The Rev. Vincent Rajkumar (left) with fellow participants at the WACC project partners’ consultation held in NY earlier this month. Photo: Contributed
Kaleidoscope invited Vincent Rajkumar to give his impressions of the WACC consultation on “Gender and Media: Challenges and Opportunities in the post-2015 Era” held in New York 9-11 March 2017. Rev. Rajkumar is Director of the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society (CISRS) in India, a WACC corporate member and project partner who recently completed a project on “Violence against Women: Violation of Communication Rights – A Media Monitoring Program”.
“The media has long been recognized as the watchdog of our society and this tradition bestows the social responsibility to mirror and guide the process of social change. But in the contemporary media under various pressures it has become the commercial channels that have failed to reflect the social problems or aspirations of the entire population, primarily the problems faced by people at the margin, especially women. It is a fact, that our society generally considers women as weak and inferior. This negative attitude towards women in real life is very much reflected in the way media represents them as well. So, the portrayal of women in media, be it electronic or print media, is a great concern to people who have an interest in gender sensitivity and the emancipation of women.
One of the biggest obstacles to women’s participation and access to the media is the patriarchal structure of societies where men continue to see women as subordinate to them. Patriarchal attitudes of governments, faith communities and media are manifest in their being predominantly male institutions which tend to view women as an undifferentiated mass of low status in society. Gender biases and gender-based discriminations therefore result in stereotyped attitudes, sexual harassment, pay inequities, discriminatory treatment in assignments and promotions, traditional gender hierarchies, lack of support mechanisms for working women and low education that deter women from joining the media or assuming decision-making positions.
Those are the realities that we shared in our deliberations during the three days’ pre-sessions to the 61st session of the United Nations’ Commission of the Status of Women. In these realities, we found the commonalities of the oppressive patriarchal structure which dominates the life of common people in general and women in our regions. Moreover, the tradition and the culture of many of our communities, including the faith communities, either restrict the freedom of women or justify the oppressive structure by their interpretations. Here I felt the need for the media monitoring of the faith communities in the region. I have a plan to initiate this pilot project in India to start with and later in the other Asian regions.
In our engagements at the consultation, we spent time discussing various aspects of new media initiatives experimented by some of the participants in their countries. This mutual sharing helped many of us to get encouraged to experiment the alternative media initiatives in our own regions. The group also recognized the voices of dissent raised by our women in our regions at the grassroots to construct their own space and freedom in the oppressive structure is another platform for women to build an alternative media. By this we also acknowledged that the voices raised by such women are liberating in nature and transformative in aptitude and revolutionary in actions.
Another important factor which was accredited at the deliberations was the importance of having both men and women involved in the struggle to transform the media to be socially responsible in creating a society with equal participation of men and women in building a humane society. For example, in our Asian culture and traditions, society always affirms the participation of both men and women as equal partners in working together to change and transform our society. In this process, we not only strive for the proper space and freedom for women but also, we affirm that the women have a role to play in this transformative process in society. I personally felt privileged to be among three men in the midst of thirty women participants in these three-day deliberations. This has offered me a spiritual experience of being part of a wider society which crosses the gender disparities of our society.”