Introduction and Results

In MMA’s previous weekly report, “No Big Deal” – Poverty, Service Delivery and Election Coverage, we began discussion of the topics paid attention to in media’s election coverage. In this report, we continue the analysis, though with a focus on issues around gender.

This weekly report covers the period 13 March to 4 April 2009.

In addition to key topics in election coverage, this analysis will also incorporate the results on representation of women in sex of information sources and the proportion of coverage that included a gender perspective.

MMA Elections 2009 Topic Coverage Breakdown –
Listed in order down to 0.6%

Description Avg %
IEC/Election Logistics 21.4%
Party politics 15.4%
Political Party Campaigning 14.7%
Political Violence & Intimidation 5.5%
Party Manifestos 5.4%
Justice System 5.2%
Rates & Services 2.8%
Provincial and Local Government 2.2%
Personalities and Profiles 2.1%
Corruption 1.9%
Coalitions and party co-operation 1.9%
Voter Education & registration 1.9%
South Africa – National, Including SA Govt & Parliament 1.8%
General 1.5%
Opinion Polls 1.5%
Human Rights 1.3%
Corruption: Government & Parties 1.3%
Crime 1.1%
Media 1.1%
Development 1.0%
Demonstrations 1.0%
Education 0.9%
Election funding 0.8%
Labour, Strikes, Unemployment 0.7%
Arts/Culture/Entertainment/Religion 0.6%
Gender 0.6%

• Reports that included a gender perspective added up to less than 1% of items.

• Female information sources were only 22% of the total sought in news items.

With women forming over half of South Africa’s population and bearing the brunt of a variety of social, health and service delivery ills, MMA is wondering, where is the corresponding election coverage on women and gender?

Gender is used here to refer to socially, culturally and politically constructed roles, qualities and behaviours that are prescribed for males and females in a society. Thus, gender is also what societies consider acceptable masculine and feminine attributes (behaviour, roles etc) for each biological sex.

According to the results of MMA’s monitoring, topics directly or indirectly relating to women and gender were extremely scarce across election coverage. Gender as a topic received 0.6% of election coverage attention, and topics generally related to gender issues such as Human Rights and Crime received just over 1%. HIV/Aids, Poverty, Housing, Health and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) all received less than 1% of attention, with GBV receiving such little attention that it was apportioned zero percent.

As can be seen in the results above, items that include a gender perspective have been very few, and female information sources in election coverage do not in any way reflect South African demographics. The results on sources may be a reflection of gender disparity in the workforce and in high-level or management positions, and the difficulty of finding female expert sources in certain fields, including politics.

These results include the few stand-out items such as the SABC 2 Election Debate, “Gender in Politics”, held and broadcast on Sunday 5 April.

Being female in South Africa

While it is not the purpose of this report to provide an in depth assessment on the status of women in South Africa, it is important to highlight some salient points in order draw linkages with government and politics, and to question media’s coverage.

At the SABC 2 Election Debate on April 5, a representative for the Commission on Gender Equality noted that, while there has been great progress made over the past fifteen years in gender equality and women’s emancipation, not much of that progress has been made over the past four years. The markers of progress where we would expect to see positive change have been absent. The representative further indicated that political parties are only paying lip-service to gender equality, and are not truly addressing the issues relating to this, such as personal safety and health.

The face of gender inequality in South Africa

For mid-year 2008, Statistics SA estimated that 52 % of South Africans are female, out of an estimated population of 48.7 million people. Aside from the fact that women give birth and are most often the primary care givers to our future citizens, this alone means that issues relating to women are important to South Africa and all South Africans.

Other statistics and research also add weight to the importance of gender issues in South Africa.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report, 2008, South Africa ranks number 93 in terms of economic participation and opportunity.  Women’s labour force participation is only just over half that for men’s participation rate (49% vs 82%, pre-economic slowdown). The participation rates are even lower for higher positions, with women making up only 19% of the total work force for these positions. Women do form a high percentage of the teaching and training workforce, but this drops to almost parity with males at the tertiary level, to some degree reflecting the general fall for participation at higher levels of employment. Coupled with these rates, widespread inequality exists in wages paid for similar work, with an average of less than half that paid to men. Thus, women work less and are paid less.

These results are despite the fact that gender parity is excellent for primary and secondary education enrolments (though a number of female teenagers drop out due to pregnancy, as one in five give birth by the age of 18). Women’s representation at tertiary level is even stronger, where women account for almost a quarter more enrolments. These statistics should not be read as though all eligible children and teenagers are enrolling. In fact, illiteracy for children under the age of 15 is higher for girls than for boys, and given the larger proportion of the population, a greater number of females than males should be enrolled in school.

