14 May 2011

Tanzania: New Information Technology Should Empower Women

Photo: R. Zurba/USAID
In South Africa, 28 per cent of science academy members were women in 2010, while in most other countries women represented less than 12 per cent of science academy members (file photo).

Amazingly, technology has taken the world to another level of sharing information with little cost, but with the same effects and impact. A video conference was recently held in East and Southern Africa and attended by four powerful women.

It is expected that as role models this will be the beginning of a long journey to promote other upcoming women and girls. I was one of the two observers as media practitioners to witness this colourful event. The event was graced by the US Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith A. McHale, who appeared with the South African panelists.

There are many discussions on the plight of women taking place around the world. But it is rare to bring together role models who can join hands through new technology to address key issues regarding the way forward for women to achieve equity, access and recognition.

This discussion was none other than the Panel Discussion with Women in the Media African Regional Media Hub held recently in South African which was able to outline several issues such as active participation of role model, lack of media campaign and problem of financing as some of the hitches that have delayed equal participation of women in the media and other sectors.

Speaking during the video conference which brother together Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa to hammer out some of the key problems that affect women in the media, the panelist from Tanzania, who is a veteran journalist, Halima Shariff, said that though there were many changes in the media like women recruitment, it was not enough. The panelists, for example, drew their practical experiences from the field.

"We want to see an equal participation of women in decision making, describing the Beijing Protocol on Women, saying despite all the efforts recorded, little had been achieved," said Halima. Contributing during the discussions that were chaired by another panelist, an accomplished Media and Management Consultant in Tanzania, Ms Rosemary Mwakitwange hailed the will by the Tanzanian government to achieve equal representation in the Parliament.

"Since the speaker of the Parliament is a woman it is upon women to find a way to rally behind her, but the challenge is on how to capitalize on this strong representation," she said. Ms Mwakitwange threw a challenge to the society in general to support efforts by women to move up their career ladder.

"The challenge is on how women can move up that career ladder," she argued. In her remarks when contributing to the panel discussion the Chief Executive Officer of ITV and Radio One, Ms Joyce Mhaville said that it was unfortunate that women were capable but afraid to take up challenges. "Through years of experience, unfortunately, I have seen women who are capable

but have fear to face up to the challenge," she said.

Ms Mhaville added that she wanted a woman to appear as a professional and not as a woman when they walk into her media house. She emphasized that women should recognize the potentials they are capable of and present themselves as models. "I want women to come up with solutions because they are capable of providing that," she said.

When opening the Discussion the Under Secretary said that the strength of the US was free media and independent support of people to move the country forward. She said any form of controlling the media was detrimental to such countries which suppress freedom of the media. Associate Professor and Head of the Journalism Program at the University of Pretoria, Ms Pippa Green said that women can, should and must get their rights through gender balance.

But she said women should have passion to see that the equity participation in the media is achieved. In terms of gender balance, women continue to face significant barriers, she said. Ms Pippa added that women should be judged in terms of their diligence, competence and education. Another panelist who feature in South Africa, Jennifer Mufune, who is the Chief Executive Officer, Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA), said that research conducted by MISA revealed that only 17 percent of women were sources for the media.

Seven years later the team went back to visit the media in the region and this time the results were 2 per cent improvement and 19 percent women sources. She said that some of the countries they visited had shocked the team of editors when it was realized that coverage on women was all about displaying their bikinis, as tools of advertising.

"We want to hear their views, opinion which should be beyond such bikini coverage," she said. She also said that it was unfortunate that they learnt that some editors were not assigning female reporters for certain coverage because they considered them as their daughters and would not send them for hard beats.

She said the female journalists reacted and protested, saying it was not right for anyone to stand in their way, denying them the right to grow in the media. Another complaint that the team of editors received during their regional survey visit was that some media executive were against employment of girls because girl will get pregnant and fail to deliver.

Khadija Patel - Blogger, Mail and Guardian Thought Leader; Columnist, Daily Maverick; founder of Makutano Publications, when contributing in the panel discussion from South Africa, said there was still segregation of women in covering events and issues. She lamented that when the political uprising in Eygpt and Libya erupted, the deployment of reporters was not based on fair competition.

She said such remarks as women 'are not capable to stand the pressure and risk' can also be used to undermine women when it comes to promotion. But it was fascinating to note that there was another measure to bring women role models to play an important part of reaching out to young girls who look up for support and emulation. It is strange that most accomplished women are shy to come out and network with others. It is high time they changed their perspectives.

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