Summary of the E-discussion on Role of Media and Technology for Women in Politics (14-23 December 2009)
iKNOW Politics held its first regional E-Discussion in Arabic in December 2009. The following is a summary of the E-Discussion in English. Media plays a crucial role in defining the image of women politicians in the Arab region. Women are portrayed according to stereotypes, and rarely as decision-makers or politicians, which only confirms social prejudices and consequently affects women’s participation and effectiveness in politics.
This e-discussion is a follow-up to the iKNOW Politics Arabic Site Launch, held in Amman in October 2009, entitled “the Role of Media and Technology in Increasing the Number and Effectiveness of Women in Politics”. More than 150 women leaders, candidates, activists and representatives of women organizations from the Middle East and North Africa attended the conference to share successful strategies on the use of media and technology in electoral campaigns. Participants discussed the effective use of technology (such as mobile phones, SMS, the internet and social networks) and its impact on women in decision-making positions and on support for gender legislation and public policies for women.
The objective of this e-discussion is to consolidate knowledge on the role of the media and technology in increasing the number and effectiveness of women in politics through the following questions:
Media and Communication Technology for Arab Women in Politics: What is the current situation regarding the use of media and communications technology in increasing the number and effectiveness of Arab women in Politics? How can women overcome technical or societal barriers regarding access to media and technology in the region?
Use of Media and Technology in Campaigning: What are the most effective strategies for using media and technology in election campaigns? What are some common mistakes made by women candidates that should be avoided, and what are some successful techniques that have been used in the Arab region?
Stereotypes of Women in Politics: How are women politicians portrayed in the Arab media? What is the role of civil society in raising awareness and building the capacity of media outlets to portray women leaders in a more equal and fair way?
Media as Mirror or an Instrument for Change: Does the media have to act as a mirror to reflect the social and cultural patterns in the community, or can media (especially new media) be an instrument for changing the prevailing stereotypes about women politicians?
During the 10 days of the E-Discussion, the iKNOW Politics E-Discussion received 16 comments from its members and experts worldwide (12 in Arabic and 4 in English), from 10 countries (Bahrain, UAE, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, Indonesia, USA, and Singapore).
Media and Communication Technology for Arab Women in Politics
The untapped potential of new media
One of the key themes that emerged during the E-discussion was that women in the region are not yet making full use of the potential of technological innovations in communications and media. Arab women have only recently started using technology and the media to increase their participation in politics, failing to this date to fully profit from these, for many reasons. Roula Attar indicates that: “To date, Arab women in politics have not yet made full use of media and technology in improving their work. While this is partly due to the fact that most media outlets in the Arab world are state-owned and difficult to access, it is also linked to the women’s weak media skills and their inability to generate consistent and interesting messages for their missions/campaigns/organizations.” Media and Communication Technology for Arab Women in Politics
Arab women have the possibility to benefit from technological progress by using and participating in websites such as iKNOW Politics. In this regard, Roula Attar declares that: “Fortunately, online social media venues now present Arab women with significant opportunities to tell their stories and rally people to support them and their efforts. They offer wide and diverse audiences to reach out to and are much more accessible and less costly than traditional media. With proper technical assistance on messaging, communications, and targeting, Arab women can employ media and communications technology to their advantage and can use these tools to improve both the quantity and quality of women in the political field.” Media and Communication Technology for Arab Women in Politics
Siti Nurjanah, in her statement, highlights the pivotal role that media and technology can play in increasing the participation of women in politics: “Media and technology are pivotal to the democracy promotion, either in developed and developing countries. Women have increasingly utilized various forms of media and technology to improve the quality of their involvement in politics.” Women, Technology and the Media
Indeed, “the world is getting smaller thanks to the computer and online networks”, as Cathy Allen mentioned in her statement on the Role of New Media and Women’s Increased Power in the Middle East. Women have then become an integral part of this new world, and it is necessary for them to make use of media and technology to serve their interests. Arab women are making some gains in politics. Cathy Allen presented the example of the new quota system in Egypt and the current system in Morocco, while Tunisia, Libya and Algeria are looking more promising than they have in years.
