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Women HIV/AIDS campaigners want more gendered coverage
US Embassy
December 06, 2012

Women's organizations working on HIV and AIDS awareness prevention and women's empowerment on Wednesday called on the media to include more gender analysis in their reporting, noting the continued exclusion and stigmatization of marginalized groups in mainstream media.

"Unfortunately, we have observed that our media has tended to be gender-blind, or is urban based," said Dr. Emmie Wade, Executive Director of Kunzwana Women's Association Trust, during a Ladies Night discussion session at Harare's premier journalists meeting place, the Quill Club.

The Ladies Night discussion series is an initiative of the Quill Club executive in partnership with the Women Journalists Mentoring Program (WJMP).

The WJMP is implemented jointly by the United States Embassy and Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC) and works to develop professional leadership and writing skills for young women journalists.

Wade and Mary Sandasi of the Women and AIDS Support Network (WASN) were guest speakers at the discussion and addressed the gender dimensions of HIV/AIDS coverage.

"The sacrifices that our colleagues are making in rural or insular communities either go unnoticed and are generalized," noted Wade, whose organization has over 5,000 members in over 90 villages throughout Zimbabwe.

"The media tends to stop at buzz words," she said citing the SADC's declared goal of 50 percent female representation in parliaments as an example. "That's what we read about in the papers. The media do not report how we are going to reach the 50 percent; how are we going to dethrone 50 percent of men; what do we do with them; as well as the manifestations of this 'how.'"

The discussion was held four days after the 24th World AIDS Day, which had a 2012 theme focused on partnership: "Getting to Zero - My Responsibility, Your Responsibility."

"While HIV and AIDS are population issues, our response in many cases has been weakened by the fact that there is no gender analysis to see whether we benefit most when we respond in a too general manner or in a targeted manner," said Sandasi. "If you look at most of the information that goes through the media, it is not targeted - it is too general . . . (and) if we use gender to analyze issues and we target a (specific) population, we find that it will be useful."

Wade, whose organization was established in 1993 with the aim of promoting and facilitating the social, economic, educational and cultural advancement of disadvantaged women, children and youth residing or working in farming communities, said women's efforts were barely recognized in the media.

"We are convinced that once women are equipped with practical skills, they are able to realize an income, make informed choices, they can have options, and in most cases domestic violence is reduced," said Wade. She noted that "women's efforts at realizing income are considered to be insignificant and believed to be temporary without sufficient security and because of that, they do not feature in the media."

Sandasi noted the lack of attention to female controlled HIV/AIDS prevention devices in the media.

"If we take the statistics of HIV and AIDS, slightly more than half of the people that are infected in the country are women. But when we talk about prevention you find that we are putting more emphasis towards male circumcision and not the ability of women and girls to be able to use a gadget that they can control," said Sandasi, whose organization started operating in 1989 and has promoted the use of the female condom and microbicides research to empower women in preventing HIV transmission.

Despite the criticism the women activists said HIV/AIDS organizations and the media shared similar challenges. "Our vision is to create an atmosphere where women and girls can enjoy their full sexual and reproductive health rights," said Sandasi. "They should have sex without fear of violence or being infected by STIs and HIV. We all work towards providing targeted and sensitive information to women which is a challenge for media as well."

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