Women still stay away from politics due to negative media reports: Gender Commission

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MEDIA’s negative projection of women politicians is discouraging others from joining the male dominated field, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission has observed.

In her opening remarks to a media sensitization workshop Zimbabwe Gender Commission Chairperson Margaret Sangarwe said the recently concluded Zanu PF primary elections painted a gloomy picture regarding the participation of women in politics.

“While the Constitution provides a set of commitments to ensure women’s active and equal participation in electoral processes, women continue to be marginalised in politics.

“This is also despite the country having adopted an engendered Constitution and ratified several international and regional frameworks which promote the equal participation of women in political and decision–making processes such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development,” Sangarwe said.

She added: “The results of the recently held Zanu PF primary elections where of the 190 candidates for National Assembly constituencies announced so far, only 21 are females (11%). This paints a gloomy picture of what to expect in the coming elections.”

According to Sangarwe, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission conducted dialogues in select districts last year in a bid to understand reasons behind reluctance by some to offer their candidacy for local government and parliamentary seats.

“One of the barriers mentioned was that women were reluctant to participate in the political space due to the negative stereotypes labelled against women candidates by the media.

“It is against this background that the Zimbabwe Gender Commission deemed it necessary to convene this dialogue with journalists,” she said adding her commission is “greatly concerned about the marginalisation of women in the media and the negative portrayal of females in news stories.”

According to the Gender Commission, research on “Gender and Media” carried out by Gender Links (2015) in all Sadc countries revealed that women’s voices are most likely to be heard in the “soft” areas.

“These include gender equality 43%, gender violence 41%, children 39%, sex and sexuality 41%. Women’s voices are least heard in topics such as sports, 12%, politics 13%, economics 15%, and mining 15%.

“The research shows that women politicians receive more coverage on their appearance, sex, private life and family life as compared to men,” the Commission said.

“These practices contradict the principle of equal treatment that should apply to both genders. If women’s presence lags behind in the coverage of politics, the risk is that topics considered as hard news continue to be associated with men and perceived as such by public opinion and voters.”

Sangarwe urged the media to try and project wen candidates the same way as their male counterparts ahead of general elections later this year. She said the media has a role to play in conveying the concerns of women politicians and link then to public concerns.

“Journalists have a role to play in identifying what those issues are and encourage politicians to speak about them.

“Among these issues is gender equality. We thus call upon all members of the media to mainstream gender in all the electoral reporting processes and to provide information that avoids inflammatory language, speaking against election-related violence, particularly against women among other things,” the Gender Commission chairperson said.