Why media freedom, freedom of expression matters in achieving gender equality

ANALYSTS argue that a free press is essential to the functioning of a fair, equal and accountable society, as majority women have a lot to express and share when Freedom of Expression (FOE) and media freedom are guaranteed.

The freedom of expression for women and their consequent access to justice is, however, impeded when reporting is inaccurate, improperly censored, intrusive and distorts the context of violence against women and girls.

One of the recent interesting quotes from the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, when celebrating the World Press Day, observed that the persistence of gender stereotypes and discrimination in the media remains one of the major overall challenges to women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Another fascinating statement was made by the renowned first African leader after the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa, the late Nelson Mandela, “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference”.

Mandela also explained that the press must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials, “It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”

As part of the Beijing Platform for Action, signed by 189 governments in 1995, governments committed to “promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.” The media was encouraged to:

Develop, consistent with freedom of expression, professional guidelines and codes of conduct and other forms of self-regulation to promote the presentation of non-stereotyped images of women; and develop a gender perspective on all issues of concern to communities, consumers and civil society; and to.

Establish, consistent with freedom of expression, professional guidelines, and codes of conduct that address violent, degrading or pornographic materials concerning women in the media, including advertising

Backed by these interesting quotes and the Beijing Action Plan, stakeholders led by the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA)- Zanzibar are praying to authorities to have new media law (s) that will, among other issues, promote gender equality as regards to FOE and media freedom.

Although the lobbying for new media laws has existed for more than a decade, the move got a refreshed push by the obvious willingness of both Union President Dr Samia Suluhu Hassan and her Zanzibar counterpart Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi to ensure gender equality, freedom of expression and media freedom.

in a meeting held on 7-8 February this year in Zanzibar to discuss media laws, the attendees, journalists highlighted the need for the proposed new media law to emphasize gender inclusiveness and equality as prerequisite in attaining development including achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The journalist’s meetings on ‘FOE & Media freedom’ was initiated by the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA)- Zanzibar with support from USAID, SWISS-AID, and Internews under the ‘Boresha Habari- USAID/Tanzania Media and Civil Society Strengthening’ Project.

They discussed the current media laws: the ‘Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission (amendment) Act No 1 of 2010’; and the Registration of news agents, Newspapers and books Act of 1988 and amended in 1997’, where journalists observed that the future media laws and policies should have specific clauses to promote gender equality in news coverage, such as sources.

Under the facilitation of Mr Juma Khamis (lawyer), Ms Shifa Said Hassan, (veteran journalist from Media Council of Tanzania- MCT) and Imane Duwe (Media trainer at the State University of Zanzibar), journalists also looked at the Electoral Commission law; the political parties Act; National Security Act; and the CYBERCRIMES ACT which also need to accommodate gender equality in FOE & media freedom.

Ms Duwe urged journalists at individual level to work harder to advocate for media laws that should promote gender equality so that women are not left behind in all aspects of development, including freedom of expression (FOE) and media freedom.

President Mwinyi has repeatedly promised to consider the call from journalists to have better working environment, including laws and policies that hinder freedom of express and media freedom in the country as it has a great role to play in realizing development and anti-corruption crusade and violence against women and children.

The Zanzibar Press Club (ZPC) national chairperson, Mr Abdalla Abdulrahman Mfaume says “The media and journalists have the role and capacity to drive the required changes, including promoting gender equality as FOE and media freedom.”

Dr Mzuri Issa, Director, TAMWA- Zanzibar said journalists should be aware of the existing laws and policies to identify gaps that hinder promoting gender equality and that as Zanzibar moves towards having new media law, “Women voices shouldn’t be left out or behind.”

She thanked Presidents Samia and Mwinyi for continued improvement of media working environment and the development partners for supporting advocacy for FOE and media freedom which are vital in achieving gender equality in many aspects.

Mr Malik Shaharan, a participant and a journalist with Zanzibar Cables Television says “We do not only need new media laws and policies that provides FOE and media freedom, but that which also guarantee women voices in the media.”

The Proposed new media law for Zanzibar to replace the current laws is at different stages within the government before it is tabled in the Zanzibar House of Representatives, but stake holders, including journalists still have room to discuss and propose on how best it should be done.

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