Speech by the Minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, at the Transformation, Gender and the Media Dialogue
19 Oct 2009
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you very much for the invitation to participate in this dialogue. It is very encouraging that we are making an effort as a society to engage on this critical issue of gender and transformation. Thank you very much to all the organisations that worked together to make this dialogue possible in particular the Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa). We certainly need not forget our difficult history including that infamous Black Wednesday when the apartheid government banned three publications on the 19th of October 1977.
Programme Director, let me first take this opportunity to briefly describe how we are structuring the new Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities so that there is no dialogue about whether we are able to effectively champion gender issues in the midst of other responsibilities that we have been entrusted with by our President.
We acknowledge fully that this Ministry has been established primarily as a result of the struggles of women of our country. We also acknowledge that there are many challenges facing children and persons with disability that require an appropriate political vehicle for them to be addressed.
In fact there are many points of convergence amongst these three focus groups. The challenges of violence and abuse are facing both women and girl children. Girl child's challenges in accessing education translate to lack of skills and exclusion from economic opportunities for women. Women with disabilities are women too and they are faced with even more challenges of gender discrimination.
In establishing the new department, we have ensured that there is sufficient capacity to address separately the specific interests of each of these groups with separate components dealing with each of the three groups. Each of these components will be headed by a senior official at the level of a Deputy Director-General. These officials will ensure liaison with all stakeholders and champion the interests of each of these groups throughout government.
My responsibility is to provide the political oversight and policy direction and ensure that all the three elements do indeed address the matters affecting Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities. We will ensure that none of the focus groups is compromised as a result of an overemphasis on another group, both in terms of resource allocation and programme implementation.
Programme Director, let me come back to the subject of today which is transformation, gender and the media. The case of Caster Semenya provides a clear demonstration of how some of the media still undermine women with no regard for their human and gender rights. We know how the Australian media started the whole issue about her gender testing, and the pressure put on this young girl on the eve of her championship race. We know of the subsequent leaks of the results which were published with no consideration of the internationally established principle of confidentiality of medical records.
Closer to home, we had a radio presenter suspended for very unfortunate comments made about Caster. We had a Daily Sun headline which read: Prove you're not a boy! We had You Magazine publishing pictures of Caster with make up, dresses and all the things that patriarchy tells us a woman should look like. How should women look like anyway? Can we not accept that women can come in all shapes and sizes? Should sportsmen who look feminine be tested too?
This story also exposed our weaknesses in the understanding of gender issues. Many media practitioners struggled with the difference between sex and gender. When the word hermaphrodite was introduced again by the Australian media, we all ran for the internet encyclopaedia and Wikipedia to find the definition.
There is certainly no justification for the injustices that some of the media have subjected Caster to. We can blame those who mistreated her and leaked medical information, but that will never justify editorial decisions to publish such information.
At the end of the day, it is the choice of every media institution to publish information that has been provided by sources who in most cases have a direct interest on the subject. No one has helped us to understand the interest of the news sources behind the Caster Semenya story. All we know is that the harm caused by these stories is irreparable.
For me as a consumer of media, the questions on this subject are simple:
* What necessitated the test, whether it was done locally or abroad?
* Was there informed consent?
* What exactly is being considered to determine sex? Is this testing structured to differentiate only between two sexes?
* How transparent is this process to the person being tested?
* Why was the basic rule of confidentiality of medical consultation not followed in the whole thing?
I just hope that the International Association of Athletics Associations (IAAF) will be better prepared to handle the end of this process and not further exacerbate the harm and disregard for human dignity that has happened so far. The demand is simple and clear, the IAAF should declare the gender verification tests results null and void because this whole process was not conducted in line with their own stated policies and rules.
Programme Director, there have been some positive media developments out of this issue. Some local media have played a positive role in mobilising support for Caster and that has to be acknowledged. The Advertising Standard Authority ruling on the Teazers Club billboards is also encouraging. Coincidentally, this organisation shares the same acronym as Athletics South Africa – that is ASA.
