The Ministery of Women and Child Development has released a report on the Status of Women in Media in South Asia. The Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) prepared the report, which was sponsored by UNESCO.
Inequalities based on caste, class, religion, ethnicity, and location are exacerbated throughout the South Asian region by severe gender-based discrimination that stifles progress and development for both girls and boys. Existing evidence indicates that, despite significant progress (particularly in education and health), critical gender gaps persist. Patriarchal values and social norms tend to favour men and boys' access to opportunities and control over resources across all South Asian countries. These inequalities manifest themselves throughout the life cycle, from conception to birth, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
One of the most fundamental challenges to sustainable development has been identified as gender inequality. Discrimination, based on gender, can contribute to poor health, educational, social and economic outcomes that extend across the life-course and the next generation. Childhood and adolescence are when gender inequalities emerge and gender norms are first internalised.
The wages of women working in the media are not equal, and their representation at management levels where decisions are made is insufficient.
With few exceptions, the workplace environment for women in the media is gender insensitive and includes harassment, violence, and threats to their safety.
There is a clear gender gap in the media's portrayal of women, with a heavy emphasis on sexual assault and harassment in the news media's coverage of women.
According to the individual Country Research Reports, women are frequently stereotyped, belittled, and sexually objectified in the news, entertainment, and commercial sectors across all nine countries. The discourse and coverage of women in the media in these countries reflects the patriarchal mentality that permeates traditional societies, including those in South Asia.
The portrayal of women in advertising and entertainment media was found across all nine countries to be retrograde, projecting women in a stereotypical manner, either in ‘essentialist’ roles, as passive, subordinate to men, low in intellect and social hierarchy, or as objects of desire.
The good news is that India likely has more laws protecting women than any other country in the region. For instance, laws that guarantee working women maternity leave, prohibit sexual harassment of women at work, and require each organisation to have a complaints committee.
India has proposed a Multimedia Tool Kit for the gender sensitivity test.
The country-based research findings on legal and policy frameworks for women in media highlight the urgent need for meaningful and effective mechanisms that can ensure a gender sensitive media with equal, non-discriminatory rights, protection against sexual harassment and gender based violence at the workplace, and respect for women in portrayal, both in media content and advertising.
The mechanisms can be formal laws, rules, moral and ethical codes, regulatory organisations, and self-regulatory mechanisms. Each of the nine nations is debating these issues vigorously, and a few have effective mechanisms in place, but implementation is not given enough attention.
Governments and industry self-regulatory bodies must collaborate with corporate and creative teams on brand advertising to ensure realistic portrayals of women and address objectification of women. The entertainment industry's scriptwriters, producers, and directors ought to agree on gender-sensitive metrics.
An online multimedia toolkit for the gender sensitivity test has been proposed by India.
Stronger initiatives by the Governments are vital, in partnership with all stakeholders, public and private, to agree on the most effective mix of mechanisms, to rigorously implement existing legal frameworks or update outdated policies.
A healthy, inclusive workplace free from discrimination must be guaranteed for female media professionals.
UNESCO and SWAN ( South Asia Women’s Network) agree on the critical role of the media as a reflection of society and an agent of change, media must function with freedom and sense of responsibility. The media is a crucial ally in the fight for gender equality as well as in dismantling harmful gender stereotypes that are pervasive in society at large. Getting it right on gender and media is essential for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), beginning with SDG 5 on the empowerment of women and girls.