Pakistan recently held an election. Out of a population of more than 207 million people, there are 106 million registered voters, and about 44.1% of those are women.
Unfortunately, you'd never know that women participated in Pakistan's civil society, never mind in the democratic process. Taking a look at the sprawling coverage on global media giants such as Al Jazeerah, BBC, The New York Times, or The Guardian, and apart from the stray image of fully veiled women lining a sandy street, presumably on the way to the ballot box, women's voices and their participation in what is heralded as only the second democratic transition of power in 70 years - is largely absent. And that's an abhorrent mess.
|Women in Rawalpindi queue to vote in Pakistan's general elections in 2013. Photo by: Rachel Clayton / DFID|
In 2018, global media firms have an obligation to two unbelievably simple, yet consistently missed objectives: targeted reporting on issues of women's empowerment and gender equality, and mainstreaming gender throughout all aspects of their business and journalism at large: from workplace policies to visual representation of women in media coverage. It's not difficult. It's adhering to principles of basic human rights and equality. And yet, out of 207 million people in Pakistan, the global coverage reinforced the traditional stereotype of women absent from political life or influence in the country.
This matters more than you think. Sure, there are more women newscasters and writers, but coverage of national and global events remains, predominantly all male. Media giants can do a few key things to right these wrongs - and, yes, there are even some who have.
1. Stop making it a women's issue.
Yes, there are key issues that are predominantly women and girl's issues (sexual and gender-based violence, both in the developed and developing worlds - lest we forget, we've not solved that one, women's absence from spheres of decision-making and power, that seemingly unshatterable glass ceiling, sparse access to sexual and reproductive health and rights - including abortion and issues of access to abortion, the cost of sexual and gender-based violence on women's economic empowerment, unequal access to opportunities and resources, the undervaluing of women's work in the home and the burden of care, persisting lax laws on rape and sexual violence, structural discrimination and sexism, the gendered aspect of women in conflict zones ... you get it?). And by the way, the word issues is not the problem here - its the dominant violence, value systems and patriarchal structures that are of concern. But media giants can choose two approaches to reporting: they can conduct reporting as if women are a subset of humanity, second-class citizens, or they can report with the understanding that women have equal value, are holders of human rights and have particular needs and, thus, particular rights because of their sex.
Continuously minimizing and degrading this type of reporting reinforces the idea that women's issues are unimportant, and that men have no role to play nor do they benefit from women realizing their rights or having their needs addressed. This is lazy reporting. Global data sets reveal that the more equal societies are, the less likely conflict is to erupt. The more women participate in peacebuilding, the more sustainable peace will be. Countries with the most gender equal and empowering policies on rights, family leave and child care are also the ones with the highest levels of happiness and social cohesion. Media must begin reporting with the understanding that women's issues are issues that affect communities, economies, development, global systems.
2. If its broken, stop whining and fix it.
Yes, any change is difficult. But structural change from within should not only break down the old ways of doing, but build up the new. So it takes a little longer to find the women's organizations in Pakistan who can provide you with data on registered voters - find them. Establish relationships. So you're not acquainted with the Women's Commissions that can point out the key women's issues at stake in the elections or why registering women in particular regions has been difficult, or which feminist grassroots movements have had the most success - so what? Do the work. Factor in a few more days. Women are equal beings of value that participate in the political process, and this is especially true to represent in countries that devalue women. The democratic arena is not just reserved for men, no matter how conservative some parts of Pakistan and other countries might be.