Space and Presence: Women and the Media in India

A two-day consultation (4-5 February 2014) supported by UNDP brought together some of the most powerful women in India’s media, policymakers and activists, to provide inputs to the High Level Committee on the Status of Women. Constituted more than four decades after the last High Level Committee on the Status of Women, the Committee set up by the Government of India, examines the status of women in contemporary India and assesses the impact of policy and legislation on women’s equality. The ‘Women and Media’ consultation was part of a series of consultations held since 2013 supported by UNDP.  

Highlights

  • A two-day consultation from 4-5 Feb 2014 brought together experts from various fields to provide inputs to the High-Level Committee on the Status of Women
  • The Committee, set up by the Government of India, examines the status of women in contemporary India and assesses the impact of policy and legislation on women’s equality
  • The consultation was part of a series of consultations held since 2013 supported by UNDP
  • Krishna Tirath, Minister for Women and Child Development: Violence against women makes for sensational news but the same importance is not given to say, women’s sanitation issues
  • Dr. Pam Rajput, Chairperson of the High Level Committee: The presence and projection of women is a source of concern and the media needs to be accountable and responsible
  • Neerja Chowdhury, veteran journalist: The projection of women in the media is a human rights issue, not a moral issue
  • Lise Grande, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative: Media houses need to take the lead in gender parity

In fewer professions have women in India made greater strides than in the media. Women-dominated newsrooms are no longer an unfamiliar sight. From writing on politics, foreign policy, economy and cricket, a surge of women have made a significant impact India’s media. Yet, representation of women in the media, their absence from senior management positions and the continued focus on men-centric news continue to be a challenge. These were some of the issues discussed at a two-day consultation that brought together some of the most powerful women in India’s media, policymakers and activists, to provide inputs to the High Level Committee on the Status of Women.

Constituted more than four decades after the last High Level Committee on the Status of Women, the Committee set up by the Government of India, examines the status of women in contemporary India and assesses the impact of policy and legislation on women’s equality. The ‘Women and Media’ consultation was part of a series of consultations held since 2013 supported by the United Nations Development Programme.  

Participants noted the lack of balance in reporting on women’s issues. According to Krishna Tirath, Minister for Women and Child Development, Government of India, “Violence against women makes for sensational news but the same importance is not given to say, women’s sanitation issues.”

Since the 1990s, newspaper circulation has trebled from 21.9 million in 1990 to 58.3 in 1999. The country now has 87,000 newspapers and over 800 private satellite channels. Radio channels have similarly proliferated. According to Pamela Philipose, Editor-in-Chief, Women’s Feature Service, much of this media has targeted women as consumers and not citizens, doing very little for the self-esteem of women.

Dr. Pam Rajput, Chairperson of the High Level Committee on the Status of Women was a member of the 1974 High Level Committee on the Status of Women that marked a milestone in the women’s movement with the release of the report, ‘Towards Equality’ which aimed at addressing the barriers that stood in the way of realizing equality for women. In the increasingly globalized nature of media, she said, “the presence and projection of women is a source of concern and the media needs to be accountable and responsible.

Further, the globalization of media has impacted women differently with often problematic representation of the issues of women from marginalized communities. As senior journalist Neerja Chowdhury pointed out, “the projection of women in the media is a human rights issue, not a moral issue.”

In India, studies have shown that female reporters are currently responsible for 37 per cent of stories generated, compared to 28 per cent, a decade ago. Their stories challenged gender stereotypes twice as often as stories filed by male reporters. Yet, it also noted that a huge 78 per cent of the people heard or read about in the news continue to be male. Lise Grande, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative says, “Media houses need to take the lead in gender parity by allocating 50 percent of management roles to women, ensuring equal wages for equal work and introducing a gender sensitive code of conduct.” This will ensure that the next generation of journalists is trained to report on all of the population, and not just a segment of it. 

Role of the Second High-Level Committee on the Status of Women

Rita Sarin, Country Director of the Hunger Project in India and Member of the High-level Committee

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