|Out of Sight, Out of Mind|
Among the least visible issues in the media today is poverty. It was with this in mind that WACC convened a panel on communication and poverty as part of the World Forum on Communication Rights (WFCR), a one-day event held alongside the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in December of last year.
The WFCR was initiated by the Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) campaign and was led by a coalition of international NGOs, including WACC, with the aim of demonstrating and documenting the importance of communication rights for people and communities in an emerging information society. Early hopes that the WSIS would tackle a broad range of information and communication issues have been dashed and the agenda that has emerged is concerned mainly with telecommunication and internet-related issues, viewed from a technical perspective and a narrowly construed development agenda. Broader communication and media issues, an essential feature of any information society, and human and communication rights that must animate its core, have been largely sidelined.
The WACC panel on communication and poverty, one of four thematic panels, explored the ways in which the presence of poverty on a global scale is at odds with the vision of an information society and connectivity as the panacea of development. It analysed the integral relationship between issues of representation and communication rights from the perspective that people not only have the right to be made visible but also have the right to contribute to the making of communication environments of their choice. In his keynote speech, Palanguni Sainath, an award winning Indian journalist and poverty activist, discussed the structural reasons for global poverty today with a focus on the relationship between poverty and the media from the Indian perspective, The other three panelists, Dennis Smith, President of the WACC-Latin America region from Guatemala, Kate Azuka Omenugha, a Nigerian WACC scholar and Cheri Honkala from the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign in the USA, explored representations of poverty in their respective countries, with a strong gender perspective, and provided clear examples of people using communication for social change through claiming their rights to public spaces, education, culture, their right to life and to another representation.
In the following pages, the Monitor features extracts from the presentations given by the three panelists and provides information on the exhibition featuring photos by Palanguni Sainath which accompanied the WFCR.
These are stories that are not normally considered ‘news’ and therefore do not make it into print – though they raise crucial issues of exploitation and human rights. Normally, this strata of women – many of them illiterate – would be invisible in the media, have no say in what it writes or says about them, nor have any access to any medium of mass reach.
Many voices, many faces, but few are seen and heard. How strange, since people fly from all over the planet to take photos of Guatemala’s smoking volcanoes, our colonial churches and especially of rural Mayan women in brightly colored traditional dress. But for most visitors, the human beings behind the dress remain invisible, voiceless.
In Latin America November 25th is the Day of Non-Violence Toward Women. A women’s group set out, in Central Park in Guatemala City, to patch together a quilt with scraps of cloth on which passersby noted the names of women they knew who had been victims of violence. Not arranged ahead of time, just random women passing by. “Do you know a woman who has suffered violence? What is her name? Can you write it here?” In less than an hour 30 names were collected. Stories were told. Memories were rescued from anonymity.
In a country like Nigeria, culture and religion help to keep women in the chains of poverty: a culture and religion that demand that women are silenced, that demand the seclusion of women, that expect men to take the lion and fatty shares while women content themselves with lean ones; a culture and religion which relegate women to the background. It is within this cultural context that gender roles are defined and women’s participation is delimited or precluded in certain key spheres reserved for men. There is a pervasive attitude that women’s basic role is a reproductive one, with associated duties of child-rearing and home making. This scenario continues to widen the inequality between women and men in access and participation in all facets of life.
The media in Nigeria bask in the maintenance of the status quo. Yet it is of utmost importance that women’s issues are kept in view and addressed in the media, as the liberation of women would imply the liberation of a host of other poor.
The Nigerian media are caught in this web of discordant culture. By excluding women, by giving them little voice, by demeaning them through various forms of stereotypes, by increasing their vulnerability, the Nigerian media are contributing to trapping women in the vicious cycle of poverty.
While the Bush administration continues to make war and hurt people around the world, it is committing grave human rights violations against its own people as well, implementing economic policies that impoverish and kill people across the US, while at the same time limiting and repressing efforts of the poor and others to speak out on the human rights situation in the US.