The Advertising Standard Authority has made a couple of other encouraging decisions on advertising that exploits, demean and objectify women. I remember it withdrawing the Sexpo billboards as an example. We certainly have to encourage that.
We need to open up the debate to more areas than just news reporting and advertising. How do we influence soap operas, for instance, to stop re-enforcing various stereotypes around women and their role in society? How do we increase the number of women voices across all media?
How can we get more women into the technical side of media production and not limit them to the role of television presenters? You sit at home and see how cameramen zoom in on women they have interest on because of their looks and so on. They track them down in a soccer stadium full of thousands of people and zoom in on them. I hope as we get more women editors such practices might change.
The target of 50/50 gender equity is not limited only to Parliament. It applies to the media as well. I see in the programme that there is going to be a presentation on issues of ownership and control as well as Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment within the media. I will therefore not dwell much on that.
Suffice to say that the Ministry of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities is in the process of developing a legislative framework to guide and speed up the process towards the attainment of 50/50 gender parity amongst all institutions of our society – public and private. Increased representation of women in decision-making positions in the media should positively influence gender sensitivity of media content.
Programme Director, I cannot conclude without talking briefly about the triple burden of oppression faced particularly by black women of our country. That is the inter-linkages between race, class and gender. I am glad that on the programme there is presentation on racism and the media. Reversal of the impact of 300 years of colonialism and apartheid is a task that will remain our responsibility for a long time.
I wish we had included the class angle to this subject as well. As independent and objective media practitioners, we cannot portray workers and their unions as people who have less understanding of economics and who make unreasonable demands in the mist of a recession. We need to make an effort to understand where the workers are coming from and why they are demanding such things as the abolition of labour brokers and so on. If we talk belt-tightening, that should be applicable across the board including CEOs, shareholders and within government.
The story for me that demonstrates the inter-linkages of race, class and gender is that of the incident of racism at the University of Free State. I was amazed to read that it was only last week in the British Sunday Times that we heard comments from the four black women cleaners who were made to eat what is believed to be dog food urinated on by white male students.
Yes, we have discussed this story from a racial perspective. But we did not do much about the class background of the students which reinforced their perception of superiority over the cleaning workers. I have no doubt that the gender of these workers also contributed to their vulnerability to abuse. Maybe the media could have done more to give us a perspective of these individuals as working mothers.
One of these workers, Laukaziemma Koko, who had worked at the University for 21 years recalls the first day she started working at that institution. She is quoted in the British Sunday Times as saying and I quote:
"The rules came as a shock. I had to call the young men, the students, kleinbaas, and before each shift I had to scrub my hands clean and then put on rubber gloves. I could never take them off on campus. If I touched a student's food with bare hands, I was told, I would be fired."
That is the experience of a black woman worker. That is the memory of a mother who had to call students who are young enough to be her sons, kleinbaas. I hope that as this matter goes back to court on 26 October as planned, we would be able to reflect on these other elements of our social relations in our reporting.
We have to continue with the process of nation building. The media has a critical role to play in exposing incidents of racial and gender discrimination that still manifest themselves in various forms in our society. But it can only do that if the media itself engages in the process of gender and racial transformation.
We have to accept that we have all been affected by institutionalised racism and patriarchy. Our commitment to democracy can only be demonstrated by full engagement in the process of transformation with those who have been at the receiving end of racism and patriarchy. Their voices have to be heard and their perspective understood.
You should rest assured as you continue with this dialogue that under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma, there shall be no "Black Wednesday". This government is fully committed to human rights as entrenched in our Constitution. And freedom of the media is one of the critical pillars of a healthy democratic society that people of our land fought and died for.
Thank you for your attention and I am looking forward to the outcomes of this dialogue which will support the transformation process.
Issued by: Ministry of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities
19 October 2009
Issued by: Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities
19 Oct 2009
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