Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Women Making News: Gender and Media in South Africa

Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Women Making News: Gender and Media in South Africa

Article excerpt


South Africa's news media are still in a process of transformation after the transition to democracy in 1994. The media continue to face the challenge of ensuring equal and fair representation to the entire population, and gender and media activists in particular have taken up the challenge of bringing about change. Research shows that women have not yet achieved equal access and representation compared to men: they are under-represented as reporters, news sources, and audience members. Yet, in comparison with other countries, South Africa has about as many female reporters as the average reported in the Global Media Monitoring Project and more female news sources than the global average.


Thirteen years after the first multi-racial elections brought democracy to South Africa and ended apartheid, the news media, as well as other social institutions, are still in the process of transformation. The news media have a particularly important role to play in a country where political participation is a new experience for many people. Media in South Africa also face the challenge of ensuring equal and fair representation of the entire population.

Gender and media activists, in particular, have taken up the challenge of bringing about change in the media. This paper provides an overview of the current South African media landscape with a particular focus on women in the media. The first section presents background information about South African demographics, followed by an overview of the current media landscape. I will then present a summary of research on women's participation and representation in the news media, with a final section on gender and media activism.

South African Demographics

The South African population is diverse in terms of race, language, and class. The majority of the population of almost 48 million consists of Africans (80%), followed by whites (9%), "coloreds" - the category for people of mixed descent (9%), and Indians/Asians (2%) (Statistics South Africa, 2007, p. 1.) South Africa has 11 official languages, with most citizens speaking IsiZulu (24%), followed by IsiXhosa (18%), Afrikaans (13%), Sepedi (9%) English (8%), Setswana (8%), Sesotho (8%), Xitsonga (4%) and other languages (7%) (CIA World Factbook, 2007). As can be expected in a multi-lingual society, it is quite difficult for the news media to serve the needs of each group.

Women constitute 51% of the total South African population (Statistics South Africa, 2007) and lag behind men in literacy, education, and employment. According to Unicef (2006), the adult literacy rate was 84% for men and 81% for women during the period 2000 to 2004. This divide is clearly based on race, as 18% of African women 25 years and older and 13% of African men have no formal schooling, compared to fewer than 1% of white women and men (Statistics South Africa, 2002). The lack of schooling is evident in the unemployment rate among blacks, which is 25% (Statistics South Africa, 2005). Within each population group, and in both urban and non-urban areas, the unemployment rate is higher for women than men. The unemployment rate is highest among urban African women (36%) and lowest among non-urban white men (5%). Furthermore, the mean hourly earnings of men are higher than for women in all population groups, and white males earn nearly five times as much per hour, on average, as African females (Statistics South Africa, 2002). These statistics indicate that many women of color in South Africa continue to suffer a triple, intersecting oppression of race, class, and gender.

Women politicians participated in the drafting of the progressive new South African Constitution, Act 108 of 1996, which is based on non-racialism and non-sexism. The constitution also provided for a Commission on Gender Equality to promote gender equality in all areas of society. Today, 30% of South Africa's parliamentarians are women, placing the country eighth in the world in terms of gender equality in government (Garson, 2006). …

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