I was following with interest media commentaries on the recent experts meeting on women’s media empowerment convened by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in Beirut (ESCWA). It was clear that independent communication campaigns to promote women’s causes and concerns are gaining a lot of ground in the Arab World. New digital media are making it quite possible for women’s groups to communicate their ideas and views to global publics.
But one issue raised at the meeting that I thought was disturbing relates to media behavior lagging behind social policies on women rights and advancement. The case from Morocco suggested that while the government was able to secure highly progressive civil and constitutional rights amendments relating to women in that country, media institutions were very slow in highlighting such achievements in their publications and broadcast programs.
As an observer of the changing face of media representation of women in the region, I think this development should prod us to re-think our conventional views about media as vanguards of feminist advancement and the state and society at large as the hindrances. It is clear that media’s political and commercial agendas are not always in full alignment with institutionalized aspirations for female development and empowerment.
In media and women scholarship and policy debates in this region, what are termed as “rigid and backward” social, political and cultural traditions have been largely blamed for the dire state of media images in the public sphere. I have come across numerous theories and perspectives that link negative media coverage of women to dismal social and cultural attitudes towards women rights in our communities. There are scores of media commentaries and academic discussions targeting outdated civil rights legislations and social and cultural norms and practices as the real causes of women’s misrepresentation in the media.