13 February 2018

Liberia: 'Gap Between Males-Females in Politics and Media Undemocratic'

Pro-female advocacy group New Narratives (NN) has described as undemocratic the gender gap between men and women in Liberian politics and the media.

The statement was made by NN's executive director, Tecee Bolay, who addressed an audience of about fifty in Monrovia over the weekend in a round table dialogue on gender inequality in politics and government in Liberia's 2017 elections.

"Women are really underrepresented in politics and there are real socio-cultural, economic, and political barriers to women's equal political participation," she said. "This gender gap is undemocratic; it means women are not able to fully exercise their rights, and women's voices are largely absent, making gender-sensitive laws unlikely."

She said women are also underrepresented in Liberia's media landscape. "Our survey shows that only 20 percent of journalists in this country are women; and of that percentage, 5 percent are part of the editorial staff," she noted. "There were only a few women covering politics and the elections. This contributes to the invisibility of women and gender issues in politics, and the continuation of stereotypes about women's leadership. We sought to raise awareness of the harm that is done by gender-biased reporting, and we need to build the capacity of journalists in gender-sensitive politics and election issues and increase media practitioners' willingness to pursue and produce stories that challenge negative stereotypes about women in politics and public office."

According to Bolay, if women in politics and leadership are portrayed more fairly and equitably in the media, voters and power-brokers will be more likely to nominate, elect, and appoint them to prominent positions in political parties and local and national decision-making areas, and will also be portrayed as active and effective political participants, which will motivate more women to get involved in politics.

Using the adapted global media monitoring project's data collection system, Bolay noted that the quantitative and qualitative analyses framework shows that 268 newspaper articles on women were reported during the 2017 elections; and of the number, FrontPage Africa reported 86; Daily Observer, 67; The New Dawn, 50. Others are New Democrat, 16; Women Voices, 17; and Inquirer, 29; while 138 news programs and talk shows from Fabric (101.1), ELBC (99.9), and OK FM (99.5) were recognized and captured in her organization's report.

She pointed out that there were qualitative investigations on gender blindness and invisibility of women, portrayals of women in sexist or stereotypical ways, and positive portrayals that challenged harmful stereotypes and showed women as effective and credible leaders.

A member of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Rudolphson Fayia, said women are responsible for their back bench profiles in both politics and the media.

"We had the experience of seeing many women shy away from radio talk shows and open debates to discuss national issues in which their status was seriously reflected. Not many of them even dared to call on a radio talk show; they don't care, but they always complain about their being isolated from the general body of the nation's population," Fayia said.

He said most women who were given advantageous positions are usually arrogant and authoritative. "Women, including those in the media, have to take the center stage by seizing all the opportunities available," he said.

For her part, the independent consultant on women's political participation and leadership in government, Lisa Kindervater Sieh, said the dominance of men in leadership roles does not mean that women are incapable or unqualified.

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