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Empowering Arab Women through Media Development : A case study


Academic year: 2021

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Empowering Arab Women


Media Development

A case study

Nabila Zayati

Communication for Development Two-year master

15 credits

Date of submission: March, 2021 Supervisor: Josepha Wessels


Pag. 1 a 53 Abstract

The media have power: they create frames of conceptions, influence attitudes and behaviour, and monitor the conduct of government officials. For women, the media can suggest ways and means to defend civil rights and gain access to society’s resources and opportunities. Indeed, Media Development offers three levels of interventions to promote gender equality. (1) Increasing female number and roles in the media labour markets. (2) Promoting the production and circulation of content that challenge stereotypical portrayals of women and men. (3) Addressing the entire society to raise awareness and commitment for equal contributions in sustainable development. However, even though media development efforts have been popular during the last two decades in the global South (UNESCO), the Arab region is ranked the lowest in the world for achieving gender equality (CRS, 2020).

This project aims to investigate the role of media development to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment through a case study of two gender strategies driven by two main models of media development (Scott, 2014; Manyozo, 2012), in the Arab region. One is led by external interventions, the other is supported by domestic authorities and local governments. The time period of the research is limited to the last decade, which has seen radical changes in terms of women’s participation in the public sphere.

The findings are based on 10 in-depth interviews with media professionals directly involved in these strategies across different Arab countries, from Algeria, Iraq, and Palestine, to the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Despite the differences between the strategies in terms of political affiliations and territories of interest, the interviews show that gender (in)equality in the media is not a phenomenon isolated from people’s daily lives. Correspondingly, women’s empowerment is the result of different power struggles in society in which media development could potentially make a real difference, if based on gendered pluralistic participatory approaches, which include the internal and external environments of media organisations, as well as all actors of society’s systems and structures.


Pag. 2 a 53


Abstract ... 1

Introduction... 4

Background and research questions ... 7

1- Literature Review ... 8

Boundaries of the Arab region ... 8

Understanding gender (in)equality in the media ... 9

Challenges towards gender equality in the Arab society ... 11

2- Conceptual Framework ... 15

Media Development –two models and two approaches ... 15

Community participation versus participatory communication ... 19

From Power to Empowerment: a plethora of pathways ... 20

3- Methodology ... 24

Case study and selection criteria ... 24

Interviews ... 26

Ethics and study Limitations ... 27

4- Analysis & discussion ... 29

Media gender strategies: from inclusion to participation ... 29

Media development approaches for gender equality ... 33

Challenges towards Arab women’s empowerment ... 39

5- Conclusions ... 43

References ... 47

Appendix 1 : MD and MFD activities from a gender perspective ... 51


Pag. 3 a 53 Acknowledgements

I am deeply grateful to the ComDev lecturers for their shared knowledge, advice, and guidance, in particular to Professor Josepha Ivanka Wessels, whose expertise was invaluable in formulating the research questions and methodology.

Also, I would like to acknowledge and extend my most sincere thanks to Abdullah Abdul Karim and David Hivet for their valuable support, making this project possible. Special thanks also to all the interviewees who offered their insights.

Last but not least, I am deeply grateful to my mother and my daughter Carmen. Without their existence in my life, I would never have had the courage and the will to proceed with my postgraduate studies.


Pag. 4 a 53 Introduction

The last decade has seen radical changes in terms of Arab women’s participation in the public sphere. Social movements, in particular, have been offering a more dynamic space for women to claim voice and visibility and engage in social change processes. In fact, since the 2011 Tunisian uprisings spread across Arabic-speaking countries in North Africa and the Middle East into what has become known as the Arab Spring, the voice of Arab women has never been louder. Women and girls from Tunisia to Bahrain and from Egypt to Syria have been at the forefront of street demonstrations and popular protests demanding democracy, social justice, freedom, dignity, and equality. This challenge to the historical stereotype of a male-dominated public space was the first outcome of an ever-uphill battle for gender equality and women’s empowerment (Baubérot et al., 2015).

The reforms passed by Tunisia in favour of equal inheritance rights, and the new laws criminalising violence against women in countries such as Jordan, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia, were major legal milestones towards empowering women (Menara, 2019). At the regional level, the League of Arab States (LAS) has adopted the Executive Action Plan on the Protection of Arab Women: Peace and Security 2015-2030 , which forms a guiding framework for the development of agendas and strategies to empower women in all sectors, including the media – a crucial stakeholder in the development of transitional societies, both in terms of inclusion and exclusion (LAS,2016).

According to Manyozo (2012), there are three dominant approaches that characterise the debates about media, development, and democracy, namely: media for development, media development, and participatory/community communication. In the first approach the media act as a vehicle for delivering positive changes to individuals’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices. The second focuses on strengthening the media as an independent organisation capable of supporting democracy. The third is a bottom-up approach which stresses community engagement “that enables the rescuing of subaltern voices in development policy formulation and implementation” (p. 15).


