“More women are involved in careers in the communications sector, but few have attained positions at the decision-making level or serve on governing boards and bodies that influence media policy. The lack of gender sensitivity in the media is evidenced by the failure to eliminate the gender-based stereotyping that can be found in public and private local, national and international media organizations” (para 235, p. 99 , BPFA)
“The continued projection of negative and degrading images of women in media communications – electronic, print, visual and audio – must be changed. Print and electronic media in most countries do not provide a balanced picture of women’s diverse lives and contributions to society in a changing world. In addition, violent and degrading or pornographic media products are also negatively affecting women and their participation in society. Programming that reinforces women’s traditions roles can be equally limiting. The world-wide trend towards consumerism has created a climate in which advertisements and commercial messages often portray women primarily as consumers and target girls and women of all ages inappropriately.” (para 236, p. 99, BPFA)
Women continue to have limited participation and access to decision-making in the communications industry and in governing bodies that influence media policy. Women experience barriers in accessing new information and communication technologies as well as employment in these industries. Negative and stereotyped representations of women in the media continue while the cultural diversity and varying realities of women’s lives remains absent from media representations of women.
Just as in the Beijing + 5 review, the Beijing + 10 review noted the portrayal of young women and girls in the media was resulting in serious physical and mental health issues amongst girls, young women and women.
However, the overarching concern raised in the Beijing + 10 regional review was that in the years since the Beijing Conference, the women’s movements have done their share in implementing the BPFA and in some countries have made an impact on national policies, industry wide codes of conduct and media practices. Access to the global media has brought both positive and negative impact on these efforts and in turn has brought about new challenges. The convergence of traditional media and new ICTs is a potential force for leveraging and expanding political, social and economic spaces and in increasing individual agency and public participation. The Internet has provided an empowering political space for women, including those living under repressive and fundamentalist regimes. Women’s organisations were the first to maximise these new spaces to mobilise support, strengthen South-South networking and advance dialogue on women’s rights and empowerment.
Communication rights for women must be recognised to mean not just freedom of speech and opinion, but the right of access to information on matters of public interest as well as access to public means of disseminating information. They also consist in the right to a safe environment in which participation, tolerance and respect make real communication possible. The language used in mass media and ICT sector, coupled with a low level of education and literacy of the majority of women in the South, prevents many women from communicating and accessing information. In other societies, social controls emanating from family, tribal, religious and other factors also serve as obstacles to the realisation of women’s communication rights.
Digital technology has changed the parameters of military warfare and armed conflict. It has become an invasive weapon that threatens the privacy, security and human rights of the individual citizen. Censorship and filtering mechanisms, however, are increasingly deployed to control online content published, disseminated and mirrored by women and women’s rights advocates.
In the Beijing + 10 reviews, it was recognised that this critical area was one of the fastest expanding and growing of all areas. Technological expansion had greatly increased in the 5 years since the last review.
It was recognised that there had been gains via increased monitoring and analysis of women’s representation in the news, as well as in the mass media organisations. More women’s groups had used the results of monitoring research to lobby government and media councils in their countries for the development of effective self-regulatory codes on gender-sensitive reporting and media portrayals. Media education was enhancing the capacity of audiences, especially the young to talk back to media. Many women media practitioners had made considerable impact on media’s coverage of women’s issues and representation of women’s views, and more women were in key positions of power, but this still constituted a small minority. Gender equality advocates were at the time of the Beijing + 10 review working closely with civil society to ensure that gender issues in ICTs were understood and remained on the main agenda of governments and other relevant fora such as the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Significantly, new feminist perspectives on the inter-linkages of media and ICTs with economic globalization, fundamentalism and militarism had begun to inform women’s activism.
However, male domination of mass media prevailed. Women media practitioners continued to experience discrimination in various forms: sexual harassment, lack of job security, low wage and limited opportunities. Two global media monitoring projects (World Association for Christian Communications 1995 and 2000) showed that women’s representation in the news hardly changed in the intervening years. Results of monitoring studies in the Asia Pacific region were used to stimulate interest in the development of new regulatory codes and policies on women’s representation in the media but women had yet to see effective implementation and positive results. Cultural barriers to women’s education and related taboos served to censor women’s communication and women’s access to information and lack of cultural, religious and racial diversity in the content of mass media and the Internet prevailed.
It was noted that the increasing concentration of global media ownership had led to difficulties in ensuring media accountability. In the ICT sector, the dominance of multinational corporations in technology development is making it more difficult for developing countries to maximise their potential for economic and social development.
The benefits of ICTs are unevenly spread between and within countries, deepening the gender divide, as well as the class and North-South divide among women. Women in the South and in rural areas are least able to access new ICTs. In general women have not been able to participate in technological development, as well as in policy formulation at the global, regional and national levels. ICT spaces have also been used to further exploit women and to perpetuate stereotypical roles and images.