While South Africa boasts a high, though not equal, number of women in Ministerial Positions (reflective of the ANC 50-50 stance), the number of women
in parliament is still less than half that of men. (The meaning and potential consequences of the presence of women in these positions will be discussed under media coverage on the issue of party lists.)

Thus, women’s participation in the workforce and in decision making processes do not reflect the demographics of South Africa and women’s educational attainment.  By comparison, Mozambique and Lesotho have made greater strides, and are ranked higher in the 2008 Gender Gap Index, while South Africa fell two places to number 22.

This striking level of gender inequality at the levels of economic participation and political empowerment indicates that affirmative action polices, which also target women, are still important in strategies to address inequality and female poverty.


In the previous weekly report, MMA pointed out that while more than 48% of South Africans were living in poverty, the issue of poverty and service delivery was way down on the list of election coverage topics to receive attention, if not non-existent. This result is even more concerning for female South Africans, when you take into consideration that poverty and the affects of poverty are gendered. Women are disproportionately affected by poverty.

Female-headed households are more likely to be poor (up to double as likely as male headed households) with little or no income, and female-headed households account for a greater proportion of all South African households.  A 2008 Stats SA survey estimated that at least three quarters (75.6%) of total household income was earned by male-headed households.

These statistics are even starker when taking a spatial and racial perspective. Gender inequality across the general population is even greater in rural areas, with households being more likely to be headed by a female and poor (rural households account for the majority of poor households). Almost half of South African females live in non-urban/rural areas, and more than half of this group are African. The unemployment rate for South African women in total is marginally higher than that for men. However, this differential grows for rural women, with an unemployment rate of more than 50%, while for men it is under 40%. When women do find work, it is more likely to be in the informal sector, in retail, and as domestic workers, where remuneration and conditions such as maternity leave are notoriously poor.

Over the period 2002 to 2006, Stats SA estimate the percentage of children that went hungry was substantially higher in female-headed households than in male-headed households. Despite social grants being a major source of income for the poor and thus playing an important role in reducing inequality, African female-headed households obtained the lowest levels of welfare.

Female poverty is linked to a variety of issues, exacerbating the circumstances and health of women and their children. Female-headed households have been shown to have a higher number of dependents, fewer assets and less access to credit and resources, including land. Furthermore, poor households have greater difficulties in accessing education, health care and extension services. This is not just because of insufficient income (including for transport to reach services), but also because the provision of basic services such as clean water and electricity has not yet reached those areas where many poor households live, particularly in rural areas. Though even where such services are available, many households are unable to afford access.

Health, Safety and Service Delivery

Health is a key issue for women in South Africa. Women are more affected by the HIV/Aids pandemic than men, both physically and socially. The infection rate for the general population over the age of 2 years is estimated at 10.8%, though women in the 15-49 year age group are believed to be almost double that. Women’s increased susceptibility is for many reasons, including biological and sociological.  Socially, women bear a greater burden of the pandemic through their role as primary carers of family members who are HIV positive.

The well-known high incidence of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa is also a contributor to the high infection rate, with sexual violence potentially facilitating transmission and also severely inhibiting the capacity to negotiate safe sex. It is estimated that one in two South African women might be raped in their lifetime, and one in four girls are sexually abused, including at school.

GBV also includes psychological and emotional violence often associated with abusive relationships (one in four women are estimated to experience domestic violence), which can then inhibit capacity to negotiate safe sex, seek HIV/Aids testing and access treatment. In addition to the affects on physical health, GBV also has strong negative impacts on mental health and self esteem. This is aside from the number of women who lose their lives to GBV, including an estimated average of one woman a day being shot and killed by an intimate partner.

Unfortunately for the victims of GBV, the justice system inspires little confidence in survivors to report the abuse, and stay the course during any resulting court proceedings. Many cases go unreported. For sexual assault, the Medical Research Council estimates that only one in nine survivors make a police report. Numerous reasons can be found for this, but the actions of the justice system and its representatives play a large part.

Survivors often face further trauma, if not outright abuse, at almost every step in the attempt to achieve justice. Many survivors are discouraged from reporting by police and even denied the right to report, report dockets are “lost”, and court trials are often delayed for extensive periods. Media themselves provide ongoing and numerous reports on these incidents taking place. Survivors are also given little protection from alleged perpetrators, facing intimidation outside and inside court, including having to recount their ordeals in front of perpetrators, and regularly derided by the defence and judges in their method of questioning and judgements (children are supposed to receive greater in-court protection). As a result, the number of cases making it to court are a tiny fraction of those that get reported, and the low number of convictions reinforces the perception that justice is rarely served.