Pag. 5 a 53 In the Arab region, these approaches inform the theory and practice of two main models of media development strategies devoted to women’s empowerment and gender equality: the international/external model, and the national/domestic one (Manyozo, 2012; Scott, 2014). The first came into being at the end of the 1980s, within the field of International Media Assistance, to assist media organisations, in developing countries, to create and sustain functioning democracies. The second, on the other hand, is led by local governments and public authorities, and is at the service of patronising views of development which recognise the Beijing Declaration1 as a global road map for advancing the status of women and girls and draw on it to develop national agendas and policies, according, notably, to domestic dynamics and challenges (ESCWA, 2020).

Despite this, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) 2020 Global Gender Gap Report ranked the Arab states of the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region the lowest in the world for achieving gender equality (CSR, 2020). Even worse, Taqeem’s2 Report reveals a regress in women’s rights after the 2011 Arab uprisings (ILO, 2017). The reason for this, according to some stakeholders, lies in the fact that gendered development strategies are just a box-ticking exercise when drawing up global and national policies (Bhavnani et al., 2016). Others, however, are questioning these strategies in order to bring greater empirical rigor for effective gender integration (Benequista et al., 2019).

This work, therefore, investigates media development efforts and challenges towards gender equality and women’s empowerment through the case study of two different gender strategies from the external and national models of media development in the Arab region.

The methodological criteria were informed by my professional career in the media as well as my personal life experiences, which are inextricably intertwined with both the


The Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action, adopted unanimously by 189 countries at the Conference in 1995, is considered to be the most comprehensive global policy framework for the rights of women.


The word Taqeem was extracted from the official title of the English name of the project – funded by the International Labour Office – which produced the report; in Arabic languages it means evaluation.


Pag. 6 a 53 Arab and European cultures. The duality of my present understanding has motivated this academic research into media development and oriented it towards the Arab region. This would not have been possible without the knowledge acquired from the Communication for Development Master’s programme. The selection of the strategic subjects of the case study was the result of an early consultation with experienced colleagues of mine in media development, and supported in its methodology by contemporary studies on case study research – in particular, Blatter and Haverland (2012). Institutional informative materials were examined and 10 in-depth interviews were conducted with media professionals involved in these strategies at different levels: conceptualisation, implementation, and achievements.

In the first part of this paper, background information is presented and the research questions and sub-questions will be framed, which will guide the subsequent five main sections. In the first main section, the literature review, some theoretical and empirical studies of relevance to the media and gender equality in the Arab region will be examined. The second section includes an overview of the main concepts which will drive the analytical stage, namely, media development – two models and two approaches, community participation versus participatory communications, and from power to empowerment: a plethora of pathways. The third section is dedicated to the research approach and methodology used to answer the research questions, and will discuss their workability, generalisability, and limitations. In the fourth section the collected empirical data will be carefully distilled and analysed, aligning the results with the sub-questions while interrogating the conceptual framework. Finally, in the conclusion, the main findings and results of the research will be summarised, taking into consideration recommendations for future research directions in investigating gender and media in the Arab region, as it offers a fertile ground to explore the most profound challenges for the field of communication for development and social change in the future (Tufte, 2017).


Pag. 7 a 53 Background and research questions

The aim of this project is to investigate the role of media development in gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Arab region. The time period of the research is limited to the last decade, which has seen radical changes in terms of Arab women’s participation in the public sphere, i.e., in society. The engagement of Arab feminist activism through the mobilising power of social media during the Tunisian uprisings of 2011 is indeed the chronological starting point of this study.

This analysis will consider two main models of Media Development strategies. One is led by external interventions and the other is supported by domestic authorities and local governments. These two models represent the window of connection with the empirical exploration, as each one of them will be represented by specific on-the-ground interventions.3

The first initiative that will be analysed, which corresponds to the first model – the external – is the “Gender Strategy” initiative led by the French media development agency Canal France International (CFI). Its stated aim is “to contribute to achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls”4. Of particular interest to this strategy are countries located in developing southern countries, including the Arab region.

The second initiative, the “Strategy for the Empowerment of Emirati Women” is an initiative of the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), recently ranked as the leading country in gender equality in the Arab region (CRS, 2020). Representing the second media development model – the domestic – it provides the framework for federal government institutions and organisations to develop a variety of initiatives for women’s empowerment in all areas of sustainable development, including the media. Its ultimate objective is to transform the country into a leading model in the Arab region.


Selection criteria are explained in section 3.


The complete text of the strategy is published on CFI website : https://cfi.fr/en/news/equality-between-women-and-men-heart-our-actions


Pag. 8 a 53 In exploring both models, the main question that this research aims to answer is: what role has media development played in the empowerment of women and the struggle for gender equality over the last decade, in the Arab region?

