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Women and written press in the Maghreb

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  • Situation of the representation of women in the written press of the Maghreb.

    The socio-economic, political and cultural situation of women in the Maghreb has seen significant changes over the last decades. However, the media of the Maghreb has not changed in line with that evolution and women remain faced with a ‘glass ceiling’, which prevents them from accessing better social representation. The majority of media coverage in the Maghreb pushes for the marginalisation of women who remain in traditional roles.
    The case for the mediatisation of female politicians takes on significant importance since it contributes to confirming and normalising the idea of sharing power and decision-making roles between women and men. Nevertheless, this mediatisation has not been enough, and does not reflect the growing participation of women in political life. In addition the press rarely focuses its attention on questions involving equality between women and men and gender based discrimination. With a few exceptions the writing of articles on the question of gender equality is confined to women, with the risk of becoming a sort of ghetto where women debate « behind closed doors».
    As for the subject of violence against women, the reoccurrence of violence against women in newspaper current events doesn’t include any reflection on the social causes of this violence. Dealing with the topic in an adequate way is vital and this includes, amongst other things, using objective data, interviews with male and female experts on the topic, and the comparison of information on the subject in relation to human rights. An analysis of legislative texts is also required on the violation of these rights in the name of « family honour » and « good morals ».

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    The Gender sensitive indicators for media by UNESCO have the aim of measuring the level of awareness of gender equality, by any form of media, association or given regulatory body in both how they are structured and the content of their work.

    In Tunisia, according to the 2010 national report from the Global Media Monitoring Project, (GMMP) women were the subject of news around 25% of the time, despite a majority of female editors in the news analysed.

    The GMMP in Mauritania established that women quoted in press articles are rarely protagonists. They are frequently identified through their relationship with their spouses.

    According to a 2009 study by the Social development Ministry in Morocco 85% of press articles represent clichés and sexist stereotypes creating negative portraits of women.

    Research from 2009 on The Mediatisation of female political participation in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia (CAWTAR) identified an under representation of politically engaged women.

    During the electoral campaign of the 2012 legislative elections in Algeria, the electoral monitoring delegation form the European Union concluded that, despite 31% of candidates being women, the press gave them only 6% of the space reserved for political actors.

  • Changes in the way content is dealt with from a gender equality perspective.

    The common denominator for the four countries analysed is the low rate of women occupying decision-making positions within press companies. This situation is pronounced in Mauritania, obvious in Morocco and visibly acute in Tunisia and Algeria.
    To this is added another common trait for all of the countries of the Maghreb, a certain ghettoization of women journalists on themes, column and topics referred to as feminine. They are also often stuck doing office work, without the possibility to go into the field for the reports, investigations of other professional task, which add more value. Big events just like interviews with news personalities are usually reserved for male journalists.
    Another common characteristic of the four countries studied in the Maghreb involves the readership of the written press, which continues to be majority male, with the exception of women’s magazines. Arabic speaking journalists, who are more widely read in the Maghreb, more so than French speaking journalists, have a predominantly male audience. Women journalists are less represented than in French language newspapers.
    These characteristics influence the way information is dealt with, in particular in the choice of subjects, news protagonists and even the language used. This is rarely in a way that is beneficial for women, particularly in the private press, which is more « sensitive » to the expectations of its readership. In the public press there is a stronger tendency to spread official policies, which are often concerned with promoting a positive image of women.

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    A study by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) carried out in 2010 highlighted that the press in Mauritania does not employ a large number of women and they are almost totally absent from decision-making posts. However, there are two online sites managed by women.

    The report Situation of women journalists in Morocco, by the IFJ (2010), based on data from the Moroccan Ministry of Communication, stated that the presence of women journalists, across all forms of media, was 26%. A comparison with the data from 2005 shows an increase of 3%. In the written press this percentage is 25%.

    According to the 2005 study Women in Algerian media, written by the IFJ, the level of women journalists occupying permanent positions is nearly 30% reaching 60% in the 10 main private daily newspapers. The national average is around 55%. That said there is pay discrimination and a tendency to give women « lighter » topics to write about.

