Women and Media
The globalization and information technology era has meant new opportunities and venues for women to express themselves. Yet the media is full of stereotypical representations of women, and women do not set the agenda when the media policy is formulated.
How often do the media present women and girls as thinking and acting individuals who contribute to the development of democracy and peace? When did you last see a report about disadvantaged women analyzing and defining their problems, where their own solutions were illuminated? Across the world women are portrayed as objects – either for male heterosexual desire or as passive and needy victims. Often, these media depictions reduce women to primarily sex objects, consumers, or biological beings without a rich intellectual life and political visions.
The media rarely contributes to give a balanced picture of women’s diverse lives and contributions to society in a changing world. Violent, degrading or pornographic media products can influence women's and girls' self-perception negatively. Such depictions one-sidedly emphasize women's traditional roles or association to "soft values” can be equally limiting.
More and more data on women’s participation in decision making and in political bodies such as parliaments and governments have become available, but there is a persistent lack of information on women's representation in the media. Little is known regarding women’s leadership roles outside organizations working with women’s and children’s rights and needs. When we are not sufficiently aware of the extent of women's participation in the public sphere and especially in the media, it is difficult to measure the degree of women's democratic participation in society. It is important to research this so that we can develop appropriate measures for greater involvement of women in the public domain.
In some parts of the world women take a huge risk in expressing themselves to the media about political issues. Female writers and artists who challenge the status quo have often been subjected to oppression and persecution by their governments. Although all women who have challenged the public morals and public policy are exposed to persecution by their own communities and families, often women who express themselves publicly experience stronger and more brutal sanctions. Murder, imprisonment and persecution are an expensive price to pay for practicing their freedom of speech.
Both Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR 1948) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR 1966) states that all people have the right to express themselves freely, in the media and elsewhere. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW 1979) is not as explicit when it comes to women's freedom of speech, but focuses primarily on the removal of socio-economic barriers that prevent women's participation in public political life. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has in Resolution 2003/42 on freedom of speech, however, stressed that it is especially important to protect women's freedom of speech. The resolution stipulates that states must combat the factors that prevent women from communicating freely and effectively, especially persistent high illiteracy rates in different parts of the world and fear of violence.
If one is to effectively increase the participation of women in the media, it is therefore important both to protect them from abuse and to enable them to assume leading positions in the media and in the public sphere.