Malawi media portraying women beyond victimhood

The media in Malawi continues to perpetuate sexist and stereotypical representations of women. Look no further than the front page photos of Malawi’s daily newspapers- especially the coverage of the country’s recent floods: the photos depict women as victims, while men are portrayed as heroes or individuals who have powerfully endured the natural disaster.

Women rescuing man in flood water

Women rescuing man in flood water

In January 2015, Malawi experienced its worst flooding in history, leaving many displaced and approximately 200 dead. Since the tragic event, newspapers reported extensively on the damage; the rebuilding efforts; and relief offered to victims in the 15 districts that were affected.

The photographs on the pages dedicated to the plight of the flood victims generally showed women receiving various relief items, while those handing over the items were, in most cases, men. Other pictures showed women and children sleeping on floors and cooking meals, with captions describing them either as vulnerable or struggling with new born babies- generally represented as helpless victims and waiting to be rescued.

On the other hand, many photographs depicted men in more powerful and influential positions, and hardly any photos portrayed men victims. It is as if the victims were only women and children, and that the hopeless situation required men’s ‘powerful’ intervention. The media’s negative and stereotypical portrayal of women, only serves to entrench the marginalisation of women and ultimately perpetuates gender inequality.

The 2014 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer says: “As the fourth estate, media has a key role to play in holding government and other sectors accountable for their commitments to gender equality. Yet if unwatched, the media itself can potentially reverse the gains being made in other sectors. Due to its wide reach and ability to shape public opinion and discourse, it is important that media takes up its responsibility as an inclusive tool for democracy and voice in society.”

When one considers the way in which the media persistently portrays women, it is evident that the watchdog is not being watched and may in fact be undoing the gains made towards achieving gender equality. Malawi ratified the SADC Gender Protocol in 2013, which requires media houses to advance gender equality in practice and structure. The Protocol urges the media to produce content that challenges stereotyping of women.

“Acknowledge the lack of women’s voices in the media and the need to give women equal voice. The media is also encouraged to desist from perpetuating gender stereotypes especially in advertising, entertainment and coverage of gender violence.”

Media houses that perpetuate negative stereotypes should be held to account. The status quo needs to change- we need to watch the watchdog. Citizens and government must be critical of media content and should ensure media houses follow policies and regulations for balanced and fair reporting. Being powerful tools for socialisation, the media must instead dismantle stereotypes and advance equality in all coverage and information they disseminate.

  • Laureen Makoza is a freelance journalist and gender activist in Blantyre. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service, which is part of the Women and Media campaign in partnership with UNESCO and the Global Alliance on Media and Gender (GAMAG). Next week’s theme is Employment and Women’s Participation in Media.
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17 thoughts on “Malawi media portraying women beyond victimhood”

  1. chefourpence says:

    pathetic feminism

  2. Rosenal says:

    U cnt do wh@ a man cn do and stil be a lady!

  3. Noel kb says:

    Women are really women they alwez struggle 4 recognition in the society, but the more they battle 4 it the more they loose. And the way the so-called facts r being presented, it jst really shows that its a woman who authored the article. Kkkkkkk

  4. mh says:

    from the picture, is it really women rescuing a man or a man rescuing women. Why deliberately twist the reality here.

  5. womenslib says:

    An interesting and informative article.

  6. Bekeshu says:

    I have never heard of any project for constructing boys hostels. We alway construct girls’s hostels coz they are naturally weak and need to be treated like babies. See? And the whole Min of Gender is for women because they are weak. See? Men fight for their survival on their own. See? These are hard facts. See?

  7. chaiwone wawo says:

    Next time the author of this article needs to put a feedback email. Some of us would prefer to constructively engage the author in a discussion so that she sees the other side of things other than the shallow perspective she has taken. This is a very unfortunate article I would say.

  8. Penapake says:

    I thin the writer of this piece would to portray that it is only male journalists who visited and reported on floods.

  9. wills says:

    On the contrary,while this article scores highly at fora including purely academic debates it does little if not even adding injury to the gender related gains in the country.
    Am not in the media industry but Am certain that had media not highlighted women in the context of the flood disaster they would as be bashed again by gender activists.
    The author may wish to be reminded that the functions and conduct of Min of Gender have given definition five of gender to mean women in the Malawian context
    So bravo that the write will only achieve a pocket full of allowances

  10. hango says:

    Ine ndakumvetsa zedi, you are right. But what is the advrse impact on that by capturing women as the most victimed by the recent floods? I thought donors will run in faster in that way? Pls educate me!

  11. manunkha says:

    senseless article

  12. ujeni says:

    Are woman macho? Even during civil war most victims are women and childre. as naturally are weaker sex. You tell me you want women to be sprinting like men in hundred metres running away from gun bullets? not at All.

  13. calvin mazengera says:

    There are two sides on this issue,,,yes we say its bad to portray women as victims but on the other hand this gives them an extra advantage for a special consideration considering that during such situations they suffer more than men does

  14. wodziwa kuchengeta says:

    Palibenso za gender apa.its nature’s way of doing things.Nature has endowed certain characters that are in men that women don’t have.Even in the bible women are labelled as weaker sex than men.Even in the Mzunguland where you copy these gender things they always have leaning heads on men’s shoulders.Men hold doors for women when they r going out of their houses.Palibe za u victim apa.Women enjoy alot when they are crying on your shoulder and you caress to soothe them of their problems.

  15. John says:

    Well done Gudall.900b ndi ndalama.if … Every can benefit but …

  16. mtubuka 1 says:

    Are you sure this is an issue? Men were not ot portrayed (as you are describing it) rather they were captured doing what they were doing women likewise,they were photographed doing exactly what they were doing. If the cameraman found them with plenty babies,there’s no way in hell they could appear as if they had none. Have you forgotten my sister that people in the south manufacture kids like sweets just for dpp to stay in power?

  17. Nanga ntani says:

    Kodi zithuzizozo amachita kuwauza kuti imani chonchi akujambuleni? Ngati nkhani amatola zithunzi pa zinthu zomwe amaziona. Ngati anaona kuti azimayi avutika kwambili akanapanga bwanji kuti ?.

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