Author: Sarah Macharia, July 14 2013 The recently released World Bank World Development Report 2012 on Gender Equality and Development notes persistent gender disparities in "sticky domains" identified as, economic activity, earnings, house and care work responsibility, asset ownership, and constraints to women's agency in both the private and public spheres. The report underlines a rootedness in "deeply entrenched gender roles and social norms" as one reason behind the stickiness, adding that the "gaps tend to be reproduced across generations".
Social norms are understood as those practices, attitudes, behaviours, modes of reasoning, that are institutionalized in our everyday lives, informing societal worldviews of what is "normal", natural, thus, acceptable, on the one hand, and what is "deviant" or unnatural on the other hand. Social norms underpin the continued discrimination against women, gender violence and power relations of subordination of some groups and dominance of others.
The challenge becomes how to expose and overturn those norms that undergird, justify and normalize inequality. Social norms are constituent components of culture, which in turn is linked to communication in intimate and complex ways culture and communication inform and re-inform each other. Communication processes characterized by gender-exclusionary practices and content that glorifies hypermasculinity or hyperfemininity, for instance, inform a logic that accepts skewed gender power relations and the resultant injustices as natural, normal, therefore beyond reproach.
This brings us to questions about the state of communication rights from a gender perspective, and the status of communication rights for different groups of women in particular. Communication rights are essential human rights that enable democratic participation, the exercise of civil and cultural rights, and access to, use and contribution to knowledge.
It is perhaps easier to understand the status of communication rights for women (as an undifferentiated category) by considering the findings of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) on gender in the world news media. The research carried out over the period 1995 to 2010 reveals a continued marked communication rights deficit for women in general, with a snail's pace progress to closing the gap.
Complicating the "gender" concept to bring into view intersectional identities determined by class, race, ethnicity, sexuality or other differences would reveal a communication rights deficit that becomes more acute the further away a group is located from the core of dominant power structures.
Awareness about different aspects of women's communication rights has grown remarkably during the past two decades. Civil society initiatives at the same time continue to break new ground, and the current issue of Media & Gender Monitor (MGM) profiles illustrative work by WACC’s project partners in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
Vigilance is necessary to ensure that communication rights, for women and marginalized groups especially, secure space and remain on the agenda in the processes underway, in the lead up to the 2015 events of the Beijing +20 review, adoption of a post - 2015 development framework and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) 15 - year review.
I hope that the current issue of MGM inspires you to step up efforts to raise the prominence of women’s communication rights concerns in the ongoing agenda - setting debates.
From Media & Gender Monitor, No. 24 July 2013, Towards 2015: A Communication Rights Agenda
Image credit: Vu Viet Thanh for the Research Centre for Gender, Family and Environment in Development (CGFED), Vietnam. "The purpose of communication is not only to provide information, but also to orient public opinion".