To make media change, be audacious, be bold

It's time to support an array of different women's voices through funding women-owned media.

    A vast wealth of feminist media has been documenting women lives and it's time to bring it forward [EPA]
    A vast wealth of feminist media has been documenting women lives and it's time to bring it forward [EPA]

    In the early hours of the last day of the recent UN Commission on the Status of Women 57, the chair resolved a crippling stalemate by creating a new document. It affirmed the gains made in the 1990s for women - for their human rights, curbing sales of small armaments and ending violence against women. On the negative side, it did not include sexual orientation and gender identity. 

    The 2012 CSW ended without a concluding document. Activists lobbied adamantly during the two weeks of this CSW for an inclusive document. Failure to have some level of women's rights affirmed would have sent over 3,000 representatives from countries and NGOs back home to ponder exactly about the UN commitment to women. 

    "Women do not receive the attention in the media that we should," explained Dr Radika Balakrishnan, Executive Director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership

    In 1995, women's and girls' voices appeared in 19 percent of print and electronic media. By 2010, it rose to 24 percent, according to the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) (this first data was prepared specifically for the 1995 Beijing International Conference on Women, and is collected once every five years). 

    A 5 percent gain over 15 years is paltry. At this rate, parity in corporate media for women's voices might come in 2080, 75 years from now. 

    Why wait 75 years? 

    Ever resourceful, creative and productive women have carved out their own venues to tell their stories - in their own voices. In 1951, early UN women correspondents formed the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, and today it remains an important global media network. IPS Gender Wire, initiated in the 1970s, continues from early women's movement media activism and is the only surviving outlet of an ambitious five regional global network of women's news services. 

    On smaller, yet vivacious, scales are such entities as Costa Rican-based Feminist International Radio Endeavor (FIRE), mostly a radio outlet, Gender Links that advocates media equity and justice across 15 Southern African nations and Women News Network (WNN), a daily online paper that reports on women's international stories, operating from Boulder, Colorado. All these entities had a presence at CSW57.  

    A record number of seven media workshops were held by NGOs at this CSW, according to Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator/program director of Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP). 

    What is the health of these women's media outlets? "Struggling", Cabrera-Balleza, who also serves on the Executive Committee of the UN NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY, that schedules NGO CSW Forum Parallel Events, intoned in a single word, deliberately and without hesitation. 

    Most women's human rights organisations across the globe are struggling which is why Association of Women's Rights In Development (AWID) produces a series of reports, Where is the Money for Women's Rights? 

    In their most recent version prepared for the global meeting held in Turkey in April 2012, of the 10 top priority strategies of women's organisational activity, communications and information are at the bottom. Moreover, when the issues of media, communications and information are addressed according to the funding these groups receive, those needs completely drop out of the picture.           

    "The irony," says Cabrera-Balleza, "is that all the work we have done to bring new ICT to women's groups to produce and distribute their own newsletters, has worked against independent women's media concentrated groups. Many have closed shop. ISIS, where I worked, is struggling. Donors do not want to support independent women's media anymore." 

    "Women do not receive the attention in the media that we should."

    - Dr Radika Balakrishnan, Center for Women's Global Leadership

    This is not a wise or informed decision. Donors negate a critical political tenet: "No women's media; no women's progress." Coined in 1977, this phrase was crafted by one of the most significant feminist media strategists of the late 20th century, Dr Donna Allen, founder of Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press. 

    Today, in places where backlash against women is strongest, most virulent are also geographies where there is an absence of or very little independent women's media. The lack of women's political leadership, health rights, increase in violence against women can be traced back, in most cases, to the lack of strong public voices by progressive women, largely through women directed media. This is as true in North Dakota, one of the more rural states in the US, as it is in Eastern Congo.

    North Dakota is a state where no women-led media exists, and where on March 26, Governor Jack Dalrymple signed new legislation that bans an abortion as early as six weeks.

    In Eastern Congo, also where no regular voicing of women occurs, despite an "official" peace, women are still held up by roving armed militia and raped at alarming rates.

    Support women's voices 

    "Money is shrinking," claims Balakrishnan. "Results-based funding is the corporitisation of grant-making. How many women lives have you changed or saved? Policy change, making laws does not change overnight. So, money is getting tighter and tighter." 

    For most women's media, funding has always fallen through the cracks of foundation guidelines. 

    Even though there are 160 member funds in the Women's Funding Network, only a small handful regularly support some form of women's media or cultural production - which is wholly unacceptable. 

    As Astraea Foundation's executive director J Bob Alotta underscored in last year's Women's Funding Network session - Successes and Challenges for Women-Led Social Justice Media - "If we are committed to different outcomes, we have to invest in them. Period. In order to fight, to do more advocacy, we need media and we have to be willing to invest." To date, this has not translated into action. 

    So, while women savoir an incomplete victory from this year's Commission on the Status of Women, how do women breathe in these modest gains as well as learn new strategies to advance human rights for themselves and their families? Media Justice is at the heart of learning. 

    We need better strategies around media and media policy for women. Women's media ownership is the vehicle that can drive both our right to communicate our viewpoints as well as our right to receive information. This is codified in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

    By sheer will, here are three things that could make a substantial difference: 

    Corporate media editors: To make women's voices inclusive, you have to make it a commitment. Think that there are not many women to do this and that. Be audacious and bold in reframing possibilities, such as Al Jazeera's astounding goal to have a ratio of 80:20 women op-eds. 

    Leaders of women's organisations: Make media and communications as your top-two priority. Do not rely solely on corporate media to report your story. Seek out women media outlets to amplify your stories. Use women's media in your work. A vast wealth of feminist media has been documenting women lives - bring it forward. This will deepen your organisation's work and reach. 

    Donors/funders/investors (really, this is all of us!): Support an array of different women's voices through funding women-owned media. Five percent of grants to women-run media could bring $3.25m into these vital communication channels. By committing 5 percent of funds toward independent media mainstream, funders could make a huge impact on improving democracy. Women are the wave of the future. Recalibrate a few strictures in the pipes and money will flow for women and your investment fund.      

    Ariel Dougherty is the national director of Media Equity Collaborative. She writes about the intersections of women's rights, gender media justice and funding. As a co-founder of Women Make Movies, she created one of the most self-sustaining women's organisations of the 2nd Wave.  

    Follow her on Twitter: @MediaEquity

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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