guidelines on addressing gender and gender issues in the media

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					  Code of practice on
addressing gender and
 gender issues in the

    Code of practice on addressing gender and gender issues
in the media

1 Intention of the code of practice
The purpose of the code of practice is to help practising journalists, editors and
programme makers consider the impact of their treatment of sex and gender issues
and to offer benchmarks for good practice in promoting gender equality. The code is
intended to assist in overcoming systematic discrimination and the problem of
negative or inequitable sex role portrayal in the media industry.

It is the responsibility of those who manage media services to ensure that the
provisions of the code are brought to the attention of employees who are entrusted
with news reporting and programme development, production and editorial

The code begins by outlining the principles of international and Ethiopian law that
underpin gender equality. It sets out the arguments for gender equality in progressing
Ethiopia‟s development and offers guidelines on the treatment of gender and gender
issues and the promotion of gender equality in the media industry.

This code was drafted by the Active Learning Centre as part of a course for
journalists held in Addis Ababa 6-10 March 2006. The code was reviewed, amended
and formally adopted by the journalists who attended the course.

2 The background to the code of practice
2.1 Definitions
Sex and gender - sex is biologically determined: people are born female or male.
Gender is socially constructed: the roles that men and women play in society are the
product of their up-bringing, prevailing culture and attitudes.
Sex stereotyping occurs when people are described or pictured in traditional,
gendered roles. For example, men are assumed be breadwinners and women are
always wives and mothers.
Sex discrimination occurs when distinctions, exclusions or restrictions are made on
the basis of sex which have the effect of denying a person‟s rights. Discrimination
can be direct or indirect. For example, refusing to employ a woman because she is a
woman is direct discrimination. Indirect discrimination occurs when the rules appear
to treat the sexes equally but in practice adversely affect women. For instance,
competition for jobs may not be open to both sexes if women have not had equal
opportunities to become educated and gain qualifications.
Sexist language is language that unnecessarily excludes one sex or gives unequal
treatment to women or men. Sexist language can also, however unintentionally,
undermine women in particular.

 2.2 International law
Ethiopia‟s commitment to gender equality is well documented in international and
national law. As a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Ethiopia
accepts the equality of men and women and recognises their equal entitlement to
human rights.

The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination
Against Women (CEDAW), which Ethiopia has ratified, commits states to the
implementation of the articles of the Convention in the law, policies and practice. This
Convention recognises the discrimination that women face and charges governments
with the responsibility to take action to „modify the social and cultural patterns of

      conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of
prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the
inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and
women.‟ (CEDAW article 5). As one of the main shapers of public opinion, the media
have a critical role to play in achievement of the goals and standards set out in the
Convention to promote gender equality.

2.3 Ethiopian law and policy
Ethiopia‟s own constitution and policies set out its commitment to equality. The
Constitution affirms the principles of equal protection to women and men under the
law without discrimination on grounds of sex, race, nation or nationality, social origin,
colour, language, religion, political or other opinion. It allows affirmative action on the
understanding that because of a history of inequality and discrimination, women may
need special measures to enable them to compete on an equal basis with men.
Laws, customs and practices that oppress or cause bodily or mental harm to women
are prohibited. Other articles set out the rights of women in areas where they
traditionally face discrimination: in marriage, employment, the control and use of
property (including land) and in inheritance. For example, women have the right to
administer, control, use and transfer property, have equal rights to use transfer and
control land and to inherit property.

Ethiopia‟s Plan for Women (1993) affirms the rights of women and girls and
acknowledges that gender equality is fundamental to Ethiopia‟s development. It
called for the mainstreaming of gender, that is that “All development programmes …
should be able to integrate gender concerns in their plans to see that women
participate, contribute and benefit and that their effort is recognised and …

2.4 The Beijing Platform
The commitments of the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women, known as the
Beijing Platform, recognising the power of the communications industry in a global
world, set out two strategic objectives. The first called for increased participation of
women in the technical and decision making process of the media, arguing that
without this involvement, women would not achieve fair treatment. The second
called for a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media noting
that the media had failed to eliminate gender stereotyping and continued to project
negative, degrading and sometimes pornographic images and had failed to provide a
balanced picture of women‟s diverse lives and contributions to society.

