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MMA highlights lack of reporting on gender-based violence

Yesterday, Tuesday, 8 March 2011, which was International Women's Day, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) questioned the media's priority in dealing with issues facing women, especially gender-based violence and representation of women in media.

It pointed out that the epidemic of rhino poaching has been very present in media headlines and coverage - showing an increase in deaths from 133 in 2009 to 333 in 2010 - but that in the same period, 197 000 cases of crimes against women were reported to SAPS, including murder, attempted murder, common assault, sexual offences and assault to cause grievous bodily harm. It is worth noting that these are only the ones reported. The figures according to the "one in nine campaign" are likely to be ten times higher.

Certainly, the rise of rhino poaching is a concern across the region but, as we celebrated International Women's Day, we need to step back and look at our priorities and make sure that we give women and the challenges they face a place in the media, not only one day in March, but year round.

These aren't simple issues, and perhaps that complexity accounts for the lack of coverage, but in light of the threats women face and have faced, media have a responsibility to unpack these issues, and open an ongoing and critical dialogue countrywide, so that in 2012 we don't have to decry this lack of coverage yet again.

The media has a key responsibility in shedding light and exposing issues facing women. During women's month in 2010, MMA's analysis of coverage revealed a level of gender fatigue, which is cognisant of larger trends of coverage of women's issues. Only a small fraction of the coverage analysed was dedicated to serious issues of sexual violence and physical abuse.

Compared to the striking statistics above, this lack of coverage shows a failing on the part of media to address real issues affecting South African women.

MMA encourages a collaborative and multi-faceted approach and partnership between media, government and civil society to continue this dialogue and make ridding South Africa of gender-based violence a priority.

Government input

On paper and in policy South Africa should not have epidemic levels of gender based violence. The rights of South African women are clearly enshrined in our constitution and additional laws have been created to protect and uphold the rights of women, such as the Sexual Offences Act and Domestic Violence Act.

There is a Commission on Gender Equality, and even a ministry dedicated to addressing women's issues. We have great policies, and political parties even have women's leagues. So why are an increasing number of South Africa's women victims of horrendous crimes that are eating away at their dignity and respect?

As local elections draw nearer, let's start by asking all the political parties to show how they are going to reduce gender based violence in their local communities - what are they actually going to do?

The situation while tragic and unacceptable is not hopeless. There are people in government for whom this is a priority. There are women and NGO's who strive to make a positive difference and who involve men, there are lots of good men involved in reducing gender based violence. There are police officers and justice officials who barely sleep trying to combat and reduce gender based violence. There are editors and producers and some of the best journalists in the world deeply committed and actively opposing gender based violence. It is these people we need to commemorate - the men and the women on International Women's Day. It is these people who need our support.

Civil society

The reality however, remains - gender based violence continues to escalate in South Africa. There are many reasons for this; one of them is that often instead of taking responsibility for our own sector and building partnerships, each plays the blame game. Media blame government, government blames the media and civil society blames the media and government.

Of course it is easy to blame government for not being able to implement the fine laws and policies, and when our justice system seems to fail, either through being re-victimised or through appalling conviction rates, well its again only too easy to say, "that's why." However, government is not the only player here.

Civil society and of course men - the other half of the equation, need to make eradicating gender based violence a priority. To say this is easy, in reality we are talking about fundamental social behaviour change of a large portion of South Africa's population.

We accept that often civil society contributes to the problem, but we are also open to forming lasting partnerships with those who also see the need to reduce gender based violence. We are not talking about meaningless hand holding, but active meaningful partnerships. This is about coming out and taking a stand when and where it matters, when and where issues are in the public domain.

Not only racism but also sexist

Kuli Roberts' column was roundly criticised - as it should have been in MMA's view, for being racist. Sadly the voices of those condemning the column for also being deeply sexist were too few and far between. Where were our Ministry of Women and Children and People with Disabilities? Our Commission on Gender Equality and Human Rights Commission? The Women's League's of the various political parties? Where were the legal groups, numerous civil society bodies and crucially, aside from Ferial Haffajee, where were the media in their critique of the column on the basis that it was sexist?

If you are interested in starting something that is going to make a difference and something that will involve working partnerships - then join us on twitter @gendermattersza and @mediamattersza as MMA facilitates this debate and dialogue with the aim to bring women's issues back on the agenda.

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