Media, patriarchy and society: Unpacking the 2018 women’s budget vote

Last week, on 17 May 2018, the Ministry in the Presidency responsible for Women delivered the Budget Vote speech for the 2018/2019 financial year. The speech detailed, amongst others, the achievements of the department in the previous financial cycle, the challenges faced by the department and South African women at large, as well as our plans for the immediate future. 

Central to the challenges we identified as facing our present reality is the brazen culture of violence against women throughout the country. We thus used the Budget Vote to make a call to all agents of society to rally together against patriarchy.

We also commended all members of society who have been vigilant in various ways to end violence and champion the cause towards gender transformation. We are clear in our conviction that society can address neither class nor race inequalities without changing the power relations that sustain patriarchal cultures.

To convey this message to the rest of the country, we rely on all sectors of society, particularly the media for its ability to transmit information across time and space. We commended media agents that have remained vigilant in reporting gendered violence, particularly the concerning femicide rates throughout the country.

We also acknowledge and are proud of the structural advances made by the media industry as both an employer and as a conduit for the dissemination of news and information to the wider public. Not only have more women taken seats in the executive structures of media companies ― but print, electronic and social media institutions have also contributed to the growth of contemporary feminist campaigns such as #patriarchymustfall, #pressforchange, #metoo, #timeisnow, #notinmyname, and many others.

A few hours after our Budget Vote, for example, radio host Masechaba Ndlovu hosted an interview with Bongekile Simelane, popularly known as Babes Wodumo, in which she confronted her about allegations of intimate-partner violence perpetrated on the young artist. This discussion was propelled to social media platforms, where it subsequently mobilised large parts of society into breaking the silence in their respective subjective locations.

The contrasting reactions to this were striking. Those who criticised Masechaba argued that she should not have confronted Babes Wodumo about matters of a “personal nature” on a public platform. Instead of these voices condemning the alleged abuse of Babes Wodumo at the hands of her boyfriend, they attacked Masechaba for talking about “personal matters in public”.

Intimate-partner and domestic violence thrives on the silence of the abused and those who witness it. A health survey conducted by Stats SA reveals that 21% of women over 18 in South Africa or one in five women have experienced violence by their partners. Shockingly, women between the ages of 14 and 29 accounted for about 39% of femicides and African women accounted for about 78% of these.

These figures are both alarming and prove that South African women live in a war zone. Silence is no longer an option!

We commend Masechaba Ndlovu for using her position of influence to contribute positively to the much-valued and needed culture of militancy in our approach to addressing violence on women. Sexual harassment and gendered violence between lovers, family members or peers is not a private matter.

During our Budget Vote Speech we also highlighted and critiqued the existing challenges within all social structures and agents of socialisation, including the media.

It has long been established that the most dominant agents of socialisation are the family, schools, religious institutions, peers and the media. These institutions exist solely to construct our perceptions of self as both individuals and as members of societies.

For centuries, these institutions have corroborated to reinforce social and economic imbalances along race, class and gender lines. White, conservative and economically privileged elite men remain at the apex of the social order. Black, economically despondent women are positioned at the alternative end.

It is also a fact of our reality that to maintain its power position, western capitalist patriarchy depends on its control of the means of production, information and resources of the global education systems, religious doctrine/s, and media industries.

Noting this, we used our Budget Vote to emphasise that meaningful change requires the complete and radical transformation of gendered family relations, structures or legends; gendered economies; gendered religious doctrines; gendered religious leadership hierarchies; gendered discourse amongst peers; gendered traditional laws; gendered patterns of intellectual ownership; gendered jokes; gendered literature in the education sector; and gendered narratives in the media.

However, following our delivery of the Budget Vote speech, various media institutions chose to report, as their dominant narrative, only our critique of the industry. There is not a strand of irony missing from this choice.

We are fully aware that similar to other struggles for social justice, including against racial and class inequalities, the struggle for gender equality is political at best, and freedom will not be attained easily. We are also fully aware that by the sheer threat of this radical gendered transformation to the traditional race and class global status quo, those in power take interest to dispose of their economic, political and physical resources in resistance to change.

But as poignantly asserted by Zenani Mandela at the funeral of her mother, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, “I say ‘fight’ because the battle for our freedom was not some polite picnic at which you arrived armed with your best behavior.”

It is up to the individuals within society, particularly those in the dominant institutions that control social ideas, to introspect on our collective roles in either perpetuating or ending violence against women. Just as we are working tirelessly to transform the state through various means, including Gender Responsive Budgeting and ensuring that Gender Focal Points are positioned at Senior Management levels, we also implore the private sector, civil society, faith-based institutions, the media, and others to do the same.

The constructing role of the media to dominant social ideas is important for this quest. Stereotypes in commercials, movies, news, and other forms of media platforms serve to reinforce and reproduce our collective ideas about what it means to be either a man or a woman. Television, Radio, Newspapers and Magazines, and social media perpetuate ‘appropriate’ gender stereotypes, behaviors and appearances. These are tied to images of men as owners of industries and leaders of perfect families versus depictions of women as wives, care-givers, and sexual objects.

As we did during the delivery of our Budget Vote, we reiterate that women in the industry who continue to partake in the re/distribution of gendered stereotypes are contributing to the reinforcement and perpetuation of patriarchal norms and harmful practices against women. As noted by scholar bell hooks, “patriarchy has no gender.”

Socially conscious journalism requires those in the media industry, in the exercise of their rights and choices, to also assume responsibility for disseminating information in a manner that contributes positively to the broader struggle for gender equality.

We refuse to allow the public gaze on our potentially transformative critique of the media industry to shy focus from our commendation of those who have devoted their media platforms to changing social ideas about women and men.

We also applaud those in the private sector and civil society who have worked relentlessly to expose sexual harassment in workplaces and shop floors, such as the recent developments at Equal Education, the University of the Free State, and the global #MeToo campaign.

We are closer now then we have ever been as a society towards meaningful gender transformation. Our struggle will be strengthened if those interested in change gather together to rebel against oppressive structures. The media should be at the heart of this rebellion. No man or woman can remain indifferent to or disengaged from challenges we face as a country in relation to gender-based violence and in the fight to advance the course for gender equality.

We call on all macro and micro business, NGOs, faith-based institutions, the men’s sector, the judiciary, leaders of institutions of basic and higher learning, different political formations, community-based organisations, and individuals to join in. None of us are safe until all of us fight together!

Bathabile Dlamini, MP, is the Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Women.

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