The Beijing Platform called on governments, non-governmental organisations and
the media themselves to undertake a series of measures to implement the two
strategic objectives. “The media have a great potential to promote the advancement
of women and the equality of women and men by portraying women and men in a
non-stereotypical, diverse and balanced manner and by respecting the dignity and
worth of the human person.” (Beijing Platform for Action)

2.5 Development and gender
Research shows that women are much more vulnerable to poverty than men.
Women‟s traditional role as carers of children and the family adversely affect their
access to education, employment and opportunities for economic advancement, to
power and the exercise of decision-making and therefore their access to resources.

Despite international and national legislation and gender policies, women and girls in
Ethiopia face discrimination in many aspects of their lives and are therefore much

     more likely to be poor. Women are a vital component of the rural economy in the
production of cash and food crops, yet have unequal access to agricultural extension
services. The education levels of girls and women are significantly lower than those
of men and boys, affecting their overall development and access to employment.
Women‟s economic dependence on men is accentuated by their lack of access to
land and the fact that rights to property and inheritance are not implemented. The
very high maternal mortality rate is evidence inadequate and inappropriate health
services. Traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and early marriage
threaten the health, education and livelihoods of women. Women‟s unfair workloads
in fetching water, family management and child care are further examples of
discrimination which undermine not only gender equality but Ethiopia‟s development.

Progress towards gender equality is both a matter of the rights of girls and women
rights but also fundamental to attacking poverty. The Ethiopian Sustainable
Development and Poverty Reduction Programme concludes: “the inclusion of gender
in any effort to alleviate poverty is non-negotiable”. The media‟s treatment and
reporting of gender issues is critical: it can help or hinder development efforts.

3 The treatment of women and gender issues in the media
3.1 General principles of reporting
In general journalists are bound by the principles of accuracy, integrity, objectivity,
fairness and balance.
Accuracy: the information should be correct and not misleading or false. This
demands good research, reliable sources and careful choice of language.
Integrity and objectivity: the information should be truthful and not distorted to
justify a conclusion. Journalists should be aware of their personal opinions and
prejudices and not allow these to show in their reporting. They should also choose
examples and interviewees carefully so as to show the whole and not just part of, the
Fairness and balance: the information should deal with all relevant facts and
significant points of view. It should deal ethically with people, institutions and events.

Within these general principles it is important to recognise the objective of fair and
equal representation of women and of their diverse roles within society.

3.2 Sex stereotyping
Sex stereotyping occurs when people are described or pictured in traditional,
gendered roles. For example, men are assumed to be and portrayed as
breadwinners and decision-makers and women are always shown as nurturing and
passive wives and mothers. There could be several reasons why these stereotypes
recur. The journalist might be too busy, inexperienced, not gender sensitive, or even
under editorial pressure to present a story in a certain way, instead of exploring other
ways of portraying men and women and choosing a more appropriate or
representative interviewee or case study.

Image is a powerful language: the media can portray women as sex objects or
figures of authority. It could be argued that how a woman looks or behaves
determines or influences how she is perceived and treated. Too often the images of
women in news and current affairs programming and also in advertising, use
stereotypes; reinforcing popular 'ideals' of beauty, submission to authority, youth and
body shape, while women who fall outside these 'ideals' are ignored. Men are often
portrayed as being in important jobs, being dominant and assertive, in authority and
making decisions, while women are more usually shown, if at all, in subservient,

      submissive and menial roles, for example farming or caring for children and
elderly relatives. Those who work in the media, whether journalists, editors,
producers, programme makers or advertisers, are responsible for either prolonging
or breaking down this use of stereotypes. Women are highly visible in everyday life
and the media should reflect this, making positive efforts to include women in
coverage. Journalists should treat stories in a diverse way and this will in turn lead to
their work being seen as authoritative and trustworthy.

Men and women do undertake different roles and journalists and programme makers
must make strong efforts to choose interviewees or case studies to reflect this. They
should not be tempted to accept the easy option which will usually emphasise and
perpetrate the stereotype and fail to portray a representative and balanced picture.
For example, if there are 20 men and two women doing a similar job and a journalist
needs to interview only one, it could be argued that if the journalist chooses a
woman, this will give an unrepresentative picture. However, taking positive action in
this situation and interviewing the women can be editorially justified in order to
redress the existing imbalance and combat the continued use of stereotypes.

