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Women's Rights and the Media Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Nandita Saikia, India Oct 6, 2004
Citizen Journalism , Human Rights , Gender Equality , Media   Opinions


I've heard it said that fighting for women's rights isn't about obtaining results overnight but about changing the attitudes of people over a period of time and as true as that might be, whether one talks about the implementation of CEDAW, rape, incest, the rights of CSWs, the almost all pervasive domestic violence, dowry problems or witch-hunting, in my own life, I don't see attitudes changing at all and if media reports are anything to go by, they certainly aren't changing in rural areas even if they are changing in tiny pockets of urban India.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women or (CEDAW), for example, which was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly has still not been ratified by many countries (including the USA) and even in countries where it has been ratified (such as India), apart from in a few cases like the well-known Vishakha case, the convention -- which is often referred to as an international bill of rights for women -- doesn't really seem to have very much of an impact in everyday life.

The implementation of law, however, is a completely different story and it isn't what's on my mind at the moment. It's the process 'creating awareness' and the media's role in doing so which I've been thinking of. Yesterday, for example, I saw two documentaries, one on foreign CSWs in Hindi (much of which, I have to admit, was lost on me thanks to my elementary grasp of the language) and the other on Witch Hunts in English.

Although it's certainly a relief that some sections of the media seem to be doing more than simply looking at women as personifications of Page 3, what stunned me was the way in which both topics were handled. The programme on foreign prostitutes, apart from playing (and replaying) their earnings, spoke of problems in terms of things like the spread of AIDS - reasonable enough, I suppose - and national security being compromised - Mata Hari has been reincarnated, after all! I realize that it isn't an ideal situation but the feeling the documentary gave me was that the producers just didn't like the idea and were looking for legitimate (?) excuses with which to justify their condemnation.

In the programme about Witch Hunting, on the other hand, people who were unfamiliar with the topic would have been left thinking that the phenomenon was entirely due to illiteracy, ignorance and superstition although it has been seen often enough that while ignorance plays a part, the reason why women are branded as witches often has little to do with ignorance and everything to do with controlling women who try to assert their rights whether it is in regard to political rights or in relation to the right to inherit property.

Personally, I can't help but think that journalists need to have better ideas of what they're doing when they talk about women's rights and issues relating to women. In the recent case, for example, where Maninder Pal Singh Kohli confessed to a TV journalist that he had raped and murdered 17-year-old Hannah Claire Foster near her home in Southampton, England, initially, the journalists involved thought that the confession could be used to indite Kohli and by extension, they simply weren't aware of the legal ramifications of the confession which was made while Kohli was in police custody.

In the Indian media (which reports in English), NDTV often carries reports of abuse against women. In fact, the first time I've heard of many of the cases which later became much talked about (including the dowry death on the International Women's Day) has been in reports by NDTV's Siddharth Pandey -- who appears to work on a lot of stories about social issues -- but even so, if fighting for women's rights is, to a great extent, at this stage, about increasing awareness, the media as a whole, to my mind, has to do a better job.



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Writer Profile
Nandita Saikia

Nandita Saikia has had two books published: one on Business Communication and the other on Human Rights. She has has contributed to a number of publications on a wide range of subjects although her primary interests are domestic violence and choice inhibition.
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