Communication freedoms are not gender neutral


Hilary, second on the left, holding the Federation flag with fellow Summer School participants.

The enthusiasm  shown by some of the younger Caribbean participants for the flag of the West Indies Federation (1958-1962) has been quite moving for Christopher Laird and myself, two ‘elders’ of the regional cultural movement. Why? Striving for regional integration – whether in the cultural, political or economic arena – has been hugely difficult and nearly 60 years on, most young adults in this region look to the USA, not the Caribbean, for advancement.

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Chris Laird unfurled the Federation Flag during his inspiring presentation on Building a Caribbean Civilization during the WACC Summer School.  At a time when cultural identity may be diluted, distorted and derailed by globalized media, by very undemocratic structures of communication, WACC’s focus on the importance of communications in building culture is much needed.  And it has been wonderful to see a sense of group identity shaping among the participants from 11 countries around the world.

This is my first experience as a resource person for the Summer School, and I was greeted by smiles and hugs by the WACC team – Rev. Karin Achtelstetter, Lorenzo Vargas and Joseph Patterson – when I arrived in the cool, clean hills of Mandeville, from the heat, dust and pollution of my home in Kingston.

My task has been to facilitate the session on Gender and Communication. We have explored the ways in which gender socialization, gender norms and ideologies influence our options and abilities, as women and men, to communicate freely – i.e. to enjoy our ‘communication rights’.  We’ve talked about how, when, in what circumstances women and men are able to enjoy their right to ‘freedom of expression’.  Are boys and men raised to feel a sense of entitlement to their voice, and to be heard, more so than girls and women?  Participants have been agreeing that freedom of expression, freedom of association– and other communications rights – are clearly not gender neutral.

We took a quick tour of the findings from the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) 2015, and noted that the huge and consistent gender disparities in the representation of women and men in the news – a ratio of about 3 men to 1 woman - reflect the gender inequalities that exist in our societies. But also, we saw that these imbalances as well as the treatment of women and men, help to perpetuate disempowering gender stereotypes.

The low proportions of women who appear in the news as spokespersons or experts reflect the constraints that women face in having their voice heard, and in feeling that they have the right to be heard. And reporters rarely take the time to seek out a balance of voices for their sources – news deadlines mean that reporters go for the most readily available sources, and these are more often men than women.

Fortunately, the women and men who are gathered right now at the WACC Summer School do not face these gendered limitations: all voices are ‘out there’ – often loud, in heated debates, sometimes shrieking with delight or surprise or with bass-tone guffaws. The discussions are benefitting from the camaraderie amongst the participants.

So I was sorry to leave the Summer School mid-week, but you’ll understand why: the Launch of the HeForShe Campaign in Jamaica was taking place on the lawns of Jamaica House – and I had to be there!


Hilary Nicholson was invited by WACC to teach at its Summer School at the Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Jamaica from 25-29 July 2016.



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