It is important not only to interview women in stories that require a „spokesperson‟,
but also to involve women in everyday event coverage, so that their appearance,
voice and opinion in a bulletin, programme or article is not considered unusual or

Tasks undertaken by women are often underrated. The work women do and their
role in Ethiopian society should be portrayed positively. Instead of being dismissed
as unpaid farm workers housewives or mothers, or unworthy contributors to the
economy (perhaps because they work in the informal sector), their work should be
noticed and acknowledged. Women should be seen as people whose work is a
valuable and essential part of the economy and credited with playing a crucial role in

The placing of coverage of women‟s issues is equally important. Raising awareness
of such issues by giving stories more prominence, such as on the front page, in a
page lead or special report, at or near the top of a news bulletin, all involve a
conscious and positive policy towards raising the profile of these issues.

3.3 Use of sexist language
Journalists should choose their language carefully and not resort to clichés and
stereotypes that give different values to men and women. Calling a woman a
housewife can be considered sexist and pejorative, whereas describing her as a
carer might not. There is no need to attach the words „man‟ or „woman‟ to a job
description, there is always a proper alternative: firemen and women are fire-fighters,
postmen and women are postal workers and chairmen are chairpersons. Journalists
used to be called newsmen (and sometimes still are!)

Beware of using adjectives and nouns that will stereotype and possibly demean the
subject. For example, it is rarely relevant to the story to refer to someone as „pretty‟,
„handsome‟ or „attractive‟. It is not usually relevant or helpful to say that a man is „well
built‟ or a woman is „delicate‟, unless it will help the reader or listener to form a
clearer picture of the event. It is also possible to be sexist in other ways. Someone‟s
tone of voice, facial expression and body language can be as telling as what they
actually say. Beware of allowing an interviewee or a person in authority demean
someone by suggesting that their job or role or life is unimportant, for example,
allowing a woman to be described as „only‟ a housewife or farmer.

      3.4 Balance in choice of subject and interviewees
If a journalist needs interviewees or case studies to tell a story, these should be
chosen with care. If the story is about something in which both men and women work
or are involved, the journalist should choose a woman as readily as a man and it may
be that such positive action in choosing a woman would serve the purpose of
redressing the existing imbalance. A journalist should be rigorous in seeking out and
portraying women. Of course, it might be that because women have not featured
frequently in news and current affairs programmes, they are not used to being
interviewed and find the prospect intimidating. Here, a journalist should use skilful
and sensitive questioning to make their interviewee feel at ease and therefore more
forthcoming. The story might actually be about a gender related topic, for example, a
newsworthy rise in the number of females entering or qualifying for a certain male
dominated trade or arena. This will dictate the choice of interviewee. These stories
should be covered and given prominence, not only because of their newsworthiness
but also as another way of exercising positive action.

3.5 Treatment of special issues which concern women
Violence against women whether it occurs outside or within the family home is a
crime. Too often such crimes are dismissed as ‟domestic‟ or „family‟ matters. Serious
treatment by the media can assist in raising awareness of the problem and changing
public attitudes. Stories involving violence, especially towards women, should be
carefully researched and reported. It can be a very difficult area and one which
requires journalistic rigour and sensitivity. In radio or television, consideration should
be given to giving an interviewee anonymity, for example by disguising her voice or
filming her in shadow or silhouette. The interview can also be transcribed and the
words spoken by someone else. Using techniques like this can encourage women to
speak out about the issue while reducing the risk of further violence and

Early marriage and abduction
The practice of early marriage is common in some parts of Ethiopia. The tradition of
bride-price, accepted in many rural areas, can lead to abduction, rape and forced
marriage. These are illegal, criminal practices. The Constitution stipulates that
marriage should be entered into with the free and full consent of the spouses and the
age of marriage is set by law. Early marriage disadvantages girls and women by
cutting short their education and increasing the likelihood of long term health
problems brought about by childbirth during adolescence. The media have a
responsibility to question such practices, to ensure that their audiences are informed
of the serious consequences for women and Ethiopian society and to influence
discourse in this area.