    In Tunisia, the media landscape shows almost parity for the number of working journalists (Global Monitoring Media Report 2010). However, there is still a lot to be done in the access of women to decision-making positions in press bodies. Women continue to be discriminated against in the coverage of public interest topics.

  • Which values are transmitted by the written press in the Maghreb?

    The reality of women in all of the countries of the Maghreb is far richer, more diverse and moving than the unchanging image projected by the media. One of the arguments most used to « justify » the unequal representation of gender rests on the fact it is only reflecting the inequalities existing in society. This argument can easily be refuted. In the Maghreb, as elsewhere, women represent around 50% of the population, where as they don’t go beyond a quarter in their representation in press articles.

    More or less consciously, this patriarchal ideology is shown every day through the media in this region. It is so deeply rooted in the societies of the Maghreb that it goes unseen, as if the representations presented in the media were the current reality and were not some sort of circus mirror. But the message-values that they circulate are different from country to country, and depend on the type of publication. Sometimes the same publication contains diverging values. This ambivalence is a marker of a lack of a national strategy on the approach to gender and a society where « progressive » and « conservative » values coexist.

    Nevertheless, in the written press of this region there have been efforts to promote a positive image of women. This is thanks to a certain commitment from institutions, human rights organisations, and in particular women’s associations, as well as women and male journalists who are aware of the issue.

    A special case is women’s written press. With the exception of Mauritania, women’s press is booming in the Maghreb, in particular in Morocco and Tunisia. It started out as an expression of feminist associations, this press has since included pages on fashion, beauty etc. replacing, for the most part, content on gender equality.

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    Public sector media circulates positive images of women more frequently. In private press, choices are determined, amongst others, by the composition of the readership. Women’s magazines, which now include a certain number of militant magazines, introduce a positive gender perspective more frequently than general daily newspapers.

    Two factors seem decisive in encouraging an improved representation of women in the written press of the Maghreb. On the one hand there is the training of journalists and the raising awareness on gender equality and on the other there is the importance of advocacy work by women’s rights associations.

    In women’s press, there are big differences. Women and reality (Tunisia) has the objective ‘of offering a fresh and piercing look into society and to talk about taboos.' Rebelle magazine (Morocco) addresses its public as follows: ‘Rebelle is not dedicated only to liberated rebellious women, unsubmissive and undisciplined! If you are looking for change and freedom, then this magazine is destined for you’. The Moroccan magazines Lalla Fatima and the Algerian Dziriya use more moderate language.

  • Equality and discrimination based on gender in the written press of the Maghreb: a case study.

    Stereotypes based on gender are common and reductive representations which, in all cultures, attribute certain characteristics to women, men as well as the relationships that exist between them. Sexist stereotypes are the subject of a crucial study when discussing the representation of women in the media since media is the vehicle of culture and a very important agent in social change. Media can contribute to strengthening inequalities by spreading sexist stereotypes, just as they can help to eradicate them by promoting relationships between the sexes based on equality.

    The three most current methods that spread sexist stereotypes in the media are: the representation of women as sexual objects, victims, ‘servants or ordinary people and the representation of men as leaders, authorities, experts or extraordinary people; the representation of women and men in their ‘traditional’ roles, that is to say women in the private sphere and men in the public sphere; the creation by the media themselves of media stereotypes. Another aspect to take into consideration is the lack of visibility of women or the absence of gender references.

    That said, we can see examples of media which promote a culture of gender equality. These examples integrate questioning sexist stereotypes, with a gender balance in sources of information. There is a special attention on questions linked to gender equality and dealing with information through a gender perspective.

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    The magazine El-Djazaïr in October 2012 was dedicated to an analysis of Algeria. The articles dealt only with men with the exception of one article at the end involving Wahiba Touni, winner of an international competition for reading the Quran. On the other hand, Le Quotidien d’Oran published « a day for the prevention of breast cancer » (2012) including many female expert voices, data and recommendations on prevention for women.

