Women and the media at the United Nations 2003

The participation and access of women to the media is among the themes to be addressed by the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women during its 47th annual session. The CSW, an inter-governmental body comprising 45 member states, assemble at the UN headquarters in New York on March 3 for its customary two-week session.

A critical part of the Commission's work is its contribution to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women held in the Chinese capital in 1995. Section J of the Beijing document relates to women and the media.

This year the Commission is expected to review two thematic issues:

  1. "Participation and access of women to the media, and information and communication technologies, and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women."
  2. "Women's human rights and elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.

Two expert group meetings were organised by the UN Division for the Advancement of Women, in association with other UN entities, in preparation for the gender and media theme at the CSW session. One, which concentrated on information and communication technologies (ICTs), was held in Seoul from November 11 to 14, 2002; the other, which focussed on the participation and access of women to the media, was held in Beirut from November 12 to 15.


The Beirut meeting, which was attended by 19 women from different parts of the world, besides several members of the UN system, was a rewarding experience for most participants. The remarkable consensus that characterised the meeting had much to do with the apparent convergence in understanding and approach among women working in different ways in different types of organisations in different countries marked by different social, cultural, economic and political environments, as well as different media and communications systems.

The most interesting aspect of this meeting of minds on gender and the media was the revelation that thinking across the globe had moved forward and outward. The fresh thinking reflected a clear-eyed appreciation of the fact that the dramatic transformations in the global media system in recent times had fundamentally altered the media and communication scenario.

Participants agreed that the changed circumstances demanded a broader framework for understanding and dealing with issues relating to women's access to and participation in media and communication. They suggested that the question of women and / in the media had to be placed within the context of democracy and development, incorporating the concept of women's rights as human rights.

They pointed out that since both the status of women and the status of the media were critical to development and democracy, debates about women's rights, on the one hand, and communications systems, on the other, needed to be integrated. They proposed that women's concerns about their access to media and their right to freedom of expression and communication be acknowledged and taken into account in all discussions on matters relating to the freedom, ownership and control, and structures of the media.

It became clear that, in this context, traditional questions relating to the portrayal of women in the media and the entry of women into media professions could no longer be seen or tackled in isolation. While concerns about these critical issues remain relevant, and were indeed discussed in considerable detail, the fresh approaches that emerged at the meeting demonstrated a more holistic understanding of media and communication systems which, in turn, had spawned more pragmatic goals and strategies.

Four documents from the Beirut meeting, which elaborate these ideas, can be found on the UN Women website, in addition to the official final report emerging from the EGM, they include two backgrounders on the global situation as well as an online discussion relating to women and/in the media, and one paper on issues of access and decision-making in the media in India.