Trafficking and prostitution
Trafficking and prostitution usually involve situations in which men take advantage of
the trafficked person‟s lack of knowledge of her rights. These are situations in which
men control and dominate the lives of women and girls. Criminal activities such as
deception, fraud or abduction may be involved. As before, these stories should be
rigorously and carefully handled. These are difficult areas to investigate and report
and some aspects could involve undercover work. This should always be discussed
between journalists, producers and editors. It is important to understand how and
why women are involved in such activities, for example, to see beyond the mere fact
that a woman is a prostitute and seek to explain why she is doing this, for instance,

      because of poverty, social or family pressure or fear and intimidation. Many
trafficked women end up as domestic workers; the history of their move away from
the family home may involve issues of poverty but also deception and exploitation.

Consent for the interview should be obtained from women in these situations. She
should be informed of the reason for the interview, the audience who will read/
watch/ hear about it, and the purpose, in most cases to raise awareness on the
issue, and to educate potential victims.

Again, the careful use of protective recording or filming techniques should be
considered to prevent the interviewee being stigmatised if her identity is revealed.
The women and girls involved are human beings and victims and their experiences
should not be dismissed by those in authority or in newsrooms as, for example, „just
another story about prostitutes‟ or „naïve domestic workers‟. Prostitution and
trafficking concern criminality and huge financial gain and therefore involve
vulnerable people and potential danger for them. They must be treated with care.

Rape and sexual abuse
Rape and sexual abuse are about male power, domination, aggression, torture and
humiliation. Rape victims are not criminals. They are not promiscuous. They do not
invite or encourage the rapist. It needs to be made clear who the victim is and who is
the perpetrator. Victims should not be criminalised, stigmatised or shunned. To
protect them they should be given anonymity by using the techniques described
above. How rape is reported and dealt with is often linked to how it is treated by the
authorities, police and legal system. It should be borne in mind that these authorities
may not treat such cases in a gender sensitive way, so it is the responsibility of the
media to do so. Enlightened attitudes towards dealing with the victims of rape and
sexual abuse will take into consideration the physical, emotional and psychological
trauma they have gone through. Journalists can take a lead by giving these stories
the diligent and sensitive coverage they need.

In all the above categories, journalists should be aware that portraying the woman as
„victim‟, rather than a „survivor‟, is in itself placing her in a possibly stereotypical role.
Journalists should take care to report the story in a balanced, accurate and objective
way and language should be carefully chosen so as not to be condemnatory,
belittling or prurient or judgemental.

Female genital mutilation
This practice is widespread in Ethiopia, despite the fact that it is officially illegal. It is
estimated that 85 per cent of women in Ethiopia have undergone female genital
mutilation and it is generally carried out by female traditional birth attendants. Whilst
this is an accepted custom in Ethiopian society and condoned by many women, the
practice is a violation of women‟s human rights. The serious health consequences for
those who are subjected to the practice are well documented: a lifetime of painful
menstruation, incontinence and complications with pregnancy and child birth and a
legacy of damage to women‟s physical, mental and psycho-sexual health and

This issue requires careful treatment; women are involved both as practitioners and
as victims. However well established, it is the responsibility of the media to question
whether such practices are acceptable in a modern Ethiopia; to remind audiences of
the illegality of female genital mutilation and to ensure that the facts about the
consequences of the practice are known.


      HIVAIDS is a major problem in many African countries, contributing to their
poverty. Evidence from the World Bank suggests that in the next decade the disease
will spread rapidly, infecting an estimated one in four women and one in five men. In
the heavily infected countries women will bear a larger share of the mortality and
morbidity burden. Their economic status will also suffer because as the primary
carers of children, the elderly and the infirm, they will be unable to work. Research
shows that women are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than men. This is partially a
factor of female biology but it is also about women‟s subservient position in society
and false beliefs on the transmission of the virus; in some societies, for example, it is
believed that having sex with a virgin can cure one of HIV/AIDS. The ability of
women to control their sexual relationships with men depends on their achieving
equal status within partnerships. Responsible, open reporting of this problem in
which the issue of the unequal relationship between men and women is aired and
discussed along with other aspects is therefore essential to the prevention of AIDS.

