|Mass Media: A Tool for the Empowerment of Asian Women?|
Prompted by the desire to promote the positive role the mass media can play in relation to gender and development concerns and to share experiences with two the neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia, the Research Centre for Gender, Family and Environment in Development (CGFED) and Vietnamese Info Youth Centre organised a workshop on gender, media and development in Vietnam.
CGFED are members of the WACC-related Asian Network of Women in Communication (ANWIC), and theworkshop held in September 2003 was the latest in a series of ANWIC workshops concerned with gender, development and peace. ANWIC has been organising country level workshops in several Asian countries for many years but this was the first effort to hold a regional level workshop to facilitate greater sharing of experiences and strengthen solidarity among neighbouring countries in Asia.
Almost fourty researchers, journalists and social activists from Vietnam participated in the workshops alongside eight delegates from both Laos and Cambodia who brought with them valuable insights and experiences to share.
The workshop analysed the role of the mass media in propagating gender equality and explored models and experiences that promote the active participation of communities in their own development.
In her opening remarks, Dr. Le Thi Nham Tuyet, Director of CGFED, gave an overview of the challenges Vietnamese society as a whole is experiencing in the face of globalisation and its onslaught on the economic welfare of the poorer sections of Vietnamese society. In this new context, it is vital for the media to address common social concerns such as drugs and trafficking prevalent in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
In her presentation on the role of mass media in empowering women, Chea Phalline, Vice Director of the National Radio of Cambodia highlighted how the media in Cambodia do not reflect the contribution of women to the overall development of the country, rather they continue to be stereotyped as objects for entertainment and adornment. Equally, the Cambodian media have failed to fulfil their potential for reducing poverty and contributing to the economic development of women. Radio in Cambodia, for example, does not attempt to reach out to the rural poor by giving them programmes that promote sustainable development and poverty alleviation. Nor does the media work towards eradicating violence against women. Most recently in Cambodia, the media had an opportunity to mitigate domestic violence by giving wide publicity to the law against domestic violence enacted by the government, yet they failed to do so.
The role of the media in empowering women was also the central argument of the presentation given by Bovachahanh Syhanath, Deputy Director of the Laos Women’s Union. Despite the existence of such organisations, gender is a new concept in Lao media, and there is an urgent need to increase the knowledge and ability of mass media professionals to create more awareness on gender issues.
Some common issues that emerged from the presentations by participants from all three countries related to the effect of ICTs and globalisation on employment opportunities for women, as well as migration to cities and the corresponding increase in trafficking and violence against women.
The workshop ended with participants making recommendations on how to move forward in the struggle to ensure that the mass media become a tool for women’s empowerment in Asia. These recommendations included:
- More attention must be paid to basic education programmes for women, especially women in rural and mountainous areas.
- Besides improving cultural knowledge, knowledge and information on healthcare for women, particularly reproductive and sexual healthcare, must not be ignored.
- All countries, particularly the three Indochinese countries, should make a commitment to gender sensitivity and gender policies.
- The negative effects of globalisation that impede women’s development such as poverty, drug addiction, prostitution and the trafficking of women and children should be stopped.
- A relationship between the mass media of the three countries - Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam – needs to be developed.
- Short-term training classes for gender cadres should be organised so that they can collaborate effectively and directly with the mass media on covering gender issues.
The workshop provided a useful forum for colleagues from ANWIC, Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos to share ideas for future collaboration and there are now plans for the three countries to exchange information and carry out research on the trafficking of women and children.