We have discussed the lack of exposure and attention development issues receive in the Nepali media; women and their issues are treated no better. In fact, they are treated much worse because of social pressures and prevailing notions on gender and equality.
News reports related to women tend to focus on two key areas: violence and entertainment. Number of women in politics has gone up sharply in Nepal since the civil war ended in 2006. Even with all the focus on political news, women leaders are rarely featured for their views or programs. They are presented as "also there" figures with no influence. At times women politicians are used to add entertainment value, through articles that unfairly bring in their gender while discussing corruption or cronyism.
It is unfortunate that Nepali women politicians do not get due respect and coverage from the media. This creates an illusion that there are far too few women in politics to matter or that women cannot be in leadership position. Young women see this sexist environment and are deterred from considering politics and public life as a career choice.
Focus on covering women through a violence and entertainment only lens is also detrimental to position of Nepal women. For instance, when a woman is a victim of domestic violence, she gets media attention; but when a woman develops a new product or contributes exceptionally to her field of work, she is largely ignored. What this shows is that women achievers don't matter much. Picture of a suffering, weak woman sells more than an empowered, strong one.
Coverage of the entertainment industry is also far behind in accepting women as individuals. Most of the entertainment news covered in the Nepali media tend to show female artists as entertainment themselves. What purpose does it serve to ask an actress about her new boyfriend and then ignore critiquing her latest work? Then there are questionable articles on personal lives of female artists, dealing with their romantic relationships, way of dressing, and their past. No male actor is subjected to this level of examination. Yes, they are asked about girlfriends but then they talk about work too. Female artists are almost always judged on frivolous matters and not on work and talent.
Domestic violence, cultural gender based discrimination, equal access to employment, health and education, and laws that favour men over women - these issues are of great importance to women and girls in Nepal. But because the media is still gripped by sexist attitude, women don't get sufficient coverage.
For instance, discrimination sanctioned by various religions practiced in Nepal is rarely debated vigorously in the public. In the name of keeping communal harmony, this issue is deemed too sensitive and thus ignored. The custom of discriminating against menstruating women, which is very severe in the rural areas, has managed to break into national limelight, thanks to the rights activists. But issues like dowry harassment, limiting property rights of women and the growing practice of sex selective abortions are still brushed off.
Nepal still has number of laws that clearly violate basic assurance of equality guaranteed by the constitution. Especially property and inheritance law tend to be favourable to a male child and treat daughters as burdens on a family. Compared to the discussion on legal side of current political chaos, Nepali women's second class legal status gets limited ink.
And then there is domestic violence, discrimination against widows and childless women and preference for a male child. They get coverage when there is an incident to report or when a conference on the issue is organized. In between, they are less important than covering the latest gadgets in town or an upcoming concert or what the ministers are up to.
After the 2006 democratic movement and subsequent political changes, Nepali media has no doubt made huge leaps in improving coverage of women and related issues. Less than a decade back, rape victims - even minors - were identified and personal details were reported. We have come a long way from that; but as long as women and their issues are covered as secondary matters and the sexist attitude continues, achievements made in last decade will be lost.