According to Cathy Alen, new technologies provide key advantages to women: “Advantages for women to use new media technology are that it’s fast, easy to set up, cheap, can be visual and multimedia, can work with multiple languages and communities, and can set up specialized pages (for fan and supporters). It also allows advertising events quickly through text messaging and “updates”, organizing supporters effectively and building two-way communication. It does not need to rely on traditional media (dominated by men) and can be seen as hip and cool (as something new in many countries)” the Role of New Media and Women’s Increased Power in the Middle East
In Morocco, for example, the radio is widely used as an important communication tool. Dr. Fatima Sadiqi indicates that radio stations have very high ratings in Morocco (in the car, in stores, in kitchens etc.). Women candidates can then use this communication tool to reach a vast category of voters. Media and Technology and their Impact on Women in North Africa.
Overcoming exclusion from traditional media
Despite the potential of new media and the gains made by women in some settings, most participants agreed that women are still largely excluded from traditional Arab media outlets, making it necessary to lobby these outlets for gender mainstreaming, as Siti Nurjanah advocates: “women’s exclusion in media remains dominant. There is still a great need to push for gender mainstreaming in media and technology that enable women to improve their understanding and role in politics.” Women, technology and the media
Nvart Taminian further elaborates on the need to break into traditional forms of media: “media are some of the most important tools used to shed light on a certain topic to serve certain stakeholders, as they can be used to highlight some image and attract worldwide attention... if we are able to adopt a solid media plan to shed light on women in politics, their impact and the importance of their participation, in line with political will, we will definitely be able to gather the support of citizens and convince them of the capacities of women to be involved in politics. Women will then be encouraged to participate in politics, following the lead of female figures whose achievements were presented by the media. Women working behind the scenes will also be encouraged to come forward and present their achievements... However, it is up to the women themselves to take the initiative and work with the media to determine the plan that serves them best.” Role of the Media in Increasing the Number and Effectiveness of Women in Politics
Some might believe that working with the media is not necessary for those involved in politics and parliamentary work in particular, indicates Dr. Bahia Al-Jishi, member of the Shura Council in Bahrain, adding it is impossible for parliamentarians to fulfil their function without communication with the media. For women, the challenge remains how to use technology and media to serve their interests, says Al-Jishi: “women politicians and legislators have to determine how to use progress in the media and technology to serve their cause... they have to address the media in a modern approach compatible with the progress in our societies, and the fast pace of progress of the multimedia”. Media and Women Politicians and Parliamentarians
Dr. Al-Jishi mentions that media outlets are only interested in women’s issues on occasions and celebrations. Most of this press coverage is informative rather than the topic of serious discussion. Women have then to learn how to deal with the media and make women issues attractive and interesting for them. The media are largely able to highlight the capacities and skills of women, and consequently can have considerable impact on public opinion regarding women’s participation in politics.
Dr. Al-Jishi underlines that it is important for women parliamentarians to be aware of media mechanisms and build good relationships with the media: “... women parliamentarians should be aware of how the media work and their affiliations and how media coverage can be influenced, and build a strong bond with journalists to keep them close to parliamentary activity. It is a mutual responsibility, and dealing with the media should then be based on self-confidence, a deep belief in the causes defended by parliamentarians, and an extensive knowledge of the topic, in addition to honesty and clarity. We should also keep in mind that journalists are subject to pressure from their superiors and our cooperation will build strong ties based on trust”.
