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The New Times – Rwanda
By: Allan Brian Ssenyonga
This year’s International Women’s Day was celebrated around the world under the theme #BalanceForBetter. It is important to note that it was not written as previous themes that would have a phrase with quotation marks.
A few years back it would have been “Balance for Better” but this being 2019 the power of a hashtag can no longer be overemphasised. We are indeed living in a digital world.
For those still behind the times, a hashtag is the way content on social media sites can be tagged and therefore made easy to find by others especially those not so tech savvy to navigate the sea of information that we are now faced with.
All you do is place the number or the US pound sign or hash symbol (#) before a word or unspaced phrase which makes it a hyperlink. So, this year’s theme is one that was smartly designed so that many contribute and be part of the discussion.
The theme was aimed at gender equality, a greater awareness of discrimination and a celebration of women’s achievements around the world. In essence it is a call to action for all of us to play a role in balancing the genders in our midst.
On this day, we have gotten used to celebrations taking place across the world, media reminding us of the importance of women in society and of course the corporate world showing off the women in their ranks.
A colleague of mine, Collins Mwai described the day as one that has been reduced to a visibility stunt for the corporate world. They soon go back to their default settings that keep women marginalised.
They will show off nice graphics to celebrate women but the next day you are more likely to find a boardroom full of men with women only coming to serve tea and place mineral water bottles before the ‘important’ men.
Many times, the media especially in this region has faced the wrath of gender conscious people on what has come to be known as “manels” or panels that have only men. It is quite common to see talk shows on TV and even on radio where the moderator and the several other people in the room are men. In fact, often even the folks behind the cameras will be men most of the time.
Obviously, this is a very imbalanced representation of our society. Women are the majority in most countries and it is sheer unfairness and laziness for them not to be part of such spaces.
It is also common that voices the media relies on for most stories tend to be those of men. Women largely feature when a reporter goes to a market for example. And yet women can be found in almost all spheres of life.
The media shapes most of the perceptions we have about the world and this means it has a crucial role to play in altering and shaping mindsets for the better. From an early age child pick a lot from what they see on TV or hear on radio.
We cannot be raising another generation that thinks political or social talk shows on TV are specifically for men only. We need to do better as media.
Of course, as a media person and one who has sat on such shows before, I know for a fact that there are structural issues that media people face to get women on the set. I know a producer who contacts women and they all turn him down.
Sometimes it is because they are shy and do not want to be seen as ‘vocal’ on national TV, other times the shows happen when the same women are consumed by family or domestic work.
The challenges just call for more efforts to balance for better. The media cannot afford to fail at this for it will be failing society in general.
It should go the extra mile to ensure women and women’s views are well represented so as to show the rest of the society that women belong right where the men have dominated for years. Media managers must preoccupy themselves with finding solutions to this problem of equal representation.
Whether through incentives or simply better planning of their productions, something has to be done by the media to fully present women in what they do. And this has to be a real plan not “as part of celebrations to mark Women’s Day.” Media should lead the way to #BalanceForBetter.