A diverse team from the Global UN South Africa, the GIZ – Partnerships for Prevention of Violence against Women and Girls programme (PfP), government spokespeople, and members of the media came together to discuss the role of the media industry in spreading the message against gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa. Many members of the South African Media attended the virtual statement which was hosted on Zoom. Members present were Nada Wotshela, representing South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) radio and channel Africa, as well as Kate Skinner, the Executive Director of The South African National Editor’s Forum (SANEF).
Anne Githuku-Shongwe, the representative for UN Women’s South Africa Multi-Country Office (SAMCO), explained that the media and creative industry in South Africa is “a key sector that is often overlooked. These industries hold the power to influence how we view ourselves and society at large” and challenged the media to both “scale up their focus on women’s rights and gender equality issues through high-quality coverage and editorial decisions” as well as look within their institutions and implement more “gender-sensitive corporate practices” within the media itself.
Shongwe also discussed that societal norms and stereotypes have not changed in South Africa and that the media continues to broadcast these stereotypes. She also mentioned that the realities of lack of services, like water and sanitation, keeps many women from going to school. This sentiment was supported by Commissioner Tamara Mathebula, Chairperson of the Commission for Gender Equality, who said that South Africa needs to overcome the challenges of a lack of safety and the prevalence of a patriarchal society. Commissioner Mathebula also said that the media plays a critical role in overcoming the challenges, as the type of reporting available influences people’s thoughts and reactions to GBV. She challenged the SA media to be a voice for the voiceless.
According to Shongwe, if South Africa continues to change at its current pace, it will take 250 years for women to be safe. She highlighted five key areas of change that need to move at a faster pace:
- Gender based violence
- Economic justice
- Climate justice
- Generation equality
- Bodily autonomy and reproductive rights
One of the ways reporting can assist this change is to use gender sensitive reporting, through educating reporters. Instead of using patriarchal language like ‘protect our women’, reporters should see women as human beings outside of their relationship to men. The language used in news can bias readers against the victims of GBV. Shongwe also mentions how toxic masculinity and rape culture pervades how GBV is reported, to the point where GBV has been normalised as a daily occurrence in our society.
Carol Bouwer, CEO Carol Bouwer Productions, suggested that the burden of gender-sensitive reporting should not only be covered by women, and that women are not victims, but “victors at the helm of solutions”. She further suggested that the media can fight GBV by “covering stories in their fullness” and providing accountability after the initial stories have disappeared from the public eye. Portia Kobue, a journalist involved in GBV reporting, reiterated this sentiment, saying that journalists need to rethink their routine of “chasing sensationalism” and should “look deeper” into the story. She said to be able to do this, journalists should be trained and equipped to use gender-sensitive language and also to research and tell a story while breaking the current norms of reporting.
Producer Layla Swart, whose ground-breaking filmmaking has created one of the largest series in South Africa (Blood Psalms), pointed out that the government has the money to implement changes for the coronavirus pandemic, but has been ignoring the shadow pandemic of GBV. She says she has seen how in theory, women are supported, but as a female producer, she has not seen any kind of support on a practical level. She said that the media being able to support female actors and producers is important, but it will require systemic changes within the media landscape itself, before the media itself can create content that will empower South African women.
Component Manager for the PfP program, Joan Moeketsi, said that this statement was a way of bringing South African media stakeholders together so that they can “play a more conscious role in preventing the scourge of GBV and discrimination built upon unhealthy gender stereotypes”.
Illustration: Marchall Potgieter