    Le Matin in Morocco published « Youths faced with looking after parents » (2012). All of these articles involved men. Women are represented, through the journalists’ suggestions and witness statements from husbands, as womenwho have difficulty with the decisions of their husbands. A positive example however is the article « Angry judges protest » from the newspaper Assabah which presented the opinions of male and female judges.

    In 2012 the Mauritanian newspaper Al Khabar published the article « Aid: day of joy and sadness ». The article, far from relying on data and statistics, made accusations based on witness statements used in a leading way to show the ruinous effects Mauritanian women’s spending habits. On the other hand, in 2012 Le Quotidien de Nouakchott dealt with issue of the parliament giving a voice to, and conveying more images of female politicians.

    The article « 29th International Festival of books: poetic afternoons for the lovers of beautiful writing » (L’Économiste Maghrébin, Tunisia 2012) cites numerous personalities having attended the book fair, but no women. The image created is that literature is an issue exclusively reserved for men. On the other hand La presse de Tunisie published « Democracy, pluralism and human rights. Towards a transcultural perspective » including male and female sources and dealing with the subject of equality.

  • Recommendations.

    The starting point of these recommendations has to be Beijing Declaration and Action Platform, which was produced by the United Nations world conference on women, which took place in Beijing in 1995. Section J of the Beijing platform is specifically dedicated to the media because of their potential to act in favour of equality.
    One of the important recommendations for the press is to not convey sexist stereotypes. To be able to do this, it is necessary to be aware of the fact that sexist stereotypes exist and that they take part in limiting gender equality. The media must in the end renounce simplistic and reductive visions of reality. Another aspect to take into consideration is not hiding gender. For this, it is essential to balance sources of information and include women and gender perspectives in written content as well as language.
    Giving visibility to women is vital for quality information. To get there, it is important to give women a voice, to publish photos including women, not to deal with women in an anonymous way, to promote opinion articles written by all kinds of women. To contribute to better understanding society, it is also important to deal with subjects on gender equality, which can stimulate debate and reflection on these themes.
    Finally, an important subject when dealing with violence against women is to avoid a sort of condescension on the subject. For this it is necessary to identify the violence inflicted on women, use precise language free from judgement, to avoid considering women just as victims and avoid exposing them to additional abuses coming from the treatment of information. The media must also treat survivors with respect, use statistics, safeguard confidentiality, involve specialised local organisations and supply useful information.

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    The Declaration of Beijing states that the « continued projection of negative and degrading images of women in media communications - electronic, print, visual and audio - must be changed. Print and electronic media in most countries do not provide a balanced picture of women’s diverse lives and contributions to society in a changing world. »
    Epicene writing is an updated writing practice which can be summarised as follows:
    •    Give up the constant use of the masculine as the generic term and include feminine forms
    •    From the outset write in an epicene style for a more balanced text
    •    Use feminisation processes on the text which don’t upset the reader, avoiding orthographic and typographic innovations
    •    Master language that ensures the text is understandable despite the introduction of feminine forms which inevitably lead to more complex writing
    Ensure a fair distribution of feminine forms paying attention to harmony and balance

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    • The « glass ceiling » prevents women’s access to better social representation.
    • The Gender sensitive indicators for media from UNESO are used to measure…
    • Quality information on violence against women must…
    • Which country has the highest rate of female journalists?
    • The readership of the written press is still predominantly male.
    • A large number of female journalists provide a gender perspective on media content.
    • Unequal representations of gender in the media only reflect…
    • Do women’s magazines contribute to equality ?
    • The patriarchal ideology is so deeply rooted that it can pass unseen.
    • Sexist stereotypes in the media represent women as…
    • Questioning sexist stereotypes in the media is positive for equality.
    • Which of the following examples is good journalistic practice ?
    • The Declaration of Beijing states that it is not necessary to change the image of women in the media.
    • Which of the following examples follow the principles of epicene writing ?
    • Egalitarian press must…

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