Property and inheritance rights
Women‟s economic dependence on men is underlined by the fact that they are
unable to claim their rights to property, land and inheritance. The media can play an
important role in publicising the law and the abuse of women‟s rights in these areas.

4 Equal opportunities for women in work within the media
4.1 The position of women in the media industry
Reviews of media industries in many countries reveal the results of discrimination.
Whilst an increasing number of women are employed as journalists, it is also true
that women are under-represented in decision-making and in the technical processes
of the industry. The Beijing Platform called for the increased participation of women
in these aspects, arguing that this is essential to achieving equality in the treatment
of women in programmes.

A recent report produced for the Ethiopian Media Women‟s Association showed that
women are underrepresented within the industry and that a form of job segregation
exits in which women are generally located within the those jobs that are less
prestigious and less well paid1. Overall only 15 per cent of the workforce in the media
industry are female and they are concentrated in the lower levels of the industry,
despite relatively high levels of education. Reasons for women‟s low participation
were cited as: journalism being seen as a male job; cultural stereotypes; women‟s
domestic workload and their lack of confidence; the un-family friendly hours expected
of media workers; low pay; frequent transfers and assignment to jobs for which they
are not trained and language and educational limitations.

Research in other African countries as well as Ethiopia suggests that the
discrimination that women working in the media face may be more pronounced than
in other industries. In Southern African countries research showed that women were
discouraged from staying in the profession because of gender insensitive work
environments, including the problem of sexual harassment. Often journalists were
assigned to work on „soft‟ programmes such as fashion, lifestyle, cookery or social
issues, irrespective of their choices and aspiration, with limited opportunities for
furthering their career prospects.

 Agaredetch Jemaneh, Women Mass Media Professionals, Level of Profession and Experience in the Ethiopian
Mass Media, Ethiopian Media Women Association, 2004.

     To work towards equality in the media, it is necessary that TV and radio stations
and newspapers adopt and implement equality policies. This section outlines some
of the key features of an equality policy.

4.2 Assessing the position of women within the workplace
A starting point is for every media organisation to identify and record the type of jobs
that women and men do. This information is required to establish the starting point of
an equality policy and to monitor progress. If the objective is to attain a fairer
representation of women in all types of jobs within the media, their current position
and status must be assessed.

4.3 Making the commitment to gender equality and equality of outcome
 It is well recognised that equality policies only work when those in authority make a
personal and institutional commitment to furthering equality. This is often couched in
terms of an equality and diversity statement. This might be framed to address the
issue of gender or to include other groups who also experience discrimination. For

„Radio xxxx is committed to reflecting the diversity of Ethiopia. This applies to the
output from the station and to the workforce. The station aims to be inclusive of those
groups who are often under-represented: women, disabled people, people from
ethnic minorities and those of all faiths and social classes.‟

4.4 A focus on equality of outcome
A formal commitment to equality is only a starting point. The actual procedures for
putting the policy into action have to be devised and implemented. It is important to
focus on actions that will try to ensure equality of outcome. For example, a policy
might say that men and women are free to apply for all jobs within the media but if
women only apply for jobs as secretaries or low grade reporters because for cultural
reasons their educational level is generally much lower, then the policy will not
achieve equality of outcome. The introduction of fair recruitment and selection
procedures alone, although extremely important, will not be sufficient to advance
gender equality. It is for this reason that the following section suggests positive action
to increase women‟s representation within the workplace.

4.5 Action to increase the representation of women in all sections of the
Positive action can assist women to develop their careers within the media industry
and therefore promote equal representation and participation of women at every
level. In Ethiopia positive action is already used, for example, to promote girls‟
education, to assist women to progress to the higher levels of education and to
provide more women teachers. Ways forward within the media industry would

      Guaranteeing 50 per cent of all places on professional media training courses
       to women.
      Encouraging women to apply for all jobs advertised within the media
       (management, programming, producing, editing research and reporting) by
       guaranteeing interviews to women who apply and meet the criteria set out in
       the job description and person specification.
      Encouraging women to develop their careers in all aspects of media work by
       providing mentoring and shadowing schemes with members of management,
       and those working in technical and editorial positions.

