointment of women and men to all advisory, management, regulatory or monitoring bodies, including those connected to the private or public media.
Gender equity is not a women’s issue, affirmed journalist Pamela Shumba. It is everybody’s issue.
“As such, men and women should make gender equity a priority and for this to be successful, women should also be equally represented in decision making roles as well as in unions,” she said, urging media organisations also to create flexible work conditions and facilities, understand the needs of women in addition to establishing sexual harassment committees.
Shumba also said media houses and unions should come up with gender-effective code of ethics and gender and media reporting toolkits.
Building an egalitarian society, established Zimbabwe Union of Journalist Secretary General, Foster Dongozi, is what media organisation should thrive to do.
“Accordingly, we are encouraging media houses to come up with gender policies that address the tenets of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Declaration and its Platform for Action, the African Union Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the African Union Gender Policy as well as relevant provisions of Zimbabwe’s new Constitution,” he summed up.