Source: Public Agenda
In Ghana, the media have made important contribution to the country's socio-political development. However, in spite of women's immense contributions to the development of democratic space, the media continue to marginalise women's concern and issues.

Safeguarding and monitoring democracy through the media is in itself important to the overall achievement of gender equality strategies to address issues of content, participation and access as outlined in the 1995 Beijing Platform of Action.

The role of the media in society, and the link between women's rights and democracy, raises several questions that must be addressed by government. These include making institutional arrangements that enable the media promote democracy and women's empowerment, being a positive influence for reducing gender, class and ethnic discrimination in society and providing access, space and voice to citizens, especially women.

Of key concern are the media's sexist and stereotypical representations of women, the neglect of issues concerning women and the nature of reporting of stories about women, especially those relating to sex crimes against them that fail to make the link between violence and power relationships.

Research has shown that a liberalised media environment, with its commercial pressures, often produces news and programmes that do not empower women or promote gender equity. The underlying commercial interests that govern the media worldwide and perpetuate the axiom that 'sex sells' are responsible for some of the common problems of women's representations. With the growth of local advertising companies and the expansion of the music and film industries, there was optimism that their outputs would be more gender sensitive and respectful of women. However, the objectification of women and their portrayal in stereotypical roles and images persist within these industries.

New Challenges

Developments in the media brought on by technological advances also pose new challenges. Many of the policies formulated around technological innovations fail to consider women's concerns. Just as the Internet is perceived as the foremost information source for the future, so also must we see it as the foremost source for the potential perpetuation of inherited hegemonic, patriarchic tendencies that must be addressed at the local level.

The Beijing Platform notes the advances in information technology as a site for action, research and monitoring. This is because the vast technology driven information superhighway has the potential for good as well as evil. The Internet, for example, allows women's groups to set up their own web pages and networks more effectively. But it can also be a source of women's denigration and exploration, as demonstrated by the exploitation of Ghanaian women on pornographic websites. That is what is called (s)exploitation.

It has been suggested that because women, particularly gender-sensitised women, have been excluded from decision-making positions within the media, negative representations of women abound and the media fail to reflect the issues and perspectives that are important to women. In Ghana, women make up less than 20 per cent of the formal workforce and less than 10 per cent of top management in the media. Thus the media, like other institutions in the country, are male dominated.


The situation has not been helped by decades of authoritarian control of the media and the victimisation of journalists. The expanding media environment resulting from Ghana's return to constitutional democracy in 1992 has only slightly improved the status quo for women. There has also been little improvement in the number of women on the boards of state-owned media organisations, and little improvement in the numbers of women employed in the Government's information apparatus.

The media's performance is also related to the ways in which governments inform citizens to enable them participate in decision-making and how governments respond to issues of concern raised by and about the media. For democracy to function not only do women need adequate information to make choices at the ballot box, but they also need adequate information to make decisions about their lives and to monitor and evaluate government policies and actions. Yet information gaps persist between women's civil society organisations and government agencies, including the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs, and between government organisations and the media.

While acknowledging the value of the newly liberalised channels of communication and information flow of fostering democracy, we believe that government and media institutions must address structural challenges relating to gender equity issues in the media.

Demands Action

We demand that government formulates and adopts a comprehensive communication and information policy that would address issues of denigrating media representation and content, and clarify issues relating to access, control, and information flow. That government, through Parliament, passes into law a gender-responsive Freedom of Information Bill to enhance access to information and ultimately benefit women and the marginalised in society. That government enacts legislation, regulations and guidelines that address concerns such as pornography and the exploitation of women raised by new information and communication technologies such as the Internet.

That government strengthens the institutions set up to regulate media content by providing adequate human and financial resources to enable them perform their functions in a manner which does not jeopardise press freedom while promoting the goals of gender sensitivity and fairness. That the National Media Commission (NMC) formulates media policies that promote the adequate representation of women and children in programming and ensures that all programmes are gender sensitive. That the NMC ensures that advertisements in electronic and other media portray women positively as creative beings, key actors and contributors to the process of development.

That the NMC implements affirmative action policies to achieve gender equality in the appointment of members of state-owned media boards and heads of these media institutions. That government alters the power dynamics in media institutions by encouraging and supporting (through scholarships and affirmative action policies) the training of more women for professional level jobs in the industry. The government and District Assemblies should champion community radio, television, newspapers and other media and information forms that give women the opportunity to participate actively in programmes that improve their well-being.

That both government and private media houses establish self-regulatory mechanisms to ensure that the music, films and advertising they use in their programmes are gender sensitive and respectful of women. That the private media take cognisance of all the demands being made of the state media and voluntarily adopt a pro-active code that promote gender sensitivity in programming and in the training and employment of women to responsible positions as their contribution to national development.

That government helps to raise awareness about some of the critical areas of concern regarding women's rights and gender equity through the media. That government strengthens the information links between itself, women's CSOs and the media.


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