          Ensuring that on all advisory and regulatory boards covering individual
       and national media stations there is a gender balance.
      Introduction of flexible working policies that will encourage a life/work
       balance. These might include: flexible working hours to take account of
       childcare responsibilities and parental leave to encourage men as well as
       women to take responsibility for child care.
      Ensuring that the organisation carries out the law in the provision of maternity
       leave and benefits.
      Prohibiting sexual harassment within the workplace and making it a
       disciplinary offence.

4.6 Fair recruitment and selection procedures
The principle of recruitment and selection procedures is to identify the right person
for the job. Often women do not apply for jobs for which they are qualified because
their experience tells them that they will not receive fair treatment. Sometimes
women are refused jobs even when they are well qualified because of in-built
prejudices, for example, not employing a women because she may in the future have
children and take maternity leave. Establishing fair recruitment and selection
procedures requires skill and knowledge in human resources management and
training for those who are responsible for carrying out these duties. However, in brief,
fair procedures should meet the following criteria.

      Advertisements for all posts should contain a commitment to equality and
       specify the qualifications needed for the post. Adverts which request male or
       female applicants only should be prohibited.
      Every post should have a clear job description and person specification
       setting out the tasks of the post and the qualifications and experience needed
       to fulfil the post.
      Selection for interviewees should be decided according to those people who
       meet the requirements set out in the job description and person specification.
      The interview panel should contain both men and women, preferably in equal
      In the interview process the questions to be asked of interviewees should be
       decided in advance and asked of all candidates regardless of their sex. Care
       should be taken to avoid discriminatory questions. For example, it would be
       discriminatory to ask a women candidate if she is married or intends to marry,
       or intends to have children. Such information has no bearing on whether she
       is able to do the job.
      A system for providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates to show that the
       procedure has been carried out on an open and equitable manner and to
       encourage the unsuccessful to improve their performance or qualifications.

5 Taking forward the code of practice
Adopting the code of practice
A first step for all media industries in Ethiopia is to formally adopt this code of
practice. It is recommended that all managers within the media arrange a meeting
with all their employees to discuss the code of practice and how it can best be
implemented within their workplace.

Mainstreaming gender
This means the integration of gender concerns into the planning and policy formation
of an institution. Mainstreaming gender has been adopted by the Ethiopian

     Government and is discussed in the Plan for Women. Mainstreaming gender in
the media would mean that managers planning programmes or making policies for
their radio or TV station should include gender issues. As a matter of routine
managers and planners should ask: how does this policy or decision impact on
gender? Will the effect of this decision affect women and men differently?

 However, much research shows that mainstreaming, whilst a useful tool often fails
because it becomes forgotten or bureaucratised. One possible solution is to have a
„champion‟ in each section or department who takes responsibility for making sure
that gender and gender issues appear on the agenda of team and management
meetings and who helps to drive forward change within the workplace.

It is important to ensure that these „champions‟ are appointed at all levels in the
hierarchy of an organisation. Their views must be treated seriously and included in
the discussions where decisions are being made. It would be the responsibility of
these „champions‟ to press for the adoption of the code within their section of the
industry and to press for the mainstreaming of its provisions within the policy,
management and operational sections of the workplace.

Raising awareness of gender issues: gender sensitivity
Often discrimination against women is indirect. We are all products of our culture and
up-bringing: recognising discrimination and doing something about it requires
everyone to be gender sensitive and to be prepared to challenge the status quo.
Providing gender awareness training is often the best mechanism for beginning the
process of mainstreaming. Making a formal commitment to introducing an equality
policy and to following the code of practice should therefore be accompanied by
training to ensure that all employees understand the issues, know why the code of
practice is necessary and how it should be implemented.
Reviewing progress
Equality policies and codes of practice are only useful if they change the behaviour
and ways of working of the people who are employed in the industry. Regular
reviews of the status and employment of women working in the media and of the
treatment of women by the media will be necessary to assess progress. An
assessment of the employment of women should be carried out annually to monitor
progress of women in appointments, training, career progression and promotion.
Content analysis of output should be undertaken at least quarterly. These reviews
should be fixed items on management agendas.