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Not business as usual

ajosephs Icon Posted by Ammu Joseph

August 17th, 2008

“I can attest that media regards women in leadership with some mixture of awe and confusion. I am alternatively referred to as either the ‘Iron Lady of Liberia,’ or ‘Ma Sirleaf.’ Perhaps this shows the dual nature of women leaders!” - Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, in her Foreword to a new publication, Business Unusual: Gender and the Economy.

The book, published by Gender Links and edited by Deborah Walters and Colleen Lowe Morna, was launched at a celebratory event in Johannesburg on 13 August, the day after the 3rd GEM Summit came to an end (reports on the last two days of the Summit are available in the second and third editions of the daily, online GEM Summit News).

The book brings together information gathered for and during 12 Business Unusual (BU) workshops held in 10 Southern African countries between May 2006 and February 2008, and attended by 217 journalists (54% women, 46% men). The aim of these training workshops was to improve gender sensitivity and balance in economic and financial reporting.

The publication includes data from global, regional and national research that establishes the continuing gender imbalance in coverage of business and economics. For example, both the global Global Media Monitoring Project 2005 and the regional Gender Media Baseline Survey
revealed that women constituted less than 10% of news sources in stories about business and economics (as well as politics and sports).

The first chapter, “Reporting on Gender and Economics,” includes a collection of interesting and potentially useful suggestions from various panellists at the BU workshops, on how business could be covered in a better, more gender-balanced way. Leading the list is: “Go beyond ‘role models,’ ‘Cinderella stories’ and the ‘one woman who’s made in the man’s world’ stories. These are important, but should not be the only stories we try to tell.” Amen.

Subsequent chapters cover areas such as “Hidden Economies” (e.g., the unpaid care economy — with a special section on HIV and the Care Economy — and the informal economy), “Gender and Work,” “Gender and Enterprise,” “Gender, Sports and Economics,” “Gender and Development,” “Globalisation, Trade and Gender,” and “Economic Governance.”

Interspersed with the information and ideas outlined in each chapter are articles written by workshop participants that demonstrate how looking at a subject through a gender lens can produce unique and innovative stories. They also underline the fact that economics is ultimately about real lives.

As the conclusion to chapter one observes, “Covering the economy through a gender lens shows that there are wide varieties of women in business in the region. They run all sorts of enterprises, self-owned, private companies, associations, and cooperatives. They are employed in almost every sector at various levels. The information and stories found in the following pages point to how very diverse this coverage can be. The stories highlight the fact that gender aware reporting is simply good reporting: fair, diverse, focusing on what is new; critical; and prompting debate.”

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