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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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By Iqbal Tamimi, Director for Arab Women Media Watch Centre

See the full article at Middle East Online

October 15, 2010

The above mentioned question was the subject of the discussions that went on during the 8th annual conference of the Arab Women working in the media held in Amman-Jordan from 5-8 October 2010.

The sponsor of this year’s conference was the Foundation for the Future, an independent, multilateral, non-profit organization, committed to promoting and strengthening civil society organizations in an effort to foster democracy and human rights in the Middle East and North Africa. As usual none of the Arab media businesses showed any interest or supported the event financially, technically or otherwise, except few local Jordanian newspapers and businesses even though the Arab Women Media Centre (AWMC) which organised the conference offers its cervices to all Arab women journalists and not exclusive to Jordanian media professionals. Still, even the local Jordanian newspapers did not follow the sessions of the conference and were only content by mentioning the conference once each, as a news item, about an activity that is going on in Amman, as if their female colleagues are not as important as another male organised media conference that is about to be launched in Amman, which already attracted all kinds of gigantic Arab sponsors and an excellent promotional campaign.

The President of the Future Foundation, Nabila Hamza, said during the event: “The number of Arab women who have posts as heads of TV channels are only two or three women. And although the female graduates of media collages in Palestine for example, are more than 43 percent, men working in the media sector in Palestine make more than 80 percent”. She has also mentioned that Saudi women working in the media field account for only 8 percent of the workers in this sector.

The conference discussed different forms of violence and aggression including political terrorism and how it is reflected by the media, religious extremism, domestic, verbal, psychological and social violence, violence as a result of wars and armed conflicts, and the role of the Israeli media language in legitimizing the violence against Palestinians.

I regret that Arab women have very limited role and a faint fingerprint regarding influencing media policies, simply because they are not taken seriously. The few women who appear on television screens managed to do so because men wanted that to happen and they backed them up to occupy such positions, sometimes for political reasons, and other times for other reasons that I do not want to discuss.

The truth remains that a story about stuffing the breasts or lips of a singer with silicone is given more attention in Arab media than a conference organised and attended by women from all over the Middle East, to discuss and educate women journalists about how to make a change through their work and assignments to eliminate violence and phanatisism in a world full of blood, clashes, sectarianism, manipulated religious rhetoric, extremism and an irresponsible use of language and expressions that yields more hatred and recycling violence in different shapes and forms.

Yes, women are doing their best for peace, in this world of madness and violence that comes in all shapes and sizes. But can Arab women journalists manage to succeed in their missions to promote peace when they are alienated from decision making posts of the media.

The Jordanian veteran journalist Mahasen El-Imam said, we recommended through this conference that more attention should be paid to credibility, neutrality and impartiality when dealing with terrorism-related news, and to be careful about the choice of terminologies used when discussing violence before delivering the news to the audience. But most of all we are requesting of media production companies and TV channels to limit and control the recreational programmes that encourage violence.

A report published by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says that female Egyptian journalists continue to suffer from discrimination regarding access to positions of leadership. Egyptian women journalists accounted for only 34 percent of the general assembly of the Egyptian Press Syndicate. The annual report for March 2010, says only 2,400 Egyptian female journalists are members of the press syndicate out of a total of 7,000 members and women’s percentage of representation in the Syndicate’s Council drops to only 7.7 percent, or 13 members.

A report published by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said female journalists in Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen, receive only 10 percent of the assumed positions of leadership compared to the control of women of about 50 percent of the programs in the field of audio-visual media. The report confirmed that Arab women journalists still face difficulties in advancing within the field of media work, especially the press, as compared to their male colleagues, besides facing difficulties in attending media institutions as its officials see that men are better suited to working in the press field.

Men in the Arab World are in control of the media content, exactly as they are in control of other sectors and activities. Arab women are only allowed to lead the discussions on women’s rights and what is claimed to be “women’s issues” through the media. The content of the majority of programs confirms the subordination of women to male dominance. Arab women journalists are considered good for back up roles and assistance jobs, and not good enough to handle the policies of news production of conflicts, violence or extremism.



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