The following sub-questions will guide the research methodology:

1) To what extent was the participation of female stakeholders fostered in the conceptualisation of each strategy?

2) What are the media approaches used in both models?

3) What are the main challenges that female participants are facing in media development initiatives towards Arab women’s empowerment?

1- Literature Review

Boundaries of the Arab region

First and foremost, it is worth defining the boundaries of the Arab region as it sheds light on the ‘spectre of regionalism’ manifesting itself in the Pan-Arab identity, which influences the major trends in media and drives media organisations’ strategies, both in terms of structure and participation in development discourses (Ferabolli, 2015). Arabs, as defined by Hopkins and Ibrahim (2003), are those who speak the Arabic language. The authors explain that the land, the people, and the culture dominated by the Arabic language and by the Islamic religion have created, over several centuries, a unique entity that the Arabs themselves call the "Arab Homeland" (al-Watan al-Arabi), or the "Arab world” (p. 1). This study, however, follows Amin’s (2001) definition of the Arab region, where the included countries have Arabic as the official language and share the same historical background of being subordinated first to the Ottoman Empire, and subsequently to the European colonial powers. These countries number eighteen, namely: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya,


Pag. 9 a 53 Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the UAE, and Yemen (p. 23).

The Arab states display remarkable disparities in their political, economic, and demographic realities and are in addition both religiously and ethnically diverse, although the majority of Arabs adhere to Sunni Islam and the religion has official status in most countries5 (Mellor et al., 2011).

Understanding gender (in)equality in the media

One of the major problem that I had faced in relation to literature review, is the scarcity of previous studies - both theoretical and empirical – which investigate the field of media development in the Arab region, and particularly, those addressed to gender equality. Country-level data is even more critical because the identification of a unitary measure of gender equality in the media is often complex and contested. Disagreements between scholars and practionnaires begin with the definition of terms such as the ‘the media’ and ‘gender equality’, and extend to the methodological approaches and tools applied to collect empirical data. Therefore, I will start, in the following lines, by providing as much clarity as possible on the understanding of the relation between media, gender equality, voice, and representation.

In this research, while the concept of ‘gender equality’ is defined as equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities for people of all genders, ‘the media’ refers to all the traditional and digital media channels that carry news and public information. Both gender equality and the media, as sustained by the world’s development organisations, have crucial roles in societies’ development at a variety of levels and with multiple impacts. For instance, UNESCO’s study on Media Development Indicators (2008) affirms that free, independent and pluralistic media empower citizens with information that enables them to make informed choices and actively participate in


Various ethnic groups such as Nubians, Bedouins, Kurds, and Berbers are encompassed by the term Arabs, as well as religious groups including Christians (of various denominations), Muslims (Sunni, Shiite, Bahai, Druze), and Jews.


Pag. 10 a 53 democratic processes which serve as a catalyst for human development. In these processes - according to UN Women (2020) - gender equality is a precondition for, and indicator of, “sustainable people-centered development”. (UN women, 2020a).

Within this perspective, gender equality in the media is important because it offers ‘symbolic recognition’, ‘voice’, and ‘relevance’ of and for women in the news - asserts Monica Djerf-Pierre (Djerf-Pierre & Edström 2020). ‘Symbolic recognition’ refers to the opportunity to see, listen to, and read about women involved in a wide variety of societal roles, which is essential in challenging gender stereotypes. ‘Voice’ entails women being heard and having a say in issues that affect them and others in society. “Relevance emanates from a broadening of the range of news topics and perspectives in the news by including issues and views that resonate with and emanate from women’s lives and experiences” (p. 60).

Accordingly, to assess gender equality in the media, she introduces the Gem - Index (GEM-I) based on three main indicators: (1) Presence. It refers to women as news subjects, sources or as reporters in all news stories, and implies (the indicator) quantitative tools to measure the inclusion of women as people worth reporting about and listening to. (2) Topics. This indicator involves women as news subjects or sources in economic and political news, and informs about the status of women in society. (3) Roles. It indicates women’s roles and positions in media organisations, such as spokespersons and experts, and therefore, the symbolic recognition of their professional competences and expertise.

Overall, the data provided by the Gem-I, shows that, at a global scale, Women “have a place in the news but are represented with less status – in presence, topics, and roles – than men” (p. 67-74). Comparing with the rest of the world, the Arab region is lagging behind. While the presence of women in the media has seen a small increase over time “from 17 per cent in 1995 to 24 per cent in 2015”, in the Middle East, countries


Pag. 11 a 53 have remained at the bottom of the ladder “with over 82 per cent men news subjects in 20156” (ibid).

