Media must stop demeaning women

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APART from my mother, the biggest influence in my life came from a woman – my high school teacher in Harare in the late 1990s, ’M’e M C Machumi.

She was not just my teacher but was also like a mother to me.

More than two decades after leaving high school I still have wonderful memories about the influential role she played in my professional development.

It is therefore fitting that I pen this elegy in celebration of a wonderful woman and mother.

Belated as it is, it is only fair that I also join in marking International Women’s Day.

I want to salute women – wherever they are – for the wonderful role they play in nurturing life and promoting development.

You are probably aware of the huge strides that Lesotho has made in this regard.

Lesotho is said to boast one of the highest literacy rates for women in Africa.

Lesotho’s literacy rate stands at 95 percent for women, 20 percent higher than that for men.

In simple terms this means we have more women in Lesotho who can read and write than men.

This is quite an achievement.

It is not surprising then that we tend to have scores of women at the top of Lesotho’s social strata, in business, politics and academia.

Lesotho is probably one of the few countries in Africa that has consciously propelled women into senior positions across all levels of society.

The quota system has meant we have a certain number of women, for example, serving as MPs in the National Assembly.

We also have several serving as government ministers.

For example, out of 18 government ministries, seven are headed by women.

You find women in charge of key government ministries such as health, local government, tourism, justice, sports and education.

Out of five assistant ministers, two are women.

This is impressive considering that this is happening in a country where women have historically been marginalised.

But presenting this rosy picture alone would be misleading.

Every week the media carry stories about women who are still being subjected to unbelievable domestic violence.

Others endure sexual harassment and violence both in the workplace and at home.

Thousands others endure abuse and discrimination simply because they are women.

The struggle for women’s empowerment and liberation is certainly far from being won.

Women in Lesotho still need to fight against clearly patriarchal attitudes that seek to keep them down.

They still need to fight against misogynistic attitudes from “Neanderthal” men who still think a woman can only rise up the social ladder by sleeping her way to the top.

Such attitudes demean women.

The media has unfortunately been an accomplice in this assault on women’s dignity.

Every newspaper thinks it is important to parade women, mostly half-naked, on Page 3, the most sought-after space in a newspaper apart from the front page.

The media have been conditioned to pass value judgments on women based on their looks rather than their brains.

As a result, we have “beautiful morons”, who can hardly articulate issues, masquerading as the voice of reason.

Such personalities can hardly advance the struggle for women’s rights and dignity.

We have here in Lesotho companies that think the best way they can promote women is by running beauty competitions.

On the contrary these beauty contests dishonour and demean women.

The advertising industry has been the biggest culprit.

Beautiful, sexy women are used as marketing tools in selling commodities such as soap, lotions, soups and, more recently, cars.

Such images have a huge impact on popular consciousness. The media should play its part in reversing this trend.

This “commodification” of women is probably one of the biggest drawbacks in the fight for women’s equality.

The sooner we the media help roll back this warped perception, the better.

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Lesotho’s widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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