A continuing conversation gender based violence and the media’s role

On the eve of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign, The New Times, received a petition from leading women’s rights organizations in the country, in protest over an article written by a contributor entitled ‘Battered Woman’ published in The Sunday Times edition.

On the eve of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign, The New Times, received a petition from leading women’s rights organizations in the country, in protest over an article written by a contributor entitled ‘Battered Woman’ published in The Sunday Times edition.

The women took issue with the article written by a regular contributor to The Sunday Times, John Kayibanda, in which he tried from a male perspective to highlight some of the reasons behind domestic violence.

In a failed attempt he tries to do this by placing himself in the diabolical mind of a wife batterer, however, the interpretation a reader is left with is that he plays more to the patriarchal gallery, because what he does more of is to trivialize the serious debate on wife battering, than actually playing a constructive role.

Kayibanda, tries in the article to place the burden on the victim (battered woman), that it is her fault she is battered, she has not understood how to behave and communicate with her male counterpart.

He also goes on to highlight some of the domestic issues likely to trigger off domestic violence, such as financial problems or extra-marital affairs, cases in which the woman is always the  subservient victim.

In their petition the women rightly point out how societal norms and expectations upon which unequal gender power relations are premised, are the major cause for wife battering or Gender Based Violence.

Coming days before the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign ( November 25 to December 10), the conversation on gender violence and role of the media is important, because of the media’s potentiality to play a very retrogressive role in this respect, one that diminishes the great strides made so far to counteract this vice.

Consequently, one is compelled to look at the media or even maybe The New Times, as a national daily newspaper through a broader political context.

This is in view of the fact that the women raise issues of concern that border around, media ethics and responsible journalism, challenging us against retrogressive journalism that promotes primitive patriarchal practices as manifested through gender violence.

Now in response to my esteemed sisters, I would like to first agree with the issues they raise in the petition, which affect women on a daily basis, the violence against women easily perpetuated through the media comes in many forms, physical, psychological or even sexual.

As a journalist with many years experience, Rwanda offers a unique case study for any feminist or gender activist with an interest in the role the media plays in women’s emancipation, because of the media’s historical role as a bastion of patriarchal oppression.

This arises out of the fact that, generally, media ownership often mirrors the structure of the society, which has inherently tended to be patriarchal in nature, largely under male ownership and control, therefore, being a pillar of oppression in safeguarding male interests in society.

Meaning that one has to put into context the state of the media in Rwanda today, taking into account the country’s liberation history and how it has delivered not just for men but equally for women too and the positive influence this has on media operations.

Take for instance the primitive practices by the previous dictatorial regimes, anchored on the Genocide ideology, in which women were targeted specifically for all forms of violence, especially sexual assault, with the media then being the main tool in propagating the message of hatred and oppression.

These are lenses through which I would like to place The New Times as a national daily newspaper, being a product of the birthing of a new Rwandan society, post the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The biggest dilemma women in other societies have with the media, both print and electronic, is being appreciated as full human beings with serious opinions, worthy of front page head-lines, outside the societal triviality for instance of having killed a high profile lover or when they are simply projected as sex objects.

The picture I was confronted with in Rwanda is quite different.

When I got to The New Times, I somehow thought I would be faced with the above predicament, with the challenge of having women portrayed as leaders or opinion makers in their own right, I became an avid champion, of resuscitating an old publication The Women’s Times magazine.

My enthusiasm was soon diluted when I realized just how a little backward I was in all my zeal to champion the women’s cause, through a specific magazine for them.

Rwandan women have made great strides in all areas of life, be it private or public that on a daily basis they stand shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts as news-makers, not news that trivializes them, but national news on the country’s tremendous progress in different aspects of life.

Gender mainstreaming has been one of core issues at the heart of the women’s empowerment drive, after the realization that women’s desks or units further marginalize them.

The pertaining scenario in Rwanda which automatically reflects itself in a national daily newspaper like The New Times, is that the media will by and large reflect the values
of the society in which it is based, in this case the fast changing role of women in society. Meaning that promoting violence against women, can never be part and parcel of the papers editorial policy, in breaking away from the primitive role the media played in the past.

To allay the fears from the women’s organisations of irresponsible journalism that might reverse the gains women have made in society, I wish through this conversation as we approach the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, to take this debate further on the role
of the media vis-à-vis the value system in our society, that shuns all historical forms of violence and progress being made in this regard.

To be continued,,,,,,gkwinjeh@gmail.com

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