In South Africa, 333 rhino’s were slaughtered due to poaching in 2010, more than double the 133 slaughtered in the previous year. The epidemic of rhino poaching has been very present in media headlines and coverage.

Over that same time period, 197,000 cases of crimes against women were reported to the South African Police Service (SAPS), including murder, attempted murder, common assault, sexual offences, and assault to cause grievous bodily harm (GBV). It is worth noting that these are only the ones reported. The figures according to the “one in nine campaign” are likely to be ten times higher.

Which statistics shock you more? Which crimes make you more angry? Who do you think the media care more about? Are issues facing women neglected by the media? Who do you think our government cares more about?

On paper and in policy South Africa should not have epidemic levels of gender based violence. The rights of South African women are clearly enshrined in our Constitution and additional laws have been created to protect and uphold the rights of women, such as the Sexual Offences Act and Domestic Violence Act. There is a Commission on Gender Equality, and even a Ministry dedicated to addressing Women’s issues. We have great policies, and political parties even have women’s leagues. So why are an increasing number of South Africa’s women victims of horrendous crimes that are eating away at their dignity and respect? Women make up over 51% of South Africa’s population.

Of course it is easy to blame government for not being able to implement the fine laws and policies, and when our justice system seems to fail, either through being re-victimised or through appalling conviction rates, well its again only too easy to say, “that’s why.” But government aren’t the only players here.

Civil society and of course men – the other half of the equation, need to make eradicating gender based violence a priority. To say this is easy, in reality we are talking about fundamental social behaviour change of a large portion of South Africa’s population.

As the world commemorates International Women’s Day, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) questions the media’s priority in dealing with issues facing women especially gender-based violence and representation of women in media.

The media has a key responsibility in shedding light and exposing issues facing women. During women’s month in 2010 MMA’s analysis of coverage revealed a level of gender fatigue which is cognisant of larger trends of coverage of women’s issues. Only a small fraction of the coverage analysed was dedicated to serious issues of sexual violence and physical abuse. Compared to the striking statistics above, this lack of coverage shows a failing on the part of media to address real issues affecting South African women. See MMA’s report on news coverage during 2010 Women’s Month.

Certainly, the rise of rhino poaching is a concern across the region. But as we celebrate International Women’s Day, we need to step back and look at our priorities, and make sure that we give women and the challenges they face a place in the media, not only one day in March, but year round. These aren’t simple issues, and perhaps that complexity accounts for the lack of coverage, but in light of the threats women face and have faced, media have a responsibility to unpack these issues, and open an ongoing and critical dialogue countrywide so that in 2012 we don’t have to decry this lack of coverage yet again.

The situation while tragic and unacceptable is not hopeless. There are people in government for whom this is a priority. There are women and NGO’s who strive to make a positive difference and who involve men, there are lots of good men involved in reducing gender based violence. There are police officers and justice officials who barely sleep trying to combat and reduce gender based violence. There are editors and producers and some of the best journalists in the world deeply committed and actively opposing gender based violence. It is these people we need to commemorate – the men and the women on International Women’s Day. It is these people who need our support.

The reality however, remains – gender based violence continues to escalate in South Africa. There are many reasons for this; one of them is that often instead of taking responsibility for our own sector and building partnerships, each plays the blame game. Media blame government, government blames the media and civil society blames the media and government.

We accept that often civil society contributes to the problem, but we are also open to forming lasting partnerships with those who also see the need to reduce gender based violence. This is about coming out and taking a stand when and where it matters, when and where issues are in the public domain. Kuli Roberts’ column was roundly criticised – as it should have been in MMA’s view, for being racist. Sadly the voices of those condemning the column for also being deeply sexist were too few and far between. Where were our Ministry of Women and Children and People with Disabilities? Our Commission on Gender Equality and Human Rights Commission? The Women’s League’s of the various political parties? Where were the legal groups, numerous civil society bodies and crucially, aside from Ferial Haffajee, where were the media in their critique of the column on the basis that it was sexist?

MMA encourages a collaborative and multi-faceted approach and partnership between media, government, and civil society to achieve these goals, to continue this dialogue, and to make ridding South Africa of Gender-Based Violence a priority. As Local Elections draw nearer let’s start by asking all the political parties to show how they are going to reduce gender based violence in their local communities – what are they actually going to do? If you are interested in starting something that is going to make a difference, and something that will involve working partnerships – then join us on twitter @gendermattersza and @mediamattersza as MMA facilitates this debate and dialogue with the aim to bring women’s issues back on the agenda.

For more information contact:

Sandra Banjac

Research Development Officer

Mb: +2782 633 4233

Tel: +2711 788 1278

William Bird


Mb: +2782 887 1370

Tel: +2711 788 1278