More Women's Voices Welcomed in SA

Jacqui Hlongwane
in Johannesburg, for The-Latest

SA WomenSouth Africa has made substantial progress in having women's voices heard in the media, says a study released to coincide with International Women's Day on Wednesday.Titled 'Who Makes the News?', the report was issued by the Global Media Monitoring Project, a non-governmental group based in London. It is the latest edition of a study conducted every five years; the first such report was launched in 1995.

According to the study, 26 percent of the sources currently quoted in the South African media are women, up from 17 percent a decade ago. Of the African countries surveyed, Rwanda was found to have the greatest percentage of female voices in the media (31 percent) -- and Angola the least (13 percent). Internationally, Rwanda tied with Belgium for having the most female sources. Sweden and Colombia were next on the list, with 30 percent each.

In a speech given at the South African launch of the document in Johannesburg, Tuesday, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka praised her country's performance in the study -- but added that more could be done: "South Africa is five percent above the global average of women sources in the media. We have to build on this success."

She also said the country was trying to promote women in government by ensuring that half of all government posts were filled by women.

"I have just seen a report where we have achieved 40 percent representation of women in government," she noted. "The most important thing is to ensure that they deliver."

This comment followed stinging criticism of several female cabinet members -- including Mlambo-Ngcuka -- by the Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa's leading opposition party. n its cabinet report card for 2005, the DA gave Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang a zero out of 10 score, alleging poor provision of health services by her department. Tshabalala-Msimang's stance on HIV has enraged AIDS campaigners, who believe she has failed to push for the quickest possible distribution of anti-retroviral drugs -- and promoted dubious alternative approaches to tackling the pandemic instead. These include urging people living with HIV/AIDS to boost their immune systems with olive oil and garlic.

Public Works Minister Stella Sigcau earned a two out of 10 rating, as she did in 2004. While the DA gave Mlambo-Ngcuka a respectable seven out of 10 score in the 2005 report card, it has since criticised her for traveling to the United Arab Emirates on holiday at the taxpayer's expense. The deputy president used a government aircraft to make the journey, which cost 65,000 dollars.

Raashied Gallant of the Cape Town-based Gender Advocacy Programme, a non-governmental organisation, told the gathering that he hoped government would appoint more women as spokespeople in a bid to improve their media profile.

Women constitute 51 percent of South Africa's population, according to the report. Not everyone at the launch shared Mlambo-Ngcuka's relatively upbeat assessment of women's position in the media, however.

"The world is viewed through the eyes of men. To correct this requires skills and a certain level of gender awareness which are lacking in many journalists," Portia Kobue, head of news at the Johannesburg-based Kaya FM radio station, told IPS.

"Journalists should include women's voices in a story. It's something that doesn't fall into your lap. You have to go out there and look for the women," she added. "One may think that all economists, lawyers, environmentalists and politicians are men."

The report also analysed the extent to which women featured as news subjects. It noted that women fared poorest in the five television broadcasts that were monitored for the study, accounting for 22 percent of subjects. Women made up 28 percent of subjects in the eight newspapers, and 27 percent in the three radio newscasts that were tracked.

"The only subjects where women received 100 percent were in the categories of sex worker and as retired persons," the report said.

In addition, women made up 23 percent of victims in stories that concerned crime, while men made up 10 percent. According to the study, "the actual term 'victim' (was) ascribed more often to women than males." This came as no surprise to Teboho Maitse of the Johannesburg-based Commission on Gender Equality. "When women make news they are victims, or poor or mothers," she told IPS. "Sometimes I read a newspaper and say 'We are not here. This is for men'."

Maitse urged men to take action in changing this situation. "Let men not speak on behalf of women. If they do, then they are dispossessing women," she warned.

International Women's Day will also mark the release of another report on the media, titled 'South Africa: Gender and Media Audience Study'. This document has been compiled by Gender Links, a non-governmental organisation located in Johannesburg, in partnership with the universities of Stellenbosch, Rhodes and the Witwatersrand. It is the first wide-ranging analysis of how gender influences the choice and consumption of news media in South Africa. Findings were based on responses from 149 women and 157 men of varying race, education, age and location.

Forty-nine percent of women and 40 percent of men in South Africa cited television as their main source of news.