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Women network to shape media discourse on Africa

IT DOES not take rocket scientist to prove that media narratives on women and children in Africa have for a long time now been branded by negativity. Regardless of media platform, women and children are usually portrayed as victims of crime and disaster.
It is more common for our media outlets to carry stories of women and children as victims of gender-based violence, divorce, floods and so forth.
This has created a perception of society where women and children are excluded from the development equation. This is despite the indisputable contributions both women and children make and are capable of making at family, community and national level.
The Graca Machel Trust (GMT) under the leadership of founder and African icon, Graca Machel last week launched a Women in Media Network in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The pan-African network, which comprises an inaugural membership of 30 journalists from across east, southern and central Africa, is aimed at collectively strategising, developing and disseminating empowering messages and storylines about women and children in Africa with a particular focus on health, education and women’s economic empowerment.
The countries represented in the network include Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Mozambique, Senegal, Cote D’voire, Angola, South Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Zambia is represented by three journalists – Zambia Daily Mail reporter Kapala Chisunka, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC)’s Ruth Kamwi and this author.
The network initiative was birthed out of a roundtable meeting hosted for female editors by the trust here in Zambia in 2014.
The roundtable meeting, among other things, raised concern over the negative narratives of women and children in news as well as low numbers of women in media leadership positions.
This concern resonated with Ms Machel’s passion and agenda to amplify and multiply voices of women and children in Africa.
During the launch of Women in Media Network, Ms Machel pointed out that for a long time, Africa has allowed itself to be seen in negative light due to biased publicity both from within and outside the continent.
She said women and children were the most affected by this negative publicity as they are always portrayed as the poor of the poorest.
I could not agree more with Ms Machel that we need to consciously portray a positive picture of our continent by changing our narratives on women and children.
As Africans, we need to realise that some of the countries and continents we hold so much in high esteem have their own challenges but are more eager and careful to portray themselves in positive light to the world.
The formation of the Women in Media Network is, therefore, a step in that direction given the influential role of media in shaping societal attitudes.
Women in Media Network will help to draw attention to positive narratives about women and children in our society as opposed to negative coverage only.
As the network works to amplify and multiply the positive voices of women in society, it is imperative that women will come out of their cocoons and share their positive stories to raise their profile in society.
Traditionally, women have been socialised to always be in the background and play a supportive role to men. This has partly contributed to women’s voices missing in the media and society at large.
The success of the network will also hinge on the fact that the Graca Machel Trust has a wealth of women networks such as Women in Finance, Women in Agribusiness, among others, where credible and expert female voices can be drawn from.
The Graca Machel Trust through Women in Media Network also envisions a world where children have a voice. It is true that in most instances, we make decisions on behalf of young people without considering their views. This is because we have underestimated the capabilities of our young people.
Those who followed the Junior President reality show on our national broadcaster – ZNBC, will agree with me that young people are capable of informing policy if given an opportunity. The Junior President show participants exhibited immense talent in articulating national issues and depth of knowledge probably better than some of the politicians we have.
Such are the voices GMT, through the Women In Media Network, hopes to amplify and multiply as opposed to gloomy stories which do not give an African child an opportunity to view themselves in a positive and affirming way.
The network realises how daunting the task of changing the engrained negative perceptions of women and children is, and therefore, seeks to engage other networks such as the World Association of Newspapers’ Women in News in the spirit of supplementing efforts for a greater impact.
The network will also engage editors, publishers and media owners across the continent in a bid to change the media landscape as well as increase the positive voices of women and children in the media.
Worth noting is that Zambia Daily Mail is already working to provide a platform for marginalised voices of women and children through its gender segment and the Newspaper in Education supplement – Young Mail.
The network will, therefore, be an opportunity to further strengthen such platforms while making journalists accountable beyond their media organisations.
With the support of GMT, media publishers and owners, network members, other media networks and society at large, Women in Media Network will no doubt help in creating a balanced and positive perspective of the African society.