The reason for this, according to UNESCO’s7 regional overview of Arab States 2017-2018 (UNESCO, 2017-2018), lies in the fact that Arab women continue to face structural obstacles that hamper their representation, participation, and advancement in the media industry. The report also observes that women encounter difficult work environments, particularly in relation to prevalent and often unreported sexual harassment. Figures suggest the existence of a “glass ceiling” that blocks the professional advancement of women in journalistic and media organisations. In some countries, that glass ceiling is in middle management, in others it is in more senior roles, beside the fact that Arab men tend to have higher salaries than women in the media industry.

Stressing the causes of inequalities in the media based on gender analysis, Djerf-Pierre recalls the contemporary slogan “You can’t be what you can’t see” to emphasise the strict relationship between gender (in)equality in the media and in society at large. She argues that women’s presence, topics and roles in the media are indeed a matter of “social recognition, status, and power”.

Investigating these main challenges in current literature, the following sub-section provides a summary8 of the main discussions.

Challenges towards gender equality in the Arab society

First challenge: Public sector reforms

As stated in the introduction, the WEF’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report ranks the Arab states of the MENA region the lowest in the world for achieving gender equality,

6 Some Arab countries are not participating in the GMM-index, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and

Libya which are all in the bottom 20 of the Press Freedom Index (RSF, 2017)


United Nation Educational, Science and Cultural Organization


Pag. 12 a 53 with MENA states comprising 13 of the 25 worst-performing countries globally (CRS, 2020). Furthermore, Taqeem’s Report reveals that not only have the Arab Uprisings not yet led to an increased participation of women in the shaping of policies and rights that would solidify their empowered role in their respective societies, but also, in some countries, researchers documented a regress in women’s rights (ILO, 2017).

One of the dominant reasons, according to Beschel and Youssef (2020) lies in the struggle, of Arab governments, with how to structure, manage, and deliver public services, as they have been, during the last two decades, focusing their energies on governance reforms driven – to a great extent – by external forces “most notably the United States through its Freedom Agenda” (p. 3), rather than on the real priorities of Arab societies ( i.e., democratic political reforms).

Certainly, the Arab spring has offered glimpses of hope towards women’s equal inclusion in human developments, but concrete reforms in the Arab social contract remain far from being achieved due to “the resurgence of what some scholars have dubbed the ‘new authoritarianism’”. Put differently, we are assisting to a full-scale ‘counter-revolution’ which represents a setback for women’s aspirations towards greater political participation, transparency, and social accountability.

According to the authors, the biggest challenge, however, is of a demographic nature as the population of the Arab world is expected to grow by 40% over the next two decades, and this “will, in turn, create major challenges to provide adequate housing, infrastructure, education, health care, and water – services that the Arab public sectors will be called upon to deliver in whole or in part” ( p. 7).

Second challenge: Stereotypes and representations

The Arab genealogy is one of the most authoritative organising principles in society, which men are keen on preserving through biological kinship (blood-ties) and marriage (Mahran,1977). Men’s position in society is strengthened when they marry women


Pag. 13 a 53 who can provide children with social, religious, and political prominence.9 Consequently, this Arab cultural tradition forms the foundation of the measurement of a woman’s social standing, which contributes to the definition of the degree of her inclusion or exclusion in the activities of society and the surrounding lifestyle. The marital status of a woman is therefore one of the main factors that determines her value in society, and the more children she has, the more her status is elevated. Even in the present day, women who are divorced, widowed, or unmarried continue to struggle in order to overcome the social stigma (Alghoul, 2017).

Further investigating the social dynamics of the Arab society, close reviews of classic and contemporary Arab feminist literature (Mernissi, 1991; Mosteghanemi, 2012; El-Saadawi, 2015; Haddad, 2019) place gender (in)equality and women’s empowerment in a controversial position at the heart of a three-way power struggle between Islamists10 who strive to extend their political ideology in the region rejecting the pluralism of Muslim societies11, existing governments who tend to politicise women’s participation in development according to their own agendas, and the Arab culture itself which –independently from the diversity of religions of the Arab people12 – continues to give preference to the status of a married woman under patriarchal families and social structures.

Another level of complexity is embedded within the Orientalism of the Western gaze as directed towards the Arab ‘World’. According to the UNDP Report (2005) the spread of the concept of “women’s empowerment” in the Arab region has “excited the rancour” of certain socio-political forces which see it as “imposed” by the West and not emerging from the real needs of Arab societies, driving “some to resist development plans that adopt the gender perspective”. Indeed, Lila Abu-Lughod


If we dig deeper into the life stories of the most influential women in Arab history, we discover their eminent descendance from prestigious Arab ancestors and their kinship to Arab leaders. Zubaida, for example, known as one of the Queens of Baghdad, was none other than the cousin and wife of the legendary Abbasid caliph, Harun al-Rashid.


Islamism is not a form of the Muslim faith or an expression of Muslim piety; it is, rather, a political ideology that strives to derive legitimacy from Islam. For more information follow this link



The variety of cultures and races across the Muslim world - and women’s rights


Arabs are religiously diverse group – significant numbers of Arab Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq make up between 15-18% of the Muslim world (US. ATDC, 2006).


