It is 20 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women in1995 and has since served as the global visionary roadmap for achieving gender equality and women's empowerment.
Undeniably, media play a vital role in bringing changes to many societies. Twenty seven media professionals from 20 countries, attended the recent “Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Beijing+20 Review” as part of the “Regional Training for Reporting for the Beijing+20, Youth Engagement and Gender Responsive Advocacy for Media in Asia and the Pacific”, during 15 and 21 November 2014 in Bangkok.
Co-hosted by UN Women and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Regional Offices for Asia and the Pacific, this training aims to reinforce understanding of gender issues for journalists on the global agenda on advancing gender equality and to broaden the journalists’ perspectives to be more effective in reporting gender issues. This is, after all, to raise public awareness and revitalizing public debate across all sectors of society on achieving gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment.
20 years on, there had been some progresses such as in education attainment and numbers of women in parliament and media in Asia Pacific, says Roberta Clarke, Regional Director, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and representative in Thailand.
There were 12% of women in parliament in 1995, compared to 16% in 2014 but the small gains in the representation of women in national parliaments have not translated to local governance. On women and media, positive measures to foster equitable access to information and communication have been introduced, together with media and ICT, education and training programmes that promote the interests of women and girls. However, negative gender stereotyping remains in popular culture.
Last year, an Indian fashion photographer depicted a woman wearing designer garments on a bus being harassed by a number of men. His series of photos has drawn worldwide criticism for glamorizing violence against women.
Much has been achieved but gender inequality still persists
“We dare not be complacent. There were many agendas to be achieved, including issues on violence against women and portrayal of gender stereotypes in the media,” Roberta Clarke stresses. As writers, bloggers, and reporters, the participants were expected to play roles in convincing their governments to give focuses on these issues.
Left, Nobuko Horibe of UNFPA, and right, Roberta Clarke of UN Women
Nobuko Horibe, Regional Director, UNFPA Asia Pacific Regional Office gave a speech to the participants, saying that the UNFPA’s mandate is linked with UN Women’s. “The participants in this training who are young-at-heart journalists had major roles in raising awareness on women’s issues and making them hot topics to ensure gender equality is a reality for every woman and girl,” she says.
Nurul Islam Hasib of bdnews24.com, Bangladesh’s internet newspaper, shares that roles of Bangladeshi women are changing. The current prime minister and some high level positions are women but attitude of men towards women remain the same.
Left, Park Geun-hye is the current President of South Korea, Right, Sheikh Hasina serves a 2nd term as Prime Minister of Bangladesh since 2009.
Babita Basnet, president of Media Advocacy Group from Nepal said double burdens remained on Nepali women because women who work outside home still have to do household works.
Meena Menon, deputy editor, The Hindu, India shares that in India the situation of women in the media has changed with the increasing number of female reporters but this did not necessarily meant changes on how media portrayed women, as long as chief editors were still men. She gave an example of a rape crime report covered by a female reporter, which was rejected by male editors, who said victims were deserved to be raped.
Understanding the Cause of Gender-based Violence
Through an activity guided by Ginger Norwood, the journalists are divided into groups representing institutions that condone or perpetuate violence against women before discussing how each institution contribute to violence and rape crime. The institutions include educational institution, friends, families, communities, and medical, legal and media systems.
Two of them representing rape victims stand in the center while the rest stand in a circle around them. A representative of each group hold a straw and then the straw is drawn to the next representing groups, and thus formed the ‘Web of Structural Violence’. The participants understood more clearly the myriad different forms of violence and discriminatory practices based on gender and how different social institutions contribute to the perpetuation of gender based violence in society.
“In some cultures, women’s bodies are not owned by women,” says Rita Widiadana of the Jakarta Post. She explains that there is a case of a 13-year-old girl being raped by a man who later agreed to marry her. A representative shares that media in general reinforce rape culture, sensationalized stories discussing what victims were wearing. And more often than not, rape is glorified in film, advertising, pornography, etc.
“It was too easy to blame only one institution and all institution have responsibility to challenge this structural violence,” facilitator Ginger Norwood points out.
