BY JOWIT SALUSEKI -
GENDER equality in key positions of decision-making has continued to be a topical and debatable issue around the globe with the media sited at the helm of enlightening the public about its pros and cons.
The Media Action Plan on HIV/AIDS and Gender, led by the Southern African Editors’ Forum (SAEF) estimates that there are 255 media houses in the SADC region.
Gender advocates in Zambia are seemingly finding it easier to champion the calls for male and female in work places due to the influence of the media.
However, questions arise as to whether various media houses in Zambia and Southern Africa countries have work place policies aimed at achieving gender parity.
If not, what is being done to improve the situation where there is inequality?
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) protocol on Gender and development, argues that by 2015 all media houses and other decision –making bodies in the region need to achieve gender parity.
The gender protocol also calls for the mainstreaming of gender in all media laws, policies and training.
It exhorts the media to give equal voices to women and men, challenge gender stereotypes and ensure balance and sensitivity in all coverage.
According to a recent research conducted by the Gender Links entitled Glass Ceilings: Women and Men in Southern African Media, there are more men than women in Zambian media houses, with women making up only 33 per cent.
The country’s women population in media houses is lower than the average of 41 per cent of the Southern African region.
The findings indicate that, men dominate in all departments in Zambian media houses. They make 94 per cent of those in printing and distribution, 89 per cent in design and 83 per cent in technical
Women feature better in finance and administration 49 per cent, advertising and marketing 46 per cent and editorial at 38 per cent.
The regional averages for women are better: advertising and marketing 57 per cent, finance
and administration 54 per cent and editorial 42 per cent.
According to the report, women in the Zambian media are under represented in all areas of work but are more numerous in areas considered to be support roles, such as in the finance and administration departments while men are predominant in production, design, printing and distribution.
The study reviews that gender division of labour in beats is still pronounced with a few expectations
Male journalists dominate in all the hard news beats such as investigative, in depth reports, politics and agriculture while women predominate in soft beats such as culture and lifestyles.
The findings states that career paths for women in Zambian media houses is not a priority as none of the surveyed media houses have strategies to fast track women career paths.
In the region only 10 percent of media houses have such strategies in place, however, a third of Zambian houses 33 per cent said gender is a consideration in promotion.
Against this background, Gender Links held a one day workshop for some Times Printpark employees at Nina Lodge in Lusaka to vitalise gender policies in work places at the media house.
Gender Links (GL) is a Southern African NGO committed to ensuring that women and men in the region are able to participate equally in all aspects of public and private life.
Madube Siyauya the facilitator of the workshop noted that the findings begged for improvement on the coverage of gender, HIV/AIDS and gender based violence in specific areas.
“Coverage on gender equality, gender based violence and HIV/AIDS needs to be given a major attention so as to enjoy similar treatment as politics and economics. This can only happen if there is gender
policy to guide the editorial practice,” Ms Siyaula said.
She said gender and media research and training which stated in 2003 was yielding some positive results.
Ms Siyaula emphasised the need for the media to give equal voice to women and men in all areas of coverage, including increasing the number of programmes for , by and about women on gender specific topic and challenge gender stereotypes.
The study sought out opinions on whether having more women in media houses make a difference. The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) of 2005 showed that women journalists are more likely than men to consult female opinion, but this does not mean that most of their sources are women.
In the Southern African analysis of the global study, female sources constituted 28 per cent of the total consulted by women journalists compared to 19 percent female sources consulted by male journalists.
With the exception of Angola, women consulted women sources more than men did in every country of the region , with women journalists consulting women sources more than men did in every country of the region.
The report indicates that the work place environment has a substantial bearing of achieving gender parity in media houses.
Respondents indicated what kind of practices or policies their companies had put in place to increase women’s participation and representation in media houses.
Among others, these included whether they had gender policies (or would wish to have one), affirmative action(fast tracking, career paths and promotion.
A respondent, Brighton Phiri, an information officer at the Post newspaper who used to work in the newsroom, said: “I have noticed that women tend to cover a lot of humanitarian issues”.
He said in the newsroom there was no clear demarcation of what beats women or men should cover pointing out that it is all based on personal preference.
He said women cover in passionate way issues that affect communities as they get to sympathise and emphasise with the people they write about.
Julius Sakala Radio Phoenix news editor, shared the same view, saying: “There are some issues that can be better handled by women, especially in instances where the respondents prefer to deal with a woman and this we cannot run away from.”
A female reporter at the Zambia Daily Mail feels there is bias when it comes to assigning stories to journalists.
She says assignments, including overseas trips and travel with the Republican President are often assigned to men.
Another female reporter felt women who had excelled in hard news were often stereotyped.
She says there were instances where female journalists were accused of being sexually involved with sources ,
just because they had good relations with them.
The findings recommends that to achieve gender parity in media houses, Gender Links will network with editor’s forum, media unions and media development NGO’s for advocacy and lobbying around the SADC Gender protocol target to achieve the feat.