The other obvious health issue relates to childbirth. A 2008 report, published by a partnership for maternal, new-born and child health (MNCH), noted that the level of maternal mortality for South Africa was ‘high’, with 400 deaths per 100 000 live births. As relates to childbirth and motherhood, 57% of child deaths were a result of HIV and Aids infection through mother-to-child transmission. According to a 2006 study by the Department of Health, 29.1% of pregnant women were HIV-positive.

Under these conditions, counselling and testing for HIV/Aids, access to ARVs and Post Exposure Prophylaxes (PEPs, for HIV treatment directly after exposure, often recommended to rape survivors), and prevention of mother-to-child transmission, are all essential health services that should be available to all women and girl-children.

As mentioned previously, poor households have greater difficulty in accessing health care services and rural women struggle to access basic health services. In addition to the restricted ability to ensure basic required nutrition for the pregnancy and breastfeeding, this leads to greater child and maternal deaths. The rates for rural African child morbidity under the age of 1 are some 40% higher than for urban African infants, while almost 500% higher than for White infants.

Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer for South African women in general, and the most common for African women. One in forty-one women will develop this cancer (though not all result in fatality, there is a greater risk of infertility). Pap smears for detection of abnormalities are the best form of secondary prevention, but are not available at even a third of rural clinics, and are only available at just over two thirds of urban clinics.

The Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town puts these statistics into the perspective of service delivery, “[t]he number and cause of maternal deaths provide an indication of how the health service (antenatal and prenatal care in particular) as well as prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and ART (antiretroviral therapy) need to be improved in terms of provisioning and management.” (2006)

These appalling social and health outcomes for South Africa women occur despite a progressive legal framework in terms of the Constitution, its associated Bill of Rights, and laws enacted to put principles into practice. Clearly, a great deal of work needs to be done in moving from rhetoric to realising the principles of the Constitution in the lives of all South Africans.

Many point to a culture that tolerates violence, promotes macho behaviour, and places women as inferior to men, as the primary cause for these outcomes. Regardless, government can facilitate long-term behaviour change and better health by ensuring that:
• the rule of law is applied;
• women are encouraged to report GBV and are given respect and support when they do;
• greater intervention in the agricultural and particularly informal employment sectors to improve the working conditions of women, especially with regards to fairer wages, consideration for pregnancy and maternity leave;
• public service delivery systems are capable of supporting the health and welfare of every South African female, including provision of ARVs and appropriate treatment for PMTCT;
• education is truly available for free and all children attend, without restrictions created by a lack of access to transport, books and school uniforms for instance, and follow up on child enrolments is conducted for all households, to particularly ensure that the girl-child is enrolled and attending school;
• government policy and legislation targets land inheritance and ownership rights, access to credit for housing and land, and access to public housing for female-headed households as a high priority.

These are factors that should be addressed in party manifestos, with a degree of detail that indicates not only the basic principle, but also the policies that will be followed to put principles into action to achieve the broader goal of gender equality and women’s emancipation.

Government and politicians can also facilitate behavioural change by taking a leading role in displaying behaviour and attitudes that are in line with gender equality and the human rights of women and girls.

How media have disengaged

From the above discussion, there is a clear list of subjects that could and should inform media engagement with election issues and become key topics of election coverage. In addition to the obvious topics of women and gender equality in general, the subjects that both political parties and media should be addressing within a gender framework are:
• Gender-based violence, including security, the justice system and treatment of survivors;
• Female poverty, in particular African rural female poverty as one of the most marginalised populations in South Africa;
• Education attainment and training;
• Public service delivery, in particular access to public utilities, welfare and appropriate health services including HIV/Aids testing, counselling and treatment;
• Access to land, housing and credit;
• Affirmative Action and employment conditions, including wage inequity and lack of maternity leave for many forms of employment.

As pointed out in the introduction, it is extremely unfortunate that media on the whole have appeared to neglect these subjects, almost as much as women’s issues have been neglected by political parties who appear to believe it sufficient to say that women’s issues and equality are important, and not have policies and action plans to back this up and for citizens to assess. While media generally neglect women’s issues, not to mention rarely offer a gender perspective in their stories and move beyond the objectification of women, the bar should be raised for election coverage given their clear importance for South Africa.

This does not bode well for the current and future generations of South African women. Those who are the most affected and rely most on government policy and service delivery are continuing to be marginalised, without channels to have their voices and concerns heard. Not only is this at complete odds the ideals of democracy, accountable government, and the South African Constitution, but it is also inconsistent with one of the key roles for a free and plural media.