Shedding light on women’s political activity is then a mutual responsibility, says Nvart Tamanian: “Women should take their involvement in politics very seriously, and never be slothful with the alibi that their work is never appreciated. If women work hard and persistently, the media can only adopt their achievements and highlight them.” Role of the Media in Increasing the Number and Effectiveness of Women in Politics
Use of Media and Technology in Campaigning
Advantages of new media
The use of media and technology in a campaign can be an important factor in the success or failure of the campaign. There are good strategies to help women succeed and others that can lead to unexpected failure of the election campaign. Sari Wilson suggests that qomen must make full use of technology and media through all available means at the moment: “women should have control and use the media and technology on their own agenda and purpose and not just rely on it and have to stop being passive, they should run their own show, speak out etc... Not just agreeing on what they see and heard. Never before has media and technology has been so available to so many woman”. Women, technology and the media
For Human Rights Activist Jihane Abu Zaid, the remarkable technological progress in the field of communication, such as the internet and SMS, has given the woman an important role to play. She declares that: “as communication tools, such as the internet and SMS, develop as effective and influential tools, success of the election campaign partly relies on the candidate’s capacity to address all media and use them to reach out to the diverse categories of audience.” In fact, attracting the media is a lengthy process: “It is a lengthy process that starts by determining the political affiliations of each media outlet, and finding common ground for the candidate to build on. The candidate should also adopt a language attractive to the media, and have the ability to address and attract communication officers.” Arab Women in Politics and the Role of the Media
Cathy Allen gives an example of the use of technology in the Iranian elections: “For a fraction of what it used to cost in time, money and privacy, a woman can be part of a network giving her own opinion to her network in low cost video (as was the case in the recent Iranian elections).” The Role of New Media and Women’s Increased Power in the Middle East Using new media technology has several advantages as Cathy Allen indicates in her reply, where women have a place in the 21st century and they have the support of young people. New media technology also allows women to send quick messages to supporters, mobilize quickly, and remind them to vote, fundraise and build stronger and larger networks. The Role of New Media and Women’s Increased Power in the Middle East
Staci Haag considers modern communication technology as a set of tools. “They are new and exciting and different, but simple tools, which allow people to better communicate with their targets.” Women today can challenge the patriarchal structure of traditional media as they no longer have to convince reporters of their value or ability to be solid leaders: “they can skip that step and take their argument directly to the voters in ways that were unheard of even just a few years ago.” Media and Technology in Election Campaigns
In this regard, Roula Attar declares that in Jordan, the use of technology helped to attract a large audience of supporters, namely young people. “Based on my experience in Jordan, women candidates there have successfully used cell phone technology, such as text messaging, to effectively reach thousands of people in a fraction of time. SMS messages are used to publicize a campaign message or platform, as well as invite constituents to campaign events and remind them to go out and vote on Election Day. In the last 2007 elections, women candidates for parliamentary office also developed Facebook groups for their campaigns for the first time. These proved effective in targeting Jordanian youth, who constitute both an important segment of the social media community and the eligible voters’ community in the country.” Media and Communication Technology for Arab Women in Politics
On this same topic, Staci Haag adds that Facebook and YouTube are increasingly popular in the Arab region and everyone should take full advantage of this progress. To the candidates, Staci recommends to “understand the demographics of Internet usage in your country – are most users under a certain age, are there groups you’ll still have to reach out to using traditional means?” Media and Technology in Election Campaigns
Candidates have to conduct a feasibility study for their technology use, to understand the category they are reaching out to through these media. The most effective communication strategies in campaigns, declares Staci Haag, is the use of modern technology to reach out to larger and more targeted groups at the same time: “Today, using e-mail surveys, asking questions, using demographic information on SMS lists candidates can deliver much more specific and relevant messages to targeted groups”. Media and Technology in Election Campaigns
Cautions about new media:
For Staci Haag, the single biggest mistake candidates worldwide (not just in the Arab world) make is to jump into new media without preparing: “...they hear about a new technology – and just start typing using the rules of the old technology in new mediums. Learn what bloggers expect in terms of communication, Facebook rules of courtesy and so on, if you don’t you’ll be easily identifiable as someone who is just using them as a tool and will lose respect among the very people you’re trying to reach.” Media and Technology in Election Campaigns
In addition, there are limitations in areas where internet is not available. For example, in rural areas most people won’t be online, therefore women have to avoid total reliance on modern technology and use more conventional communication methods such as printed publications. Women must also update their website regularly yet without making regular mistakes in daily communication.
