Remarks by UN Women Executive Director at the Gender and News Summit

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Gender and News Summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Date: Thursday, August 23, 2018

[As delivered]

Thank you very much. This is a celebration of women and progress, and of our wonderful journalists, who are our pride, and the people who have brought us together here today.

Before I make my remarks, I wanted to wish you Eid Mubarak.

At the same time, I ask that we stand for a moment of silence in respect and remembrance of former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. Thank you.

I want to pay tribute to this son of the soil, one of the best diplomats the world has ever seen. A man of peace. A man who worked to ensure that people of the world, wherever they are, whatever their issues were, were able to call the United Nations their home, where they could confer and find a better way to resolve their problems. He was working up until the last minute. His last public engagement was a walk in South Africa with Mama Graça Michel when they observed the 100 years of Nelson Mandela. How befitting.

We will remember him, but more than anything else we have to honour his memory. What we are doing today is ensuring that the younger people who are our journalists will be part of that tradition that he has bequeathed us, may he rest in peace.

We welcome the first-ever Gender and News Summit in Tanzania. It is wonderful to see so many accomplished and rising journalists here with us. Your dedication to increasing the amount and quality of coverage of women and girls in the Tanzanian media is inspiring.

It is wonderful to see the partners who are here with us to support this endeavour: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Graça Machel Trust, the governments of Finland and Sweden, and the government of Tanzania, in all its forms—with the different department and Ministries in Tanzania that are supporting us.

We have come together here in order to make sure that we have better stories about women and by women. But also, so that women who work in the media have a better chance of succeeding and leading. We want to make sure that the stories we tell re-write stereotypes and challenge social norms, for example those that condone discrimination or violence against women and girls. We want stories that represent the new vision of the Tanzanian woman and girl. Our goal is to make sure that the stories we tell reflect the Tanzania, the Africa and the world that we dream of. We want to show women and girls as leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators and trailblazers. We want to show them as multi-faceted human beings who are contributing to the development of Tanzania, of Africa and the world.

As UN Women, we strive to increase the representation of women across leadership roles in all areas: be it government, civil society, business, and communities. Too often there is a disconnect between the reality of our societies and the way they are portrayed in the media. Addressing this is a key component of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

When we tell the story of the SDGs, we must not perpetuate the stereotype that the SDGs are men’s goals to fight for. We are trying to make sure that these storytellers who are here with us today will be telling the stories of the SDGs in a manner that begins to transform the narrative.

In Beijing, more than 20 years ago, UN Member States already recognized the importance of the media. One of 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action called on media everywhere to make greater contributions to women’s advancement. Since then, the percentage of stories reported by women has edged up in most topics. But not enough. We now want to accelerate. We still have a long way to go.

We picked Tanzania as the country in which to start this endeavour, because we feel there is a great chance here to succeed. We have a fine crop of journalists and a pipeline to reinforce, and therefore success here will enable us to take this initiative to other countries. No pressure Tanzania, but you have to succeed.

Data from the Southern Africa Gender and Media Progress Study shows that in Tanzania, women comprise 22 per cent of media sources. This is higher than the regional average, but it is still nowhere close to parity. But it is a building block that we can stand on.

The voices of Tanzanian women are still more likely to be heard on social issues rather than on so-called hard issues, and indeed this is also the global trend. Women are sources on matters that have to do with health, HIV and AIDS, social issues, crime and violence, but are not sought enough as sources for what is regarded as the hardcore news—the economy, finance and issues of security. At the same time, women’s views are under-represented in science and in sports.

Some interesting examples that show how underrepresented women’s voices are in the media — which is a missed opportunity—were identified in movies. Research shows that male characters outnumber female characters two-to-one in speaking roles in movies. Really? Women have a lot to say in real life. Why is it in movies that it is only the men who have a lot to say? Women are also less likely to be heroes in movies. In 2016 just 3% of women in the movies were action hero leads. That is why ‘Black Panther’ was so great, because in that movie women were action heroes and they were playing significant roles.

These gaps are missed opportunities to provide role models for our children. Research from the Geena Davis Institute tells us that entertainment media has a strong effect, with a study showing the doubling of young girls taking up archery in the US being inspired by female archers in movies released that year. Real life inspires too: a young girl in a village happened to go to the hospital and saw a woman doctor for the first time. When she got back home, she put on her father’s white pyjama top, took a skipping rope for a stethoscope, and told everyone, ‘now it is my turn to examine you, because I am going to be a doctor’. The beautiful story is that that girl became a doctor when she grew up. How wonderful is that?

This Summit is a part of a larger programme on gender-sensitive reporting on the SDGs, gender equality and women’s empowerment. Can you imagine how many doctors your stories can create? How many economists? How many environmentalists? This is about making sure that we do not miss any opportunity to build a future that we want.

We want your support to disrupt the stereotypes and biases in reporting, and to increase the number of women in the media, including in leadership and decision-making. We are proud that Tanzania is the first country in the region to enable us to do this. We want to see Tanzanian media houses be an example of the way forward in gender-sensitive reporting.

We hope that the lessons learned here can be used to drive implementation of the 2030 Agenda across the region and indeed across the world. Through you, we want to be able to both accelerate and to scale the work that we do in order to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.

This Summit is bringing our media partners directly into the implementation of the SDGs. As storytellers, journalists and reporters, you are in a unique position to break long-held attitudes and stereotypes that portray women as victims. We need you to portray women as survivors, as leaders and as decision-makers, producing stories that challenge traditional gender roles, rather than falling back on inaccurate tropes. We need you to develop more equal and accurate narratives for women, men, girls and boys, and mobilize the public to challenge stereotypes and build a movement for gender equality.

In this work you are also joined by some enlightened private sector leaders who have joined forces with UN Women to form an Unstereotype Alliance. About 50 international companies have committed to use their advertising and marketing dollars to change the way they portray both women and men in their advertisements.

Together with other role-players, you can drive the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

This is also an intergenerational partnership, with those here today representing a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Some of you are experienced journalists who are using your expertise and advantageous positions to break new ground. But some of you are young, could benefit from being mentored, but who also bring a new, fresh, youth perspective. Others are students, who will be able to increase their learning from this experience. As young people learning gender-sensitive reporting from the very start, they will set the tone for the society they want to see.

Today is a chance to learn, to share, to achieve, and to take the photos for sharing ­that we know today is an important way of communicating. Let us make sure that we use these opportunities to address issues of development, to change the narrative and to make more visible those who are frequently not seen, through your stories and your pictures.

Thank you.