I had the pleasure of taking a tour and getting to talk with those at the Jordan Media Institute last week. The massive facility is on the edge of East Amman with a media library, final cut pro lab, radio studio, broadcast studio, newsroom, and equipment library. But the most impressive part about this organization is the research of the master students.
Yearly, students have researched gender issues in the media—how suitable for my research—monitoring a cornucopia of local media outlets in order to see how they address topics such as abortion, hymen restoration, prostitution, virginity tests, and social problems. I will summarize some of the findings for you and some of their recommendations that they gave for the media outlets to discuss topics related to gender issues:
-Overall women were reflected in a good light, but often pictures of women were portrayed in an exaggerated or stereotyped manner like foreign women with blue eyes and blonde hair when the story is not related to foreign women.
-Newspapers and radio broadcasts in Jordan typically focused on positive and highlighted achievements of women challenging social norms.
-Several cases of using derogatory terms to describe specific groups of women such as “rapist”, “nigger” and “servant”.
-Light articles like those about beauty, food, and celebrities—articles that stereotypically appeal to women—were almost 50 percent of the total 10,122 articles written about overall and analyzed by the group. 4,674:10,122
-There were several photographs of women of all colors, shapes, and sizes, yet there were also several negative photographs of women seen as crazy, screaming, or appearing seductive.
-Articles used during the month of Ramadan when editors wrote articles about women dressing modestly they used women wearing the hijab and khimar in which they also encouraged women to stay home, cook, pray, and read the Quran.
There is definitely a tension in Jordan between achievements of women moving forward and speaking up for their rights and a desire to keep things the way they are. This same tension is visible in the New Arab Debates where there is push back from people in power and may be the cause of very little movement on behalf of the government.
The group also had a slew of topics to cover in 2012:
-Parliamentary Elections and the women’s quota: increasing the number of seats in parliament for women and the media mostly reported on women’s movements and coalitions that were formed to support female candidates.
-Creation of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs: Another organization that many women activists thought would replace the Jordan National Commission for Women and take away from the government’s concentration of changing laws that discriminate against women and empowering women financially.
-Article 308 of the Jordan Penal Code: A law that is still in effect today, in which it grants a convicted rapist amnesty if he marries his victim and does not divorce her for five years. Apparently preserving the “honor and reputation of the rape victim”.
-Elections in Egypt and the win of Islamists: Jordanians stood in solidarity with Egypt during their trials and tribulations. The big concern for women in Egypt and Jordan was the effect on the movie industry in Egypt and whether an Islamist win would shut it down.
-The Hijab Debate: Allowing female football players to wear hijabs while at the FIFA competitions. Simultaneously, at the University of Jordan was holding a campaign for wearing the hijab. Public marches and protests were held—not against the government—but against nationalists, liberals, leftist, and other groups that did not believe in wearing the hijab. This tension of women divided between those who choose to wear the hijab and those who do not, but many argued that because Islam is the religion of the state it is right to wear the hijab.
-Sexual Harassment and the University of Jordan student’s film: Dr. Rula Qawas and students of university created a video of their experiences with sexual and verbal harassment on campus holding up signs of the comments they hear on a daily basis. The university proceeded to fire the professor, but not without backlash from the students of the university stating that the video was not trying to be inappropriate or explicit. Rather, the video brought important issues to the surface and started an open dialogue about issues surrounding sexual harassment. There was a great support and discussion on social media outlets that ended in a campus wide protest against the universities decision to fire the professor.
The group gave some well-constructed recommendations to the media, civil society organizations, students of the media, and journalists. However, I think overall a solution to solving most of the media problems with the discussion about women is increased gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity in the newsroom.
-Showing positive aspects of women
-Avoiding discrimination, using women as a commodity, bad language, and descriptions of women.
-Commit to neutrality and balanced gender in the media
-Pressure lawmakers to adopt policy of media gender-sensitivity
-Better training for journalists
-Creating awareness of these topics
-Need for a media strategy for civil society organizations
One personal recommendation that I think the group could take into account is the power of social media and how there may be gender issues with posting to online sites. Understanding how women and men interact with each other on social media sites, and how there is a need to understand how women are individually portraying themselves online. One way this can be monitored is through likes and selection of preferences on sites like Facebook and Twitter.