It again appears that media have allowed campaigning parties and representatives to set the media agenda, rather than pro-actively keeping women and gender issues high up on the agenda both in coverage and in media’s engagement with political parties themselves.

There is certainly not an absence of experts in gender and women’s issues in South Africa. Media has a number of civil society organisations, academics and statutory bodies such as the Commission for Gender Equality and the Human Rights Commission that can be accessed for information and expert opinion. The Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre and Gender Links for example, have even conducted an assessment of party manifestos with regards to considerations around gender ,in particular GBV, that media can draw upon. This is in addition to the millions of women in marginalised communities that can and should be accessed to present the opinions of the usually voiceless.

The reasons for the near failure to engage with these issues are not clear.

On many accounts these results are disturbing. It could be strongly argued that media on the whole are not only complicit in the non-action on gender equality and women’s social, economic and political emancipation, but are also a part of the system that maintains the status quo on gender inequality and women’s disempowerment.

Many media would argue that they have indeed engaged on the gender equity issue, as their reports addressed women’s representation on party lists. The peak of coverage for women’s issues does in fact appear to be around the release of party lists. However, that peak was very shallow and short lived, and a focus on party lists alone is a very simplistic and insubstantial interpretation of gender issues in South Africa, as evidenced in the list of related subjects above. Furthermore, only a few reports went beyond taking the basic explanations of political parties at face value.

While it is somewhat gladdening to note that the ANC carried through on their principle of gender parity, with equal representation of men and women on their list, it is not so pleasing to note how little the lists and explanations of parties were interrogated in media reports.

An Eastern Cape distribution reported how a representative of the DA explained that, while women do not feature any-where near a 50-50 representation on their party list, the party has a female head and they are a meritocracy – they base their choice on merit in “an open opportunity society”. This is a very disappointing response, and media should have made more noise around these arguements. Fortunately, this was contrasted in the report with a comment by a Cope representative, who stated, “We have an abundance of quality women…and we are training more women”.

SA makes much of its gender parity in schools, and there are more women than men attending tertiary education institutions. This would indicate that there are just as many educated and qualified women as men to enter politics and take up office. It needs to be asked if women face additional barriers in entering politics, and what specific factors may be discouraging them.

The Weekender was one distribution that did not follow this pattern of pedestrian engagement and reporting. The Weekender and Wits University co-hosted a public debate, “Women on Top?” (25/2/09). Reported on in the 28-29 February edition, it is an example of media taking the lead in attempting to seek public engagement on the subject of women during the election period. The report grappled with the meaning of gender parity in party lists, women in ministerial positions, and women’s empowerment on party manifestos.

An important point raised in the report (i.e. debate), was that female representation in high seats of government, including head of state positions, does not necessarily translate to women’s issues being taken up more frequently and better policies and law that then contribute to gender equality and women’s emancipation. A foreign example of this is the previous Prime Minister of Pakistan, Ms Benazir Bhutto, who presided over an extremely patriarchal society known for horrendous human rights abuses, particularly against women. Despite many promises, no legislation to improve welfare services for women was ever proposed, and female reproductive rights remained tightly curtailed under her leadership.

The Weekender reported that the former Health Minister is a local and recent example of a female politician who did little to assist HIV-positive pregnant women and their babies by resisting the approval of ARV treatment for PMTCT. It should also be commented that women and child survivors of rape were also disadvantaged, as the administration of PEPs to prevent the contracting of HIV were also prohibited for some time.

A similar conclusion was drawn by The Weekender’s sister paper, Business Day (8/4/09), that remarked in a report on the ANC party list that AID’s denialism existed under a cabinet including 12 women, and avoidable deaths of newborns occurred in hospitals under a female premier and health minister.

While the broader monitoring was unable to capture this level of detail, the daily monitoring of MMA has noted a not unexpected linkage between a higher percentage of female sources and the topic of gender. That is, on the subject of gender, in particular the representation of women in party lists, a higher number of female information sources occurred. It can be reasonably argued that it is better that media seek women to speak on women’s issues, and that because many experts in the area of gender and women are female, it is natural for this concurrence to result. However, as has been discussed, issues relating to women are many, and there are many qualified women available for input into reports other than those focused on gender.

As mentioned in the introduction, another standout item by media was the SABC 2 Election Debate, “Gender in Politics”, held and broadcast on Sunday 5 April. However, MMA’s monitoring revealed that other than the comments made by the representatives for the Commission on Gender Equality and the University of Johannesburg, little of the discussion could be considered useful to a voting public concerned about gender inequality, women’s emancipation, and such issues as GBV. Party representatives were again allowed to simply state the importance of women’s issues and their commitment to raising women’s issues with their parties. Other than for a few solid action points put forward by the DA, the parties did not elaborate on action their parties proposed to take to put principles into practice in order to achieve gender equality in South Africa.

