Gender sensitive press freedom

Women’s Empowerment Foundation for Southern Africa (WEFSA)’s press freedom project seeks to promote gender rights and media freedom in Zimbabwe. WEFSA uses both needs-based and rights based approaches to women empowerment. Conceiving that Gender Equality and Press Freedom are two sides of the same coin, this program has two major implementation entry points to empower women journalists to take charge in the newsrooms and amplify minority women’s voices in order to attain gender sensitive and inclusive press freedom; to further women’s rights to access information, participation in public debate, and thus enjoy freedom of expression.

Firstly, we seek to strengthen and expand the power and influence of female journalists in the newsrooms in Zimbabwe and elevate their voices in order to confront a deeply rooted patriarchy in media management structures and in news content generation and expression.

Secondly, to build the capacity of grassroots marginalised women and their minorities (LGBT, women living with disabilities and those from minority cultures) to be able to express themselves in the public through the media and various forums.

The rationality of using these two entry points is based on the view that non-reporting and articulation of gender rights, lesbian concerns, domestic violence, newsroom abuses, discrimination and other issues affecting women is a result of (a) patriarchal media institutions which prevent female journalists to champion other women’s issues (b) lack of capacity by marginalised women to bring their issues to the media, public, to policy makers and to relevant development institutions and (c) the existence of gender unresponsive press laws and practices. Press freedom without marginalised women being able to access information and make their voice heard is disempowering and discriminatory. Therefore, empowered female journalists will be able to scale up their gender sensitive reporting by fighting patriarchal editorial practices and newsroom abuse while empowered grassroots women will be able to claim their rights by creating space to articulate their issues and concerns. Female journalists will ultimately give grassroots and marginalized minority women a voice and space in the media for them to express their voices and gain publicity to issues affecting them. 

Project Background and Justification

Human rights in Zimbabwe remains selectively observed and women’s rights are often overlooked despite existing government legislations and internal institutional gender equality regulations. Political violence, intimidation and the manipulation of traditional media such as the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Services, The Herald, The Sunday Mail and Manica Post and other state subsidiary media has left many women afraid of contributing to public policy making and decision processes. In addition, despite that women constitute more than 50% in Zimbabwe’s population their position of influence in politics, society and economics remains low because of the dominant patriarchal society in Zimbabwe. Therefore, WEFSA, as a media based organisation, believes that the media should be playing a critical role in ensuring that gender sensitive press freedom is upheld and that women’s rights are incrementally gained.

In Zimbabwe, women’s issues are underrepresented1 in the media because the current state of media institutions are patriarchal (“women in Zimbabwe media houses constitute only 13% of top management and 10% in senior management)2 and most often, female journalists who should champion the cause of other women are abused in the newsrooms, they face discrimination and stereotypes. As a result, women journalists are unable to confidently gather, generate and publish content that can promote women’s rights, gender equality and equity. Should this situation continue, the gains of “gendered development and mainstreaming” efforts will be defeated.

Marginalization, discrimination and abuse of female journalists in workplaces in not only a Zimbabwean problem, it is an African tragedy. The Global Media Monitoring Project (2010) observed that in Southern Africa only 4% of gender related stories appear in the media with only 10% stories that are women focused because 80% of female journalists are assigned to ‘soft’ issues like fashion, culture, arts and lifestyle while hard news which can shape socio-economic and political policies are assigned to men. This leaves only 20% of female journalists having an opportunity to speak for the downtrodden women and children. Ndlovu and Madziwa (2009) observe that Male journalists dominate in the reporting of critical news, such as human rights (100%), sustainable development & environment (100%) and sport (92%) while women dominate in gender equality (100%), gender violence (100%) and religion (100%).”3 This evidence depicts that the voice of the minority poor, the LGBT, the disabled and the village woman are therefore, unable to be heard under such circumstances. Also, stereotypical views and attitudes, mostly attachment of women’s reproductive roles and productive incapacity, hinder and influence whether female journalists assume strategic decision making positions.

The disparities observed above creates widespread subordination of female journalists and exposes them to sexual abuse by male editors, who demand favors in exchange for promotion, workplace favours or job retention. In this context, it is necessary to implement a proactive rights-based intervention to build the capacity of female journalists to raise awareness, demand their rights, increase their skills and build confidence within and outside newsrooms.

If this is achieved, women journalists will be able to claim their rights in the newsrooms, effectively use their strategic position in the media to articulate other women’s rights concerns. In general, the existing Zimbabwean gender rights situation requires female journalists and marginalized women to have a free space to bring personal experiences of victimization, discrimination as well as their rights and accomplishments to the attention of their peers so that they can work through their issues together in a mutually supportive manner.

Lack of access to alternative communication platforms is also another factor influencing the position of grassroots and marginalized women. Traditional media such as radio, television and newspapers are a privilege and a preserve for a select few, mostly accessible only in urban and peri-urban areas. More often, women only speak when they are faced with or are victims of a catastrophe, in scandals being attributed to negative stories, commercialization of their bodies being portrayed as sex objects in media images. Therefore, exploring opportunities coming with bulk messaging technology and social media platforms such as Whatsapp, twitter and Facebook can help decentralize information and improve women participation in social, economic and political processes in Zimbabwe.

With traditional media as it stands, women are prevented from reporting gender sensitive news and telling their stories and concerns because of patriarchal-administered institutions which perpetuates gender stereotypes in content and management. According to Who Makes the News Report (2013) 3 out of 4 people in the news are males and women are twice likely to be portrayed as survivors and 18% of news about females are sneering4.

The following is a conceptual model showing the existing gap between full women’s rights to freedom of expression and access to information and how women journalists can bridge the gap between the voiceless women and their full rights.


1 Wood, J.T Gendered Media: The Influence of Media on Views of Gender. University of North Carolina

2 Madziwa, M and Ndlovu, S (2009) Women and Men in Zimbabwe Media. (Eds) Genderlinks: South Africa

3 Global Media Monitoring Project 2010

4 Who Makes the News 2010 and 2013 report. http://www.whomakesthenews.rg

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