By Daisy Jeremani

Gender Links (GL) and the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance (SAGPA) held #Voice and Choice Summits in 15 Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries from June to September 2019.

GL is a prominent southern African women’s rights organisation recognised for promoting the link between gender and media in the region.  It is headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa and is active in 15 Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries including Zimbabwe.  The SAGPA is a regional “network of networks” that championed the adoption of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

The GL summits were held in Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

The objectives of the#Voice and Choice conventions include:

  • To gather evidence on #VoiceandChoice through case studies on action, leadership and institutional practise.
  • To acknowledge and affirm survivors of gender violence who are reclaiming their lives.
  • To establish new baseline scores for the Centres of Excellence for Gender in Local Government in line with the Agenda 2030 SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.
  • To promote discussion and reflection on what works to achieve gender equality and justice.

There are 14 awards that would be presented at a regional summit scheduled for Johannesburg, South Africa from 25 -27 November.  The event is meant to coincide with the start of the Sixteen Days of Activism on Violence Against Women.   Among the awards is the #VoiceandChoice Media Award. 

As part of the #VoiceandChoice campaign, GL has expanded its media training on gender violence, HIV and AIDS to include sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) more broadly.

Under the media award, GL seeks toenhancemedia coverage of SRHR from a human rights perspective including coverage that challenges discriminatory social norms and stereotypes. This coverage is also meant to hold government, private sector and civil society accountable for implementing SRHR commitments.  In addition, it is designed to raise awareness on the SRHR SADC Strategy, SRHR provisions in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development Protocol and related instruments.

GL indicates that the media is critical in setting the agenda and influencing the nature and direction of public opinion.  It believes that media is an indispensable partner in the development agenda especially in mobilising public participation and raising awareness on different issues. 

However, the lobby organisation has observed a number of gaps in media coverage of SRHR issues, hence the inclusion of the media award among them 14 whose winners will be announced in November. A total of 40 stories were published on menstrual health, maternal health, comprehensive sexual education and services, child marriages, teenage pregnancies, safe and legal abortion, HIV and AIDS, sexual diversity and gender-based violence.

“Media coverage of SRHR issues is minimal,” says GL. “This may be because of lack of understanding and the many cultural sensitivities arising from SRHR, which then inhibits media representation of the issues. In sub-Saharan African media, coverage of reproductive health issues is poor due to weak capacity and low motivation for reporting these issues on the part of media practitioners. It is important for the media to engage with them as they provide the conduit between the general public and the policy agenda on all such issues.

The media is also critical to raising awareness among the public about SRHR issues and women’s access to and control of sexual and reproductive health rights. The media does need to go beyond informing and educating to analysing and providing critical assessments. It also needs to tap into its advocacy and watchdog roles when reporting on health.”

It hopes that the media award will help improve media coverage of women issues and deepen public understanding of their concerns.