Media is key in championing women's rights, empowerment

The media has played a crucial role in shaping public discourse, amplifying women's voices and catalysing legal and policy reforms. [iStockphoto]

As the world observes this year's International Women's Day, it serves as an important moment of reflection on the strides made towards gender equality and inclusion.

At the same time, it ignites a call for sustained action. Despite witnessing an increase in the representation of women in elective positions, achieving gender parity remains elusive.

Women are underrepresented in decision-making roles, with systemic barriers propelled by patriarchy and misogyny persisting across various industries, leading to premature exits from the workforce.

One of the most pressing challenges facing women in Kenya today is gender-based violence (GBV), which remains prevalent despite years of advocacy.

GBV knows no boundaries, affecting women of all ages, backgrounds, and social statuses. From domestic violence and sexual assault to harmful traditional practices like female genital mutilation, women continue to bear the brunt of this pervasive human rights violation.

The alarming rise in cases of femicide and online and physical violence, underscores the urgent need for action. Attaining the two-thirds gender principle is also crucial.

Though the current landscape may appear less ideal, significant progress has indeed been achieved in elevating women's issues and advancing women’s rights.

Amidst these challenges, the media has emerged as a powerful ally in championing women's empowerment and advocacy. Through its various platforms encompassing radio, television, print, and digital, the media has played a crucial role in shaping public discourse, amplifying women's voices and catalysing legal and policy reforms.

By raising awareness and driving advocacy for change, media platforms are instrumental in propelling the women's rights movement forward and influencing policy. The media serves as a key driver of public awareness of critical issues affecting women.

Investigative journalism exposes cases of gender-based violence, and discriminatory practices such as FGM, compelling conversations and demanding accountability from authorities as well as pushing for the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule. 

Documentaries and reports showcasing the struggles and triumphs of women leaders, activists, and entrepreneurs have helped to spark dialogues on achieving gender equality. The intersectionality of gender with other factors such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and disability further exacerbates disparities, leaving marginalised women even more vulnerable to exclusion and discrimination.

Addressing these systemic inequalities requires a concerted effort to dismantle patriarchal structures, promote women's leadership, and create enabling environments for their participation in governance at all levels. In addition to awareness creation, the media plays a crucial role in empowering women by providing a platform for their voices and stories to be heard.

Women make use of various outlets such as television and panel interviews, talk shows, podcasts, and online forums to tell their stories, highlight their manifestos, and report on development issues. Female journalists and storytellers have shared their unique perspectives, experiences, and voices, fostering a sense of community and empowering collective action.

By utilising tools like radio listening groups, allies of women’s rights such as the men's engagement forums, organisations like the Association of Media Women in Kenya (Amwik) have successfully implemented behavioural change initiatives. Additionally, media coverage of women inspiring progressive change across different fields challenges existing gender stereotypes.

The media has been instrumental in advocating for legal and policy changes that affect women's rights. Civil society has leveraged media platforms to campaign for legislative reforms on issues like GBV, sexual and reproductive health and rights, women's leadership and governance, and equitable land ownership. Recently, civil society organisations called for quick resolution of GBV cases and establishment of special GBV courts and Policare in police stations.

Investigative reporting has shed light on areas needing reforms and holds authorities accountable on women's rights. For example, documentaries focusing on the challenges faced by teenage mothers during the Covid-19 pandemic sparked conversations that attracted the attention of key stakeholders in the education and health sectors.

Community media stations have been critical tools used to advance women's participation in local politics and development, easily engaging with their constituents. These stations have raised awareness, facilitated dialogue on critical women's rights issues. They have also connected women to essential resources in the national and international spaces. 

In the digital field, social media platforms have emerged as powerful tools for women to connect, share experiences, organise movements, and amplify their voices on a global scale. The #MeToo movement, for instance, had a profound global impact, shedding light on the prevalence of sexual harassment.

However, women’s participation in social media platforms is under threat from abuse, gendered disinformation and misinformation, doxing and deep fake, hence clawing back on the gains made towards inspiring inclusion in previous years. Despite the undeniable contributions of the media to advancing women's rights in Kenya, challenges persist. Limited access to resources, sexual harassment, and training for female journalists, particularly in community media, poses obstacles to storytelling. Gender biases and stereotypes within the media itself can perpetuate harmful narratives and underrepresent women's stories. 

Increased inclusion of women in leadership positions across all divides is essential to ensure a more balanced and representative society that champions the rights of women inspiring inclusion.

The writer is Acting Executive Director, Amwik.