Last, Cathy Allen says that in some cases technology may become a waste of valuable time for women candidates “As more women candidates use new media technology, the novelty can wear off quickly. Technology may become just another time drain for women candidates while they should be focusing on traditional voter contact strategies that deliver votes.” The Role of New Media and Women’s Increased Power in the Middle East
Focus on the message:
Candidates should not lose sight ofhow the election campaign is presented to the public and the role of the media in delivering that message.. Aseel Abu Al-Bandora declares that: “women must break off stereotypes and present a different and realistic political message expressing their personality. They must put forth an applicable and realistic political program to address issues of society and be a plan for real change. Prominent female role models with a rich political history or at least a successful experience in politics should be presented to earn credibility and support. Media can be used to serve and disseminate the political message, should this political message be in touch with reality.” Women and the Media
Jihane Abu Zaid points out that media have a specific job to do, and are more likely to cover newsworthy topics: “Media outlets that have a primarily lucrative purpose need to be informed of the latest in society and need to inform their audience. Therefore, the media will definitely be interested in any woman candidate presenting facts from her society and her political program in an attractive and witty manner.” Arab Women in Politics and the Role of the Media. For women to be able to attract the media, they need to “provide a solid presentation, accurate data, handle controversial matters diplomatically, and provide constructive criticism”. Arab Women in Politics and the Role of the Media
Respect the media and other candidates:
Jihane Abu Zaid adds that female politicians should respect a certain etiquette toward other women to earn the respect of voters: “On the other hand, women parliamentarians and candidates have to show respect for other women and gender issues. Society, against all expectations, does not respect any person denying their identity or adopting a condescending attitude towards peers. The Arab society never forgave women parliamentarians who attacked legislative benefits acquired by other women, and this attack was seen as an attempt to fawn upon men.”
Jihane adds that “societies recognize honesty and self-confidence, and need women parliamentarians who believe in themselves and are proud of their gender and their society, no matter how developed.” Arab Women in Politics and the Role of the Media She goes on to advise women candidates to respect the media and how they operate: “It is true reporters chase the news, but they do not appreciate those who chase them. Women in politics should avoid that and instead use their wittiness and make full use of resources to attract the media.” Arab Women in politics and the role of the media
Stereotypes of Women in Politics
Media portrayals of Arab women:
Most participants agreed that women in the Arab region are still portrayed by media according to stereotypes. They are rarely seen in political or representative roles or in decision-making positions. Instead, they are still depicted as not interested in politics, and consequently unable to be involved in politics along with men.
Arab media often present the image of women as housewives or women working in conventionally-female occupations such as teachers, secretaries or administrative clerks away from decision-making positions. Dr. Bahia Al-Jishi indicates in this regard that: “it is not possible to tackle the exclusion of women from the media separately from women’s status in society. Few women occupy leadership positions in media outlets... Even those women have to face the obstacle of woman stereotyping hindering their efforts to improve the media. It is therefore necessary to raise awareness in the media, on women’s rights and issues, to break traditional stereotypes spreading through programs aiming at marginalizing women and restricting their role to traditional issues instead of seriously examining women issues and problems.” Media and Women Politicians and Parliamentarians
According to a study conducted by the Center for Arab Women Training and Research (CAWTAR) in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, the media also does not accurately portray women’s political success: Media coverage of women’s political participation in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco does not reflect all women’s activities and contributions, whether within political parties, civil society organizations or parliaments; Media tackle women’s political participation randomly, occasionally and selectively; Media avoid respecting diversity of the role of women active in politics; Media adopt a positive position towards women’s political participation content-wise, but the form is rather discriminatory. It has been proven that there are, in the audiovisual media, spaces restricted to women. Regarding written and electronic media, women’s political participation is a topic of interest for women journalists rather than men. Media coverage for women politicians in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia
Sally Al-Baz mentions that Arab media still draw negative stereotypes about women as only passive members of society with no active role: “Media play an important role in determining the image of women in the Arab region, who are portrayed as beautiful silent creatures who should not express their opinion nor have any role in politics”. Role of the Media She recommends that women launch awareness and media campaigns to fight these negative stereotypes.
Dr. Fatima Sadiqi indicates that there are very few studies on how Moroccan women are portrayed in the media. “Most literature focuses on the content of broadcasting such as movies, TV series and commercials. Only few have focused on news bulletins and serious shows such as political interviews and documentaries.” Media and Technology and Their Impact on Women in North Africa She confirms that most studies on the portrayal of women in the media showcase their fragile roles.
As an example, she mentions that “degrading stereotypes are still widespread, depicting women in general as victims or as tools to encourage consumption or negative consumers. The female body is used as an object or viewed from the perspective of traditional roles assigned to women, where they are rarely presented as independent minds but rather ignorant, naive and stupid persons.” Media and Technology and Their impact on Women in North Africa
In some cases, however, a bigger challenge is to get media to provide any coverage at all of women, as Roula Attar points out:“before we evaluate how Arab women politicians are portrayed in the media, we need to see if they are portrayed at all. One of the challenges women face is that the media isn’t really interested in what they have to say or what they do, so the limited coverage they get is usually shallow and lacks substance.”
