Freedom of Expression and Gender Equality

 Sarah Macharia, Ph.D. on May 02, 2016

Insights from the Global Media Monitoring Project

A reflection for World Press Freedom Day 2016

The logo for the 2016 World Press Freedom Day suggests a state of access to Freedom of Expression in which gender, race, and other identity differences do not determine enjoyment of the right to “hold opinion without interference, to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media” (Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Yet, securing women's right to freedom of expression is an uphill struggle, learning from the findings of the Global Media Monitoring Project 1995-2015. As noted in the 2010 Tenth Anniversary Joint Declaration of the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression, "equal enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression remains elusive, and historically disadvantaged groups – including women, minorities, refugees, indigenous peoples and sexual minorities – continue to struggle to have their voices heard and to access information of relevance to them".

Often unvoiced is that the right to freedom of expression is bound up in media freedom. Struggles for media freedom frequently take place in an absence of considerations of the freedom of expression of the public that the media intend to serve, notably in the case of mainstream media.

From a feminist perspective, the debate needs to begin from an understanding of the gendered division of power if access to this right is to be secured for groups whose issues and voices have systemically been excluded from the conversations. Structural change at State, media industry and societal levels is urgent. The GMMP 2015 action plan to end news media sexism (see Chapter 6 in the global report) outlines a way forward, including a civil society-led intervention global advocacy campaign for media policy and practice change, media reform and to cultivate critical audiences.

To quote Divina Frau-Meigs (UNESCO/WSIS, 2013) “Journalism as a profession runs the risk of being cut out of the media value chain, if public interest and freedom of expression are not brought into the equation.”

Gender equality is not just a matter of justice or democracy; it is an economic necessity. (Nordic Cooperation Programme on Gender Equality 2015-2018). Media gender inequality will continue to seep into, inform and reinforce gender inequality in all other areas of lived experience, until the fundamental right to freedom of expression for women and subordinated groups is truly and firmly secured.

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May 02, 2016

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Beijing +20: In my opinion...

The most important contribution that the Beijing Platform for Action has made to advancing gender equality in and through the media is:

Setting global standards to which governments and the media can be held accountable
Bringing coherence to and greater understanding of civil society initiatives on gender, women and media
Raising the profile of work on 'women and media' as important for addressing gender inequalities in women's lived experiences.

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