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Female Zim human rights defenders assess media coverage
July 25, 2012
Top female Zimbabwean
human rights defenders criticized coverage of women working to promote
and defend human rights and challenged media to see themselves as
partners in the fight for democracy and eradication of patriarchal
stereotypes against women.
"There is a lot terrible character- assassination of women
human rights defenders," Irene Petras, director of the Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), told participants at a Ladies
Night event held at the Quill Press Club in Harare on Thursday.
"Even the abuse that they face in their professional work
is very gender-specific. There is a lot of verbal abuse and character
assassination which specifically goes to the gender issue, in addition
to being exposed to much more in terms of violations such as sexual
harassment and rape," she said.
the widest coverage, and at one time had one of the biggest spreads
in a local weekly, when I was President of the Law
Society of Zimbabwe," Beatrice Mtetwa, award winning human
rights lawyer, weighed in. "It was quite obvious that the
whole article wanted to debase me as a female claiming I am lonely . . . it
was so personal that it was incredible," said Mtetwa who has
represented a string of local and foreign media workers in her professional
The event, an
initiative of the Women Journalism Mentoring Program (WJMP) implemented
jointly by the United States Embassy and the Humanitarian
Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC), is held monthly and
aims to increase women's participation in male dominated public
and Virginia Muwangiwa of the Women's
Coalition of Zimbabwe participated in a discussion facilitated
by Natasha Msonza of the Zimbabwe
Women Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN) on July 12.
practitioner who is looking at any women human rights defender who
is doing their work needs not just to start with what they are doing
on a daily basis, but all those challenges that they have to put
up with everyday just by virtue of being a woman in the human rights
movement," said Petras.
was honored for her work as director of ZLHR, said women human rights
defenders are unique in that they "put themselves on the frontline
together with their male counterparts, but they are more visible
when they put themselves out there. When they do so, they face more
hostility than men." She attributed this to cultural issues,
social issues and stereotypes about what women should be doing.
She criticized the failure by the media to go deeper when covering
The three panelists
were unanimous in calling on the media to be ethical, fair and balanced
about the work of women human rights defenders, to contribute to
democratization and social economic justice issues. They criticized
what they considered superficial coverage of women generally and
women working in the field of human rights specifically.
the things that really bugs me about the media in Zimbabwe is that
if the Prime Minister (Morgan Tsvangirai) visits Glen View and says
that women are clogging the draining system, I get three calls from
journalists asking me to comment," said Muwangiwa, a journalist
and gender and women's rights campaigner.
are not going to ask me to comment on an issue of term of office
for example, or economic empowerment, so it's the traditional
jobs that are associated with women that we are going to be asked
to comment on," said the mother of two teenage boys. She added,
"I also have comments about women's access to land,
indigenization and other issues of national significance."
and I probably get the most media mention because of the kind of
work that we do, but we never really get covered as human rights
defenders by the media," said Mtetwa. "You find that
I am doing a big case for a big politician and yes, my name will
be there, quotes of how the case I am doing is going in court, what
questions I asked, but if you check out all of that and you ask
who this person is, I don't think anybody knows who that person
is." Mtetwa was quick to point out that another contributing
factor could be that most women are media-shy.
that women receive a lot of coverage in the media but "currently
a lot of it comes in with a slant -- either they are being trivialized
or it's a scandal."
the media did not go beyond what they see and hear. "I have
noticed that in a lot of the reporting does not go deeper,"
said Petras citing examples of coverage of protests by members of
the Women of Zimbabwe
Arise (WOZA). "I feel that sometimes the treatments that
they get which goes on to the broader issues of conditions of detention,
the reasons why police particularly target women human rights defenders
are not being thoroughly interrogated by the media."
Night' events have featured women in business, politics and
journalism, allowing key speakers to interrogate media coverage
of women in those sectors.
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