Blogging for Democracy
Veronica Stepkova of UN Women, Cambodia, highlights the significance of women empowerment through the internet. “Today more people can globally access to mobile networks than clean water,” she cites a Word’s Bank statement. She shares a story of a 22-year-old girl, who is among young bloggers in Cambodia. The girl has been writing about her daily life and how she is discriminated at schools and now she has many friends supporting her. Veronica Stepkova believes that blogging allows interactive dialogues and make people think more, compared to Facebook. Blogging also allows citizen participation and connecting people together. However, the challenges of blogging are time-demanding, and need of technical skill as well as quality of entries.
Kounila Keo, originally from Cambodia, a young and active blogger since 2007, has been using digital media, including blueladyblog.com, and www.kounila.com, for women participation in politics. She shares her inspiration with the journalists, saying that when she was 17, she was empowered by the internet, beginning talking about normal daily issues and gradually moving to political topics.
What she gains from blogging include freedom of expression, critical thinking and writing skills, and spaces for Cambodians to talk about politics, the issue which many people remain tight-lipped in the public. While mainstream media are largely monitored by the government, during the 2013 national election in her country, she sees an unprecedented number of youth, both men and women started actively engaging in debating online and offline. Young women in Cambodia love soft topics, like food and health and tend to talk less about politics while men discuss more details about politics, she observes. “This was because women are afraid of portraying themselves as harsh while men might not be and if women do, they would be cyber-bullied in a harsh way,” she notes.
Beijing +20 and Critical Areas of Concerns
Janneke Kukler, Regional Coordination Specialist and Strategic Planning and Montira Narkvichien, Regional Communications Specialist, UN Women give a brief overview of the Beijing+20 review. Among the critical areas of concerns of the Beijing Platform for Action are women and the environment, women in power and decision-making, the girl child, women and the economy, woman and poverty, violence against women, human rights of women, education and training of women, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, women and health, women and the media, and women and armed conflict.
During the conference, which was joined by over 700 ministers, policy makers, and civil society representatives from across the region, the journalists had chances not only to observe the “Consideration of draft outcome document of the Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Beijing +20 Review”. They also connected with policy makers and civil society members in order to write and share stories of specific countries because media role is very important in the implementation processes.
Many of the participants actively produced news reports, which were published in the newspapers both online and offline as well as on blogs, facebook pages and twitter.
S. Indramalar, chief reporter, Features Desk (Women and Family) of The Star, Malaysia shares her obstacle on reporting. She submitted a report on Malaysian teen pregnancy rate and sexual and reproductive health rights and education to her editor back home but when the report appeared on the paper, all references on sexual and reproductive health and sexual education were removed and ‘youth education’ was used instead. “This reflected that Malaysia society was still very conservative,” says S. Indramalar
Minho Jung, Correspondent, Health Section, Korea Times, Korea, says that he has learned a lot from this training. Among countries of the participants, Korea was the only countries with female state head, but he noted that women were still under-represented at organization level. He hoped his country work more with UN Women and UNFPA. “Although I cannot write as many stories as I hope but would definitely take the knowledge home and put it into practice.”
Kambakhsh Khalaji, Editor in Chief, Iran Daily, Iran reflects that in his country, people cannot accept, and media are not allowed to publicize, sensitive issues like LGBT, gay rights and same-sex marriage. This was despite the fact that many people from other countries came to Iran for sex change operation because it was not expensive.
Sajjad Hssain Urya, Daily Outlook, Afghanistan says that his country has so many obstacles and it will be a long journey to go for gender equality. He adds that it is important to start from himself, to bring changes in his own behaviours.
Meanwhile, Nellie Setepano, reporter of Post Courier, Papua New Guinea says that she was disappointed that delegates of her country missed out at the conference and this showed how gender issue was prioritised at home. She added that there were couples of progresses made during the past 20 years while some challenges remained including lack of effective of implementation of legislation, lack of data, and cultural attitudes. When going back home, her challenges were to concentrate on these issues, and to empower her editors and editors-in-chief as they really needed gender lens.