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Media urged to give more coverage on women issues

By Halima Nankinga, Cecilia Okoth

Added 28th June 2016 11:32 PM

Despite the onset of new media platforms, print media still commands significant authority in shaping public opinion

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UN Women country representative Hodan Addou shares light moment with UMWA executive director Margaret Sentamu Masagazi during the reflective dialogue at Hotel Africana. Photo by Mary Kansiime

In order to mainstream gender in policies and practice in Uganda, the media should give more coverage to women issues, according to findings of a recent survey.

Findings carried out by Uganda Media Women's Association (UMWA), a Non- Governmental Organisation that aims at enhancing the visibility and status of women through advocacy indicate that there is urgent need of gender mainstreaming in the media.

In a gender focused assessment survey on print media done by UMWA on media coverage of the just concluded general elections, election coverage was highly skewed against women (candidates, voters, electoral officials) to the benefit of men in terms of visibility, portrayal and representation.

The survey, funded by UN Women and the Embassy of Sweden and carried out between December 2015 and February 2016 also highlighted misrepresentation of women in comparison to men manifested in language and images that are often sexist, judgmental, stereotypical, degrading and sometimes derogatory.

Margaret Sentamu the Executive Director UMWA and one of the lead researchers, said women in the media and those who seek to utilize it especially in leadership levels seem to lack the necessary capacity to engage the media within and without. Other researchers include Joseph Higenyi and Joan Nankinga.

"Women constitute over 50percent of Uganda's population but account for less than 25percent of the media content which unfortunately includes distortions of their views, contributions and their bodies," Sentamu said at Hotel Africana in Kampala yesterday.

She said despite the onset of new media platforms, print media still commands significant authority in shaping public opinion.

But according to Sarah Eperu the spokesperson Forum for Democratic Change women league, some women lack confidence and are to blame for their own wrong doing.

"Beti Kamya is my favorite woman politician of all time. She has an answer for everything and will never turn down an interview which is contrary to other women who often give the excuse of fear of being misquoted" Eperu said.

On the other hand, Goretti Cheswa, a media practitioner said it is important to understand how the media works and its business aspect of capturing the market by trying to do what society believes.

"Society believes that a man is above a woman and that for a hard story to have impact, the preferred interviewee has to be a man," Cheswa said, adding that there is need to address dynamic forces of society.

A total of 2,624 election related stories were analysed in five print newspapers that included New Vision, Bukedde, The Observer, Daily Monitor and Red Pepper.

According to the findings, only 15percent of women were used as news sources or were directly quoted as compared to their male counterparts who were 85percent.  Also, placement of stories with a direct bearing on women overall in the first five pages of each newspaper was at 36percent.

In the women's pullouts, 3percent did not provide an opportunity to women to engage on governance issues but rather 97percent featured issues of domesticating nature, parenting, nutrition, cooking, home care, beautifications and relationships.

The study sought to collect data specifically relating to visibility of women and men in relation to their numbers as news subjects and as news sources, as well as in photographs; the roles news subjects and sources play in the story; their status in society as well as placement in terms of front or other pages of the stories in which they feature.

Okoku Obomba, a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication at Uganda Christian University, Mukono said the current focus of journalism is on what people want visa vie what they need. "When you look at how media covers issues, it is mostly elite based and yet a lot happens in the grassroots."

He said even though it is true that there is gender inequality in the media in Uganda, most female students who study Mass Communication at University level prefer specializing in public relations which they say is a softer target compared to journalism.

At the launch, Hodan Addou, the Country Representative UN Women Uganda said the media has a powerful role as society's primary provider of information.

"The number of articles on women candidates is much smaller than that of their male counterparts. Women tend to only appear in the newspapers when tragedy or controversy surrounds them," Addou said, adding that giving women adequate air-time and depicting them as leaders can bring on a much needed mind-set change.

According to Addou, even though during the last elections the numbers of women assuming direct seats increased from 11 in the 9thParliament to 19 in the 10th Parliament, an increase that is commendable, a recent study done by the Women in Democracy group also indicates that people only tend to vote women into positions in which they have proven their capacities.

The theme of the half day workshop was 'strengthening women and media for gender equality and progress'        

Reacting to the findings, Kyetume Kasanga who was representing the Commissioner for Information in the Office of the Prime Minister said the inclusion of radio which is the most effective media in the country today would have given a better picture of the media land scape in Uganda.

He said the recommendations to Government which include enforcing relevant laws and policies and the provision of resources for implementation, monitoring and evaluation shall be followed up subsequently.

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