Changing media stereotypes:
Dr. Moha Enaji indicates that Arab women still face several obstacles as a result of a low female participation in the media and public life in general: “When women have the chance to work in the media sector, they often occupy a secondary role and are short of financial resources. These obstacles hinder Arab women from playing a role in Arab media.” Arab Women and Media
Dr. Enaji further points out that to overcome these barriers, Arab women have started to use the media strategically: “Arab women are making strategic use of the media as a tool for raising awareness and change, which has led to a positive change in the media and social structures. This includes prints, women magazines, movies, radio, television and books by women.” Arab Women and Media
Dr. Bahia Al-Jishi advises female politicians to build strong relationships with the media to convey their message to voters: “This bond between media and the women should also be reflected in the relationship of women parliamentarians and the media. This relationship is not governed by law but rather by mood and personal ties. Stereotypes about women and politics are guiding these media and their position towards women in politics, namely within parliaments. Women in politics have then the task of changing these stereotypes and highlighting the real role of women within the parliament, not only through formalities, but also by working within committees, to form a new culture of women participation in politics.” Media and Women Politicians and Parliamentarians
Jihane Abu Zaid adds that every candidate should be aware of the way that media functions and build personal relationships: “Media outlets mostly have lucrative purposes and adopt a political position; they also have duties and ambitions. Women politicians should be aware of that and find the proper entry point to access these outlets and through the right persons.
In the Arab region, personal bonds also play an important role in people’s lives. It is important to build relationships with the media through a solid network of personal ties based on respect and honesty.” Arab Women in Politics and the Role of the Media She goes on to underline the need to build alliances between women and civil society organizations: “Women in politics have to build alliances with the proper actors, after careful thinking, as a wrong alliance can be costly. Potential partners include civil society organizations, associations and media”. Arab Women in Politics and The Role of the Media
Roula Attar indicates that improvement of media coverage of women politicians is a responsibility of both the media and women:. “It will take effort on both sides of the equation to change that. First, media outlets, with civil society’s help, should become better aware of the value added of having women in politics and should work harder at developing meaningful stories and coverage of Arab women politicians. Second, women themselves should become more “media-savvy” and should feed substantive information to media outlets and shape the way the media covers them, instead of continuing to be shaped by media itself.” Media and Communication Technology for Arab Women in Politics
Dr. Fatima Sadiqi provides an encouraging example from Morocco: “Though the picture is gloomy, there is still hope thanks to the transitory media system in Morocco, which is very liberal and is introducing some change... For example, the Moroccan channel M2 is trying to reflect a positive image, by highlighting social, legal, economic and cultural bias women suffer from. This channel also broadcasts documentaries on sexual violence and harm resulting from gender stereotypes.” Media and Technology and Their Impact on Women in North Africa
Cathy Allen believes that there has been a substantial increase in the number of opinions and opportunities for women with the satellite explosion in the Arab region, as there are now some 500 Arab owned stations which no longer have to rely upon permission to broadcast into a country, which means more freedom which should be used by women. The Role of New Media and Women’s Increased Power in the Middle East
Civil society organizations play an important role in raising awareness among journalists to stop using stereotypes, and instead replace them with images of women leaders influencing decision-making, which will be engraved in people’s memories and their opinions will slowly change. Negative images presented by the media will never serve the participation of women in politics, it is then necessary for civil society organizations to launch awareness programs targeting journalists.
