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The Role of Palestinian Women in the Media

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 08.03.2012:

By Nisreen Awwad

TWIP, March 2012

Perhaps the most dramatic outcome of the twentieth century has been the reformulation of the cultural awareness of societies. The means of mass media have been instrumental in precipitating tremendous change in the social mind-set of people, to which even the Palestinian society, despite its existing harsh economic, political, and social conditions, was not immune.

Shedding light on the condition of Palestinian women and their role in the media is a challenging task. This article attempts to find answers to the following questions: What is the role of Palestinian women in the making of media? What is the position of Palestinian women in media institutions? What is the image of Palestinian women as media producers? What are the main features of media produced by women?

A few years back Palestinian women did not have a voice in the media sector due mainly to the absence of an official authority in the occupied Palestinian territory. However, after the Oslo Agreement and the resulting process of government and civil-institution building, Palestinian women have had the opportunity to engage in the media and the press as reporters, photographers, or editors.

Even though the Palestinian media have not been in existence for long, several Palestinian women have distinguished themselves in the media sector, though their roles have been limited to the performance of specific executive tasks. According to some figures, no woman has had the position of a chief editor of any local daily newspaper, and only very few women have held the post of manager of radio and TV programmes. Men, on the other hand, have had a much more visible role in the media and have occupied major posts.

What is the reason for the absence of women in media institutions? Is it because women are less capable than men in the media sphere? Or is it because women have less ambition? Do media institutions deliberately marginalise and rule out women? These queries call for an answer, but in my opinion, the most important question that needs to be asked is: What effect has the inconsequential presence of Palestinian women in the media had on the form and content of local media in terms of the stereotypical image of women and the demands of women’s movements and women’s legal rights?

The rights of women and their role in society are mainstream topics in the Palestinian media; nonetheless, these topics have not produced the desired effect of inducing a substantial change in the situation of women, and they have failed to change the stereotypical image of women. For example, statistics have shown that women are still subjected to abuse and violence, and they have a very low rate of participation in the labour market and a high rate of unemployment.

Palestinian media institutions have not covered or discussed issues pertaining to the freedom and rights of women in depth. Rather, women’s issues are often addressed for consumption purposes, and the reasons for that are not limited to the absence of women from the decision-making process in media institutions but are attributable to the fact that women’s institutions rush into the implementation of women’s empowerment projects based on Western tools and standards that are alien to our society and Arab culture. This has contributed to the distortion of the image of Palestinian women by local media institutions that adorn Palestinian women with Western attributes.

Palestinian women are portrayed in the media as oppressed, incompetent, exploited, incapable, and unappreciated. They are not viewed as empowered partners in social and economic development. In fact, women who are capable and successful are rarely invited to actively participate in development and share their stories of success.

Not only has the absence of women from the decision-making process in media institutions created a distorted image of women in Palestinian society, but it has also contributed to reinforcing the pokerfaced patriarchal handling of women issues. It should be mentioned as well that women and legal institutions have failed to perceive the important role of the media in changing and reformulating social structures, and instead have concentrated all their efforts on studies, research, and conferences.

The image of women we see in the media is one produced by men. There are rarely any instances of women talking about themselves. This is comprehensible in our society since men regard themselves as guardians and defenders of women and their spokespersons.

Upgrading the role and image of Palestinian women in the media requires that women take part in the decision-making process, change the mechanism by which media institutions handle women’s issues, and adopt a media approach that is more effective, realistic, and humanitarian when addressing women’s issues. These issues need to be addressed not only from a legal perspective but from a social perspective as well whereby the true image of Palestinian women as farmers, mothers, and working women is clearly demonstrated.

This is what I have learned from my personal experience as a media person. I prepare and introduce a morning programme called Qahwa Mazboot (Coffee with a Little Sugar) on Radio Nisaa FM, the first women’s radio in the Middle East.

The programme has been on for two years, and it aims basically to inspire women and to highlight women’s success stories. Before starting the programme, my colleagues and I spent a long time trying to figure out ways to realise our vision, and together we thought about establishing a specialised radio station to provide women with the opportunity to tell their stories of success. We believe that there are people who need to learn more about the successes achieved by Palestinian women. Nothing can inspire women more than listening to one another telling their success stories.

Our experience marked the start of a new role for women in the media and in reengineering the image of women by media institutions. Women now are not mere consumers of the media; rather they are gradually taking an active role in producing media and reshaping the image of women. Women’s empowerment cannot be measured by superficial standards such as costumes and make-up but by the ability to adapt and intelligently reuse environmental tools in projects.

In the same context we should mention that there are in Palestine some papers and magazines that deal with women’s issues, but until now they have failed to become a significant phenomenon.

Nisreen Awwad presents a morning radio programme called Qahwa Mazboot on Radio Nisaa 96 FM.

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