RESPONSIBLE journalism is to a great extent premised on how men and women are represented, their differences and how any analysis of such seeks to move away from incorrect assumptions and stereotypes. In Zimbabwe, under the usual banner of patriarchy and other factors, the media has often been accused of being predisposed to cover women less objectively and even less as news sources.
Last month, the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) launched a report with findings of a "gendered analysis" they conducted on media coverage of the health sector for the months of April to May 2012.
MMPZ's study is important on how it investigates the role of the media in projecting a representative picture of women and men's health realities and experiences.
Gender based studies on media coverage in Zimbabwe are relatively scarce. Because of its agenda-setting role, the media significantly addresses the public interest and has great potential to influence action and appropriate interventions among relevant stakeholders.
MMPZ's "gendered" analysis focuses mainly on the differential coverage of men and women, ultimately highlighting that men tend to get more coverage and generally "out-talk" women as sources of information.
The analysis also makes some interesting observations about the types of news coverage proffered by various media sources in the period under review.
Among other things, there was "superficial" coverage of issues, where news stories were based more on official pronouncements rather than investigative depth and content.
The majority of men's health needs were marginalised, with concentration mainly on the subject of circumcision and pregnant women were portrayed as key transmitters of HIV and Aids.
It would, however, have been very useful for the study to explore the possible explanations for these scenarios.
A gender analysis ordinarily examines the differences in women and men's lives, including those that lead to social and economic inequity.
Such an analysis would not be considered off mark if it went further and concerned itself with seeking to understand the underlying causes of these inequities, with the aim to achieve positive change for women.
Effective gender analysis aims to achieve equity, which recognises the different approaches needed to produce equitable and impartial coverage of women and men.
For instance, negative media portrayal of women as transmitters of HIV could be a sign of the need for further training of journalists in gender sensitive reporting on the subject matter.
General negative coverage of women could be reflective of poor representation of women in newsrooms and top positions in particular.
The extensive coverage of male circumcision could merely be a reflection of the impact of the awareness raising and advocacy work around the issue by organisations like PSI and the Ministry of Health.
The media picked up on that and ran with it. The "superficial" coverage of health issues hinging on official pronouncements may be indicative of proactive engagement by civil society in pointing out and sharing news with journalists.
This could actually be a positive, which affords journalists the opportunity to dig deeper on supplied leads while saving a lot of trouble in seeking official comments and expending limited resources.
Evidently, the media has potential to make important contributions to the advancement of women and media owners will do well to take action in addressing the stereotyping of women and inequality in the media.
Nevertheless, the report highlights two important issues: that there was a 'narrow' portrayal of women's health mainly restricted to the needs of pregnant women and that the coverage of maternal health challenges tended to be 'fragmented'.
In our view, what seemed like a narrow portrayal of women concentrating on maternal health was a reflection of the concerted efforts happening on the ground.
Since the release of the 2010-2011 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS), the women's movement has been making a lot of noise for authorities to declare the maternal mortality rate of 960 deaths per 100 000 live births a national disaster.
In the period under review, the Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN) launched a maternal health campaign dubbed Ridza Mhere/Hlab'umkhosi for improved maternal health services, seeking to compel the immediate and full commitment of Government in addressing this challenge.
The fact that maternal health coverage increased is a good sign that the media picked up on this advocacy issue and ran with it.
Hopefully the message was widely received in the relevant spaces and it remains to be seen how health is budgeted for in the 2013 and future national budgets.
The "fragmented" reporting of maternal health challenges referred to in the analysis emanates from a perceived lack of coherent media coverage of factors hindering the effective delivery of maternal health services.
These factors range from high rate of 'half baked midwives' and the mass exodus of health personnel to HIV and Aids.
In our view, these factors are not fragmented at all, and are actually complementary and reflective of the true situation obtaining on the ground.
The mass exodus of health professionals from the country has left a number of women in the hands of inexperienced staff.
As a result, many die needlessly from botched deliveries and sheer negligence.
HIV and Aids also remain a leading though indirect cause of maternal deaths in Zimbabwe current.
The Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre & Network (ZWRCN) is an information-based organisation advocating for gender equality and equity. Feedback is welcome on email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone numbers: +263 4 700250/252388. Visit our website: www.zwrcn.org.zw and follow us on Twitter @zwrcnwomen