Status of Women in Media in Nepal : a report

The Governments including Nepal, which came together at the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in June 2000, also called Beijing + 5, reaffirmed their commitment to the goals and objectives contained in the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action adopted in the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. The Governments had recognised that the goals and commitments made in the Platform for Action have not been fully implemented and achieved, and agreed upon further actions and initiatives at local, national, regional and international levels to accelerate its implementation and to ensure that commitments for gender equality, development and peace are fully realised. In the context of Women and Media the Governments reaffirmed their commitment particularly to increasing the participation and access of women to expression and decision making and promoting the varied positive role played by women in the society.

Nepal was a party to the above General Assembly reaffirming its strong commitment to abide by the Beijing Platform for Action and accelerate its effective implementation. However, in spite of various national and international commitments, no significant policy changes or programs are actually observed in terms of increasing women's participation in the media or in bringing about change in the stereotypical role of women in Nepal.

The convergence of new media technologies and influx of private media organisations in the last decade has increased the number of women working in both print and electronic media. However, women have not gained parity with men in terms of participation and decision making. Top management is still entirely male dominated and patriarchal with only a negligible number of women holding senior positions. Although women have become more visible particularly in radio and television as presenters, announcers and reporters, the gender division of labour is highly pronounced in production, creative and technical departments, which are male dominated. The presence of women is also absent in any official commissions, boards or committees formed for formulating policies or monitoring the media.

New ICTs have emerged which provide opportunities to share information and resources, and link and network with each other faster. But women's presence in this new communication space still lags far behind. Access to this new medium is particularly difficult for women in poorer and less urbanised areas where telecommunications infrastructure is poor and unaffordable. Lack of skills, training and language accessibility also serves as major deterrents.

In the past few years there has been a comparatively improved and increased reportage of issues related to women in the media. News related to women though still marginal has started to occasionally occupy important slots like the editorial, feature news, front-page news etc. However, women's visibility in the news is still dominated by sensational stories of rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of violence. Such portrayals have only served to reinforce, rather than challenge, men's suppression of women.

With increased voices and protests from active women's groups, some of the the negative portrayal and representation of women has become quite subtle and insidious in the last few years. But rarely does the media present women as contributors to the development process or as professionals in their own field. They are still predominantly portrayed as being victim, subservient, dependent, nurturing, selfless, sacrificing mother and wife or as a commodity. The lack of a truly gender sensitive appreciation and analysis of women's issues by both men and women in media has allowed exploitative and derogatory images of women in media to continue.

The Press Council is the official monitoring body for any violation of media code of conduct. But it usually addresses general media issues and has not exhibited any serious attention to improving media's portrayal and representation of women. Also there is no representation of women in the Press Council.

Division of Labour and Working Environment
Where earlier it was almost impossible to find a woman reporting on politics and economy now few young women have emerged who are reporting on such issues. However, the gender division of labour is still very much evident in the way coverage of stories is assigned in most media organisations. Women still tend to be assigned to "soft issues" such as culture, art, lifestyle while men are assigned to political and economic stories which are considered more as "real issues."

Although the number of women entering media is increasing, stereotyped attitudes, sexual harassment, unfair treatment in assignments and promotions, traditional gender hierarchies, lack of support mechanisms for working women pose as obstacles that hinder women from joining the media or assuming decision making positions. Though there has been no authentic research to justify the fact, many have felt that the widespread cases of sexual harassment within media organisations has been a means to control and exclude women from occupying key positions in the industry.

Some Positive Initiatives
Inspite of the dismal picture, some proactive steps for promoting gender integration have been taken by media organisations and institutes. Gender training for journalists have been conducted throughout the country. A number of media institutes have evolved in the past few years. Though they do not have special policy for increasing women's participation they do encourage their participation which has led to an increase in the number of women receiving training in the field of media. These institutes have also incorporated special classes on gender and women in their curricula. There have been some training programs catering solely to women. These definitely need to be increased. A number of feature services on issues related to women with the objective of mainstreaming gender issues are taken out every month. The articles from the feature service are given considerable importance by the daily and weekly papers. There have been some publications on women's issues and the media, which are being used as educational as well as advocacy tool. The print media has been consistently monitored and journalists sensitised against negative reports affecting women. The monitoring of electronic media is also being initiated.

All these efforts through vigilant women's organisations and movements have paved the way for uplifting the status of women in a hitherto patriarchal society. However, a stronger political will and more vibrant voice is required to translate the commitments made at national and international levels into reality .

Bandana Rana
Sancharika Samuha

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