Women politicians urged to use media effectively during elections

By Nhau Mangirazi

HARARE- Women politicians were challenged to use media effectively as they pursue political life fighting gender bias and stereotypes ahead of well publicised weekend by elections whose results have now been made public. Gender Media Connect (GMC) an organisation run by media women hosted an online meeting under the title Role of Media in election as a point of access to information to women

Speakers who presented papers during an online meeting on Thursday ahead of weekend by elections called on a truce between media and women so that they are reports are done positively while they build confidence, fighting the public space.

Sunday Mail editor Victoria Ruzvidzo said media has extended an olive branch to women in general so that their views can be aired but some have spurned the offer.‘‘The election mood is challenging, sensitive and exciting times though the pre election, election period and post election where media’s role is of significance importance.    Women are still lagging behind in using media as an access for information dissemination yet media plays a crucial role before during and after election. ‘‘Women need confidence building through interacting with media on both local and international global scopes as we head to by elections and next year’s harmonized elections,’’ said Ruzvidzo.She recommended that media must be ‘proactive in promoting gender equality without bias’ and stereotype of yesteryear. 

Occupying media space

‘‘Even though women have been placed below men as sources of news, we challenge females to come on board so that they can occupy the media space.  We need to appreciate that women can occupy the political and economical space by using the media. It is the role of the media to interrogate election process including pre election, election and post election period for citizens to be well informed,’’ she added.

However, Ruzvidzo expressed concern on how women have not been cooperating to be part of sources as potential candidates politically.

‘‘We challenge women politicians to use various media platforms around the country be it mainstream, private and online channels to air out their views. I recommend that we must practice gender equality through analyzing how women have been covered regularly to enhance our coverage of women issues,’’ said Ruzvidzo.

She bemoaned the lack of gender policies in newsrooms that has affected some female journalists suffering from sexual abuse.  Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) media information officer Emilia Bundo said social media has played a role in molding politicians.She presented a paper on Social media and women political participation.

‘‘Social media has become increasingly popular tool of communication and sharing of information. It has changed the political landscape by affording those in positions of leadership a chance to engage directly with the people they represent in parliament and local authorities.

‘‘This in turn has impacted on electoral process by changing the channels used by citizens and voters to obtain information. Of late, Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) has also used social media platforms to engage on the electoral management issues.Similarly social media has increased access to information through engagement with supporters.

In 2018 elections, the internet played a critical role in political discourse. Civil society organization used such platforms for voters education, mobilization as well as online debates reaching a wide segment to with access to the internet,’’ she said.

Abusive social media-Bundo

Bundo said the social media is abused for smear campaigns.‘‘Unfortunately, some took advantage in smear campaigns and misinformation through social media in order to manipulate public opinion. Some of the mainstream media fell on the trap on disinformation. There was unprecedented dissemination of fake news dehumanizing of individuals by influential personalities. Social media become a toxic platform for hate speech targeting women in leadership positions. Social media did not serve as an equalizer for women politicians to advance their participation in politics as they shied away.

‘‘Inasmuch as social media is good, it can be a hostile space for women in politics due to increased attacks and limited restitutions to harassment, defamation and threats through ghost account that cyber bully victims willingly. There is a lot of sexism and comments that exposes women as sex objects that has forced many to stay away from the political arena,’’ said Bundo. 

She recommended that social media is the new norm that everyone must embrace, hence need to profile women.‘Both social and mainstream media can positively demystify gender stereotypes, break the bias and discrimination against women as media shapes political discourse in Zimbabwe and abroad. We need to do better through social media as part of a new norm of life,’’ Bundo added.Bundo bemoaned that since social media is not regulated giving some suspects to go away with murder hence. 

Ranga Mberi, a media expert with ZimFact said people are living in a difficulty and tricky condition where everyone is now a news source.Politician do lie- Mberi

‘‘The biggest challenge is to find who is a credible source and not a fake one before you disseminate the stories as mainstream media. We fact check elections as politicians really lie doing it for a living. Politicians when in front of people tell lies advancing their trade and its imperative that journalist and fact checkers to call them out of their lies with credible facts. Fact checking is done to maintain the integrity of election process, accountability among other issues. We target disinformation, misinformation and mal-information so that the truth remain as such,’’ said Mberi       

Media trainer and broadcaster John Masuku who facilitated the zoom meeting said the media plays a critical role in the developing of women in their fight for equity in the political landscape to participate in the elections.

‘‘The role of media is critical as it gives information, public educator, watchdog, campaign platform and forum for debate. It is important that women can access the media as a facility to enhance and participate in political elections,’’ said Masuku.

Women beyond voters

‘‘When we talk about women in elections we are no longer talking about them as voters but as candidates as we are increasingly having a number of women candidates participating in elections. Media plays a role through radio, television, newspapers and social platforms where women can prove to the development of communities they come from and nation at large. It is important that women receive results vote counting so that they are satisfied with the whole electoral. Access to information will make women be able to scrutinize candidates and why he or she did not make it where they had weaknesses and strength to improve in future. ‘‘Profiling of women in parliament has added value to women parliamentarians’’ said Masuku.

He added that there is need to encourage the girl child through positive reportage.‘’Progressive work of women in communities can prop them into politics and leadership positions. It is better to use licensed community radio stations and community newspapers,’’ concluded Masuku.

The online meeting was attended by both media, civic organizations that promote women rights, elections and development across the country and abroad