In this regard, Dr. Fatima Sadiqi points out the positive role played by non-governmental organizations in achieving change: “Several non-governmental organizations underline discrimination against women in journalism and call for the establishment of newspapers by women themselves. In parallel, there are still academic and civil actors struggling for the respect of women’s political rights. We should remember that quotas for women in parliament are now a reality thanks to the efforts of governmental or non-governmental organizations”. Media and Technology and Their Impact on Women in North Africa
Media as Mirror or an Instrument for Change
Jihane Abu Zeid highlights the role of written media saying: “Written media play a crucial role by shaping the public opinion, as they convey political information, data and different events to form perspectives of different categories of citizens, taking into account the difference in cultural levels towards such issues”. Arab Women in Politics and the Role of the Media
For visual media, she adds: “Visual media, television namely, as public media outlets, have a special role. They convey words and images, in addition to their ability to reach out to audiences of different cultural backgrounds, which allows them to reach a general consensus between all categories, try to achieve convergence of opinions on general topics and build a modern society”. Arab Women in Politics and the Role of the Media
Some might view the media as a mirror reflecting what goes on in society as it is with no amendments or glitz. It is as if the media only portray positive or negative realities. Others consider the media as a very effective tool for change, by lobbying or building alliances through various shows reaching almost every citizen, and eventually leading to increasing women’s participation in politics. Rima Massoud, participating in the e-discussion, confirms that presenting successful female models capable of making change in the Arab media is very important, as it will contribute over time to changing stereotypes. Women and the Media
Aseel Abu Al-Bandora indicates that the media play a clear role in changing the image of women in oriental societies, which will then impact the effectiveness and participation of women in politics. Women and the Media
Rana Ayyash believes that the media must be a tool for change to overcome the prejudice against women in politics: “The media should be a tool for change, changing with time, place, ideas, concepts and beliefs in line with society, and contributing to more positive change. We should never deny the role of the media of all forms in changing stereotypes about women, namely about women in decision-making positions”. The Media as an Important Tool for Change
Roula Attar confirms that media are a tool for change, but warns that it needs to move at a pace acceptable to the society in which it operates: “The media is definitely an agent of change and has an important role to play in improving perceptions of women politicians and promoting their work. That said, the media is a mirror of the community it operates in and as such, it should aspire for reasonable, not radical change, and should operate at society’s pace, not ahead of it.” Media and Communication Technology for Arab Women in Politics
Dr. Fatima Sadiqi believes that the media are now an honest mirror of society in Morocco: “Media are also important as they are linked to democratization and openness in Morocco. Several voices have expressed themselves through different media channels. The media have then become an honest mirror reflecting how gender is perceived in the public space.” Media and Technology and their Impact on Women in North Africa
This has lead to tangible changes, added Dr. Fatima Sadiqi: “In fact, citizens are now aware it is impossible to achieve true sustainable development in Morocco without taking the gender perspective into account. Some ministries have then started to mainstream gender into their budgets as some organizations also adopted a gender perspective into their policies.” Media and Technology and their Impact on Women in North Africa
Participants in this e-discussion wrote about the current situation of women in the Arab region and their use of technology and the media, and the impact of both tools on increasing the participation of women in politics. They discuss the advantages of new technologies in providing women in the region an opportunity to reach out directly to voters, but caution that such media needs to be used strategically.
Participants point to the stereotypical images of Arab women in traditional media and provide recommendations for change. These include advice to women to engage in strategic messaging and build relationships with journalists, to be respectful of their opponents, to understand what motivates media outlets, to engage civil society organizations as agents of change, and the responsibility of media outlets to portray women accurately.
Some positive examples were provided of media outlets that are beginning to break down the stereotypes and the opportunity that media liberalization in the region provides for women.
Finally, participants discussed whether the media are mirrors of society or instruments for change. Recommendations included the need to conduct more academic studies to profile the achievements of Arab media in promoting the participation of women in politics. It was also recommended that the capacities of men and women involved in politics should be strengthened, the concept of citizenship promoted, citizens (especially youth) should be trained to respect difference, and candidates should be chosen without regard to race, gender or social class.
We would like to thank all participants in this e-discussion:
Jihane Abu Zaid, Human Rights Activist, Egypt
Roula Attar, NDI Resident Director, Jordan
Dr. Fatima Sadiqi, Linguistics and Gender Studies Professor, Morocco
Cathy Allen, President of the Connections group, USA
Staci Haag, NDI Resident Director, UAE
Siti Nurjanah, Center for Religious and Community Studies, Indonesia
Dr. Bahia Al-Jishi, Member of the Shura Council, Bahrain
Dr. Moha Naji, Linguistics and Gender Studies Professor, Morocco
Nvart Taminian, Jordan
Aseel Abu Al-Bandora, Jordan
Rima Massoud, Jordan
Rana Ayyash, Jordan
Sally Al-Baz, Egypt
Salem Mariam, Tunisia
Sari Wilson, UNIFEM, Singapore
Ramziya Al-Ariani, Yemen