Political leader behaviour also needs to be analysed in detail by media within a gender equality/women’s rights framework. While manifestos and the occasional speeches referencing women’s rights, health, safety and empowerment are what is expected, behaviour of political representatives must also be assessed within the principles and concerns they proclaim. Media should be interrogating if representatives, both male and female, really understand and mean what they say.

Personal behaviour is a determinant of the ability of these representatives to stand for and develop policy that supports gender equality and the advancement of women. What does it mean for policy and action when behaviour contradicts proclaimed party principles? Can the female population really trust leaders to strive for gender equality and uphold women’s rights, when they in fact don’t appear to believe in them, or see these issues as important? In The Weekender’s report on its debate, Julius Malema’s comments on rape not being possible if a woman asks for a taxi fare in the morning, is one of the few reports to make this link.

Media and Gender Ratings

In light of this discussion, media on the whole have performed very poorly on coverage of women and gender issues within their elections coverage. Only a few media have attempted to engage more than political parties around these issues, though these attempts have also been restricted in scope, relatively insubstantial and short lived.

MMA has developed a formula that rates individual media for their performance around gender in their election coverage in comparison to other media. This rating includes the following three elements:
• Who Speaks? Whose voices do we hear?
• Focus on gender issues, as well as where gender perspective is provided;
• Relationship status (the position female sources are identified as holding – e.g. wife)

Given the above conclusions, it should be stressed that the ratings only indicate performance in COMPARISON to other non-performing media, and should not be read as an award for excellence.

MMA Media Ratings (Gender) – Top Ten

Medium Ranking
Die Burger 1
EP Herald 3
Sunday Independent 4
5FM 5
Cape Talk 5
SAfm 7
Munghana Lonene FM 8
Beeld 9
Metro Fm 10

5FM and Cape Talk share number 5 in rankings.


It is clear that issues around gender equality, women’s poverty and health are of primary importance to South Africa. Women form a greater proportion of South Africa’s population and a greater proportion of the rural population (which is also the most poorly serviced), head a greater number of households (which are more likely to be poor and earn less than male-headed households), are affected by HIV/Aids the most, and suffer alarming levels of gender-based violence. MMA’s monitoring demonstrates that this has not been reflected in media’s election coverage, when these issues should come to the forefront of many (if not the greater majority of) reports. Based on what is reported, it does appear that political parties have not shown significant consideration for women’s issues, with manifestos and appearances revealing little thought put into developing sound policy to address gender inequity and women’s advancement. However, this is not an excuse for media to equally neglect women. In its role of holding government to account, and enabling citizens to make informed decisions, it is essential for media to give voice to the concerns and circumstances of those usually held voiceless in society. South African women, in particular that large population of black African rural women, are still marginalised and their voices must be given channels to be heard.  Media has a key role to play in ensuring that women’s voices are heard.


Statistics South Africa

Welfare Shifts in the Post-apartheid South Africa: A Comprehensive Measurement of Changes, DPRU Policy Brief Series Development Policy Research Unit, School of Economics, University of Cape Town, Feb 2008

Gender, welfare and the developmental state in South Africa, Shireen Hassim United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), May 2005

DOH National Guidelines on Cervical Cancer Screening

Roundtable 5: Pregnancy, Background Document, Youth Policy Initiative, Human Sciences Research Council, March 2008

Women and HIV/Aids, World Health Organisation (online),2008

National HIV Survey, 2005

State of the World Population Report, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 2007

Scared at School: Sexual Violence Against Girls in Southern African Schools, Human Rights Watch, 2001

Gun Free SA statistics, 2009

Countdown to 2015 MNCH: The 2008 Report, Countdown to 2015, Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival Initiative (Online), 2008

Benazir Bhutto, Wikipedia

The issue of poverty among female-headed households in Africa, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD, online), 2007

An overview of poverty and inequality in South Africa – Working Paper prepared for DFID (SA) – 3. Who is poor in South Africa?, Southern African Regional Poverty Network (online), 2002.

Closing the gap: Gender-Based Violence in South Africa, Plus News Indepth IRIN (Online), 2007

Women and Poverty: The South African Experience, Johanna Kehler, Journal of International Women’s Studies, Vol. 3, #1, November 2001

Global Gender Gap Report, 2008

See the full list of media reviewed for this report

– Tanya Owen