Women’s movements throughout the world have faced criticism and resistance, be it during the suffragette’s movement in the early 20th century to the modern-day Aurat March. And while it may seem like better coverage of these events by media outlets has helped women’s movements all over the world, it is an undeniable fact that bigoted reporting and sexist perspectives being broadcast by mainstream media have caused several issues for these events.
According to a research spanning over 100 countries, almost 46 percent of news reports in print, audio and radio media uphold gender stereotypes while roughly a mere six percent promote gender equality in comparison. Even if one comes to the entertainment industry, which is seemingly dominated by women, less than one-third of all speaking characters in films are women. Of course, the gender pay gaps are a completely different discussion altogether. The point being, the media, as dedicated to gender equality as it may seem, in fact has deeply rooted misogyny that hurts women’s movements all over the world.
The Aurat March seems to be a relatively new concept in Pakistan. However, it finds its roots in the times of General Zia’s dictatorship during which women formed different platforms to try fighting against the blatant disregard for women’s rights in the country. Of course, at the time, the media too was extremely controlled and giving publicity- positive or negative- to any movement was not entirely in the hands of media outlets. Things have somewhat changed and the modern-day Aurat March is free to be reported and covered by not only large media outlets but by numerous digital media platforms, bloggers, small news channels and publications. Of course, one sees issues being discussed on almost all these platforms that were previously never acknowledged. However, the negative impact of this ‘freedom of media’ is also a menace.
One of the volunteers who actively participates with the organizers of the Aurat March, says selective representation is a major issue.
“Most of the Youtubers and small channel journalists come to the March so that they can get stuff they can turn into clickbait like placards they can sensationalize, interviews with religious questions, or seemingly with angles to stump random people. And people want to see what they want to see.”
According to her, while many channels also did justice to the March, a lot of journalists need to understand the concept of ethical reporting to amplify the voice of the people and the cause and not to amplify them as targets for violence and hate.
‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’, for instance, a slogan that perhaps became the highlight of the 2018 Aurat March is still receiving criticism. Organizers and participants are still trying to ‘clarify’ the meaning behind the slogan which quite literally means ‘my body, my choice’ given the ‘controversial’ nature of the catchphrase as described by numerous media channels.
Moving forward to the latest Aurat March, blasphemy allegations emerged which were backed by a video with poor audio quality which made it easy for the words being said in the video to be twisted and turned.
Of course, one may argue that the mainstream media did not accuse the women in the said video of blasphemy, but this is not where the problem lies. Mere circulation of the video, thanks to media outlets hungry for controversy, led to the organizers of the March receiving death threats- something that is not entirely uncommon for these women. Circulation of the video eventually led the government to order a probe into the ‘objectionable activities of the Aurat March’
According to Umaima Ahmad, a journalist who covers the Aurat March regularly, the problem lies with the fact that anyone with a cell phone and access to a camera can start ‘reporting’ on sensitive issues that they may have no background knowledge of. “The messages that are portrayed to be negative, if shared under a different perspective, are messages highlighting the actual problems of women.”
Of course, when they are being highlighted by individuals who do not share the same vision and are not trained to report with an unbiased view, the whole image gets skewed and the problem at hand blows out of proportion.
Would it be right to blame the media entirely? The whole purpose of these marches is to show that all walks of life are controlled beyond measure by men. The fact that even the reporting of a regular event can be done so in a way that it ends up harming the cause is a testament to the fact that women need more representation in all walks of life.