Pag. 14 a 53 (2002) calls attention to the resonances of contemporary discourses on equality, freedom, and rights with earlier colonial and missionary rhetoric on Muslim women. Arguing therefore, that “rather than seeking to ‘save’ others (with the superiority it implies and the violences it would entail) we might better think (1) working with them in situations that we recognise as always subject to historical transformation and (2) considering responsibilities to address the forms of global injustice that are powerful shapers of the worlds in which they find themselves.” (p.783).

Third challenge: Labour force and decision-making power

The drastic results of the challenges cited in the previous paragraphs extend to gender equality in political and economic decision-making. They manifest for example in the popular belief that “men should be given priority in hiring in times of economic hardship – due to their traditional role as bread-winners”13, or in the fear that girls and women, from traditional families, experience about disclosing their identities when taking on employment outside the home (Assad et al., 2020), or even more clearly in the explanation of why families support their daughters’ higher educational attainment, despite the questionable rate of economic participation. According to Haghighat (2013) the family eagerness to encourage a daughter’s studies is “a way to improve her chances of finding a husband of similar or higher social status, that, in turn, adds to the family’s collective social status.”

In fact, in the Arab region, the stagnant low rate of women’s workforce participation accompanied by the rising of female educational attainment is referred to as the “Mena paradox” (World Bank, 2012). To this regard, Fatema Mernissi, one of the central figures of Arab feminism, argues, in Shehrazad goes west (2001), that today’s poor visibility of Arab women in public and political spheres, as well as their lack of power, have profound roots in men’s fear of women’s engagement with the structure of knowledge acquisition and production, and its irreversible impact on the institutions


This information is sourced from the World Values Survey


Pag. 15 a 53 of the modern state. Improving gender balance of power in society, she affirms, knowledge alone is not enough. The woman, according to Mernissi, needs different skills related to how she uses this knowledge in consideration of the specific environment/case she is experiencing. And perhaps more importantly, she has to establish a constant and permanent dialogue with the man in order to change his mind.

In political decision-making, this dialogue should be insured, according to the Beijing Platform for Action, by “national women’s machineries”, i.e., governmental bodies responsible for gender-related strategies and gender mainstreaming (ESCWA, 2015). However, in the Arab countries, the actual influence of these machineries on governmental policies remains ambiguous (ibid.).

2- Conceptual Framework

Media Development –two models and two approaches

Two Models: “Internal interventions or domestic initiatives?”

In the book International Media Development: Historical Perspectives and New Frontiers, the editors (Benequista et al., 2019) explain that the term “media development” emerged in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin wall “when there was a sudden increase in foreign aid monies devoted to the media – most intended to help countries in transition to reconstruct and transform their media sectors into institutions supportive of democratic governance” (p. 4). In the same volume, Nelson describes media development as a demand-driven approach, which flourished in the 1990s as well as with the declaration of the UN Millennium Agenda, in which international donors and media consultants have played a crucial role, offering technical assistances and training (Nelson, 2019). Investigating the history of International Media Development Assistance in the Arab region, there are few studies which document foreign aid in media development for the Arab region, but UNESCO’s


Pag. 16 a 53

International Programme for the Development of Communication14, designed to support media in developing countries, conserves in its archives some instructive reports about interventions in Syria and Morocco since 1981 (UNESCO, 1983).

Media development assistance revolves around three main areas: resources, technical assistance, and skills. In addition, activities extend to the external environment of media organisations to address diverse social groups in order to improve the policy or its impact. The optimal trajectory for media development, as explained by Nelson (2019) and described in the figure below, occurs along the intersection of a two-dimensional matrix which involves the internal and external environments of the media (ibid).

Figure 1: Media development requires increases in both skills and enabling conditions ( Nelson, 2019)

However, these international interventions are increasingly questioned for two main reasons: first, because of the crisis of Western economies along with their media systems; second, because of their ‘limited’ capacities in identifying local development issues and responding to the specific needs of indigenous people. (Scott, 2014, p. 34-35).

In the Arab region, many governments have engaged, during the last two decades, in a dialogue on developing the media sector as a proactive initiative to advance national


Pag. 17 a 53 development and contribute to transforming the region (Elbadawi & Makdisi, 2017). Domestic media development efforts, however, have been criticised because of their governmental origins. It is argued that enabling conditions under which media can achieve and maintain independence are very fragile as they are nevertheless reliant on institutions of government (Rothman, 2015).

This current tension in the field of media development is further developed by Scott (2014) to whom belongs the title of this sub-section (p.84). He explains that many scholars and practitioners define media development as “purely donor-driven, intervention-based”, despite the fact that domestic programmes have proven successful results during the last two decades. A significant example of media development in the Arab region, according to him, is provided by Al Jazeera – more precisely its media training centre for Arab journalists and media professionals. Furthermore, he acknowledges that “the most successful examples of media development are widely agreed to be those driven by local development and people, rather than donors”. In addition, he argues in favour of Berger’s suggestion to adopt the term “media mobilization” to refer to external interventions.

Two Approaches: Media Development (MD) & Media For Development (MFD)

According to Manyozo (2012) in the Media for Development (MFD) approach, the media act as a vehicle for delivering positive change in individuals’ knowledge, attitudes, and practice. The author discusses the process of creating media for development in which the mass media, in particular newspapers, radio, internet, and television are used as “instruments and spaces for communication about and in development”. Centring the debate on the role of the media in reporting development in relation to the challenges of creating content that respond to the needs of different stakeholders, he identifies three key “strands”: “factual news and content; creative and educational journalism; and indigenous knowledge communications” (p.56). The first strand “factual news and content” focuses on the development and circulation of content with the aim of raising public awareness and mobilise a range of


Pag. 18 a 53 target audience groups in relation to development challenges existing in a particular community or society. The second “creative and educational journalism” involves media and communication strategies based on the use of “entertaining popular art forms and genres (such as music, comic strips, theatre, or drama)” to educate the public and influence positive behaviour and social change. In the third, “indigenous knowledge communications”, media and communication practices evolve from the endogenous knowledge fed by the “the experiences and consciousness of living through a specific time and space”. The latter is used as a catalyst for strengthening communities and creating opportunities for positive change. (p.57-108).

The second approach, Media Development (MD), according to the same author, focuses on strengthening the media – especially in the Global South – as an independent organisation capable of supporting democracy. Building media and ICT infrastructures, policies, and capacities are the main strategic axes for MD efforts towards free speech, good governance, democratic societies, and sustainable development. Manyozo places the political economy at the centre of the debate and affirms that all MD theoretical trajectories “point to Webberian15 concepts of modernity”. “The neo classical assumption is that since free media have apparently contributed to stronger democratic societies in the West (...), they will similarly strengthen transitional and nascent developing world democracies”. Accordingly, the range of MD activities extends from promoting media independence and pluralism, to the modernisation of media organisations (news agencies, press, radio, and television), and capacity building of media professionals (p.112-151).

From a gender perspective, both MFD and MD approaches can be translatedin terms of programmes/initiatives which could promote symbolic recognition, voice, and relevance, and might generate three categories of gender-sensitive indicators: presence, topics, and roles ( see section 1 and appendix 1).

However, at the heart of these drivers for gender equality in and through the media, the concept of participation emerges as the key for powerful impacts. Thus, the next sub-section discusses the main participatory approaches applied to this research.


Pag. 19 a 53

Community participation versus participatory communication

Following Manyozo (2012), the focus here is on bottom-up communication processes promoted by development organisations towards community engagement “based on dialogue, respect for local knowledge and collective decision-making” (p. 155). Two structural models of participatory communication are introduced by the author: system and empowerment strands.

The system strand is based on the use of methods that involve the public with the aim of including grass-roots perspectives in their proposals. Thus, this institutional approach is described as “an attempt to extend democracy into the community, by establishing an informal tier of government” (p. 167). On the other hand, the empowerment strand looks at the participation of regional and rural communities in the development process. The involvement of those who are experiencing marginalisation, poverty, and underdevelopment can be brought about through community support, ownership, and contribution in all initiatives.

Both system and empowerment strands, explains Manyozo, are rooted in “the dominance of the instrumental, top-down, organisation-driven form of development participation”, and they are oftentimes combined in development programmes with multiple levels. Referring to Tufte and Mefalopulos (2009), he distinguishes four levels of participation: passive participation, consultation, functional participation, and empowerment participation (p. 156).

Digging deeper into the role of media in development programmes after the 2011 uprisings, it is helpful to introduce Tufte’s (2017) contributions. Tufte developed a chronological approach of communication for development, introducing a three-generational model. The first generation corresponds to the diffusion of innovations centred on the dissemination of information, the second is defined as a competency-based approach that focuses on educational communication, and the third is the communication for social change. The latter emerges from the institutionalised practice of communication like the other two approaches, but emphasises a growing bottom-up process that is proliferated by digital media and social movements.


Pag. 20 a 53 After the Arab spring, Tufte (2013) drew attention to the crucial role of citizen-led participatory processes, as digital media have offered a revolutionary link between practices of communication for social change. He asserts that Arab uprisings were the catalyst for a ‘plethora of agency’, in which voice and collective actions have brought powerful dynamics into the relationship between citizens, state, government, the media, and the private sector (p. 28). Additionally, he introduces De Certeau’s (1984) concept of “citizen tactics” defined as “the efforts made by ordinary people” in order to “influence power structures, have a voice and gain a say in processes of social and political change” (2013, p.34). These tactics, according to the author, are a form of feedback to mainstream and large-scale media which are traditionally seen as a group of institutions exercising power to which citizens are subjected. Therefore, for institutions and organisations (including the media) the response is “to seek to develop citizen tactics – ways and means of carving out their own use and meaning in everyday life”. Put differently, moving the agency away from the media and journalists to ordinary citizens.

From Power to Empowerment: a plethora of pathways

Connecting with Tufte’s idea of citizens agency with its embodied power on society’ structures, Petit & McGee (2019) clarify that the “conventional view of power as agency” which conceives citizens, in the political sphere, as free agents capable “to inform themselves of their options” and “engage civilly with political parties and leaders to secure rights, entitlements and accountability” is not sufficient to explain “the way power is embedded in socialised norms, beliefs and behaviour”. Which is the reason why the editors treat power as “iterative, intersectional and multidimensional”, differently from the prevailing “dualist ‘agency vs structure’ lenses” in theoretical debates. They explain that while “the agency lens” depicts the powerful as those who are mobilising oppressive systems or structures, the use of power under “the structure lens” has a unique scope: “ leaving agents all but powerless”. Indeed, the authors of their book apply a “post-structural view” which they (the editors) refer to as “a multidimensional power lens”. This lens focuses on “the ways in which socialised


Pag. 21 a 53 norms, constraints and opportunities for agency are actually experienced (...) and how moments of power can be resisted or transformed through social action and leadership.” (p.3-5).

They explain that the understanding of ‘empowerment’ depends on the applied lenses on power. ‘The agency view’ entails the possession of individual skills, resources and capabilities; ‘the structural view’ is devoid from any theory of empowerment; while “seen from a post-structural and multidimensional angle, empowerment involves gaining critical awareness of structural inequalities and abilities to create, articulate and enact alternatives, usually on a collective basis” (p.6). They affirm that both power and empowerment cannot be well understood if not explored in action and they call for incorporating power analysis with all research disciplines as it offers effective possibilities of integration between theory and practice in order to better understand how the process of ‘transformation’, i.e., ‘empowerment’ manifests in persistent inequalities.

This post-structural view of empowerment was indeed applied by Andrea Cornwall, who published some key insights in her article Women’s empowerment: what works? (2016).

According to Cornwall, women’s empowerment is a multidimensional process based on a relational dynamic of power at a variety of levels. She describes this process as a “journey travelled along pathways” by women “alone or in company”, through different types of terrain which can facilitate, hinder, or change the itinerary. Fundamental to this concept of empowerment are the contributions of external actors which can provide support at different levels and in different ways. For this reason she emphasises the “relational nature” and “the essential sociality” of the concept of empowerment, which has its genesis and finds its meaning in relation to a particular set of cultural and political referents. Accordingly, she explains that “what empowers one woman might not empower another: there are no one-size-fits-all recipes for empowerment.”


Pag. 22 a 53 Cornwall speaks of a process enabling women to gain control over “material assets, intellectual resources and ideology” informed by “Feminist consciousness-raising” and “collective action”. She argues that, in order to create a powerful impact, transformative development initiatives in favour of greater equality between women and men need a solid complementarity between two main essential factors. The first focuses on “processes that produce shifts in consciousness” enabling women to change their self-images, and the perception of themselves as weak. The second, however, requires engagement with “culturally embedded normative beliefs, understandings, and ideas about gender, power and change”. Furthermore, she recalls Batiwala’s (1994) notion of the “empowerment spiral” stressing the potential of mobilising “large-scale transformative political action” and recognising “the centrality of power and control”. This approach, which looks at divergent dimensions of empowerment in a more comprehensive perspective, is indeed applied by the author to some case studies which explore the dynamics of empowerment in practice, in order to reflect on the “implications for policy and practice”.

Cornwall (2016) identifies some key insights, drawing on findings from the multi-country research programme, Pathways of Women’s Empowerment16, which explores the process of women’s empowerment on the ground. This process is driven by what she calls ‘motorways’, i.e., the programmes of mainstream development policies for women and girls, but differing in their contours in a wide variety of settings marked by different cultural, economic, and political realities.

For the aim of this study, I will consider the following two insights:


Currently funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), with

additional funding from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pathways of Women’s Empowerment is an international research and communications programme established in 2006 with the aim of understanding and influencing efforts to bring about positive change in women’s lives. For more information follow the link


Pag. 23 a 53 “Engaging front-line intermediaries” (p.348)

Drawing principally on a case study carried out by the Pathways project in Egypt relating to the conditional cash transfer programme run by the Ministry of Solidarity, Cornwall sheds light on the significance of front-line implementers of policies, projects, and programmes as well as the significance of their empowerment as intermediaries for the effectiveness of empowerment interventions. She states that, thanks to the relationship of respect and of solidarity between front-line intermediaries and the female beneficiaries of the Egyptian conditional cash transfer programme “the programme sought to instil a sense of citizenship in women, who come to see the transfer as an entitlement rather than a hand out”. Thus, supportive relationships are placed at the heart of the intervention, as they are considered part of the process of transformation. Otherwise, the failure of programmes for women’s empowerment is inevitable “if those who deal with putting them into practice are not themselves engaged and empowered as agents of change”.

“Imagining women differently” (p.353)

The previous insight stressed the relevance of the image of the intermediaries involved in women’s empowerment interventions as agents of a positive change, whereas this insight extends the representation of empowered women to society as a whole.

The starting point lies in the recognition of representation as a pathway to empowerment. According to Cornwall, overcoming the expectations that limit women requires imaginative use depicting them and their “horizons of possibility” in a “different light”.

Drawing on the results of an action research project conducted in Ghana, the author highlights the significant role of popular culture and popular media in “shaping the conditions under which women may experience something as empowering”. She explains that the role of the media can be a decisive and powerful vehicle in terms of “limiting representations of women, extending into hostile, misogynistic and derogatory portrayals shot through with sexist stereotyping”. She asserts that a shift in women’s self-image and sense of power is possible with a change in these


Pag. 24 a 53 representations. She also advises development agencies to engage more with creative communications and give more recognition to the potential of these activities as a driver for positive social change, despite the difficulties in measuring the qualitative impacts on society.

3- Methodology

Case study and selection criteria

As announced at the beginning of this work, the main methodological approach is the case study. In fact, this choice is based on two main reasons: firstly, “case study research is effective when is rooted in theory – that is, an idea about why things happen as they do” (Laws et al., 2003); secondly, it makes easier for researchers to investigate in depth abstract theoretical concepts using small number of cases (Blatter & Haverland 2012).

Following Blatter and Haverland (2012) there are three main methodological approaches to case studies: “co-variational” (COV), “casual process tracing” (CPT), and “congruence analysis” (CON). The latter, applies case studies to provide empirical evidence “for relative strength of one theoretical approach” (p.121-123). To do this, it is necessary to start by selecting theories, specifying their implications for the cases under study, and to deduce sets of specific expectations/hypothesis that will guide the collection of empirical information..

However, my determination to apply the CON approach is supported by two main strengths, comparing with the other approaches: (1) theories are not reduced to single independent variables, as in the COV approach, but are treated as comprehensive explanatory frameworks that are specified through a set of constitutive and causal propositions; (2) the selection criteria of one or more cases are based on the ex-ante ‘likeliness’ of cases in respect to the selected theories - unlike the logic of case selection within the CPT approach which investigates ‘positive’ and ‘possible’ series of cases to determine whether a causal factor is a ‘necessary condition’ for an outcome.


Pag. 25 a 53 Therefore, the first step to apply the CON approach is the deduction of hypothesis from the conceptual framework. This step is fundamental, according to Blatter and Haverland, because at the heart of the congruence analysis approach there is a systematic comparison of the collected empirical information with the expectations deduced by the researcher from divergent theories.

The following table summarises the theories discussed in the previous section and deduces the corresponding hypothesis/expectations for both models.



International model Media efforts led by

international organisations in the global South

National model Media efforts led by governments and national authorities

Media Development approaches

- Media Development (MD) - Modernisation of media organisations

-Capacity-building of media professionals

- Promoting media

independence and pluralism

- Modernisation of media organisations

- Capacity-building of media professionals

- Media for development (MFD) - delivering positive change in individuals’ knowledge, attitudes, and practice based on:

- Factual news and content - Creative and educational journalism

- Factual news and content - Creative and educational journalism

- Indigenous knowledge communications

Participatory approaches

- Community participation

- Strand Empowerment strand System strand

- Level - Consultation - Functional participation - Empowerment participation - Passive participation - Consultation - Functional participation

- Participatory communication Communication for social change: citizen’s agency

- Diffusion of innovations - Educational communication

Women’s empowerment

Raising women’s agency to gain power over society’s structures (Structural model)

A multidimensional pathway (individual, relational, community) that varies over economic, cultural and political systems (Post-structural model)


Pag. 26 a 53 Following the CON approach, the next step is the selection of a ‘crutial case’ for each model – whereby the ‘crucialness’ of the case depends on the ‘likeliness’ that it is congruent with the hypothesis deduced from the selected theories.

To do this, significant prior knowledge about the empirical cases is necessary in order to select optimal cases (ibid). For this study, the prior knowledge was acquired from my professional experience leading me to conduct a thorough investigation of different informative materials looking for congruent cases with the expectations derived from my selected theories.

Based on the findings of this reflection, I have selected the “Gender Strategy” of Canal France International (CFI) along with the “Strategy for the Empowerment of Emirati Women” to represent, respectively, the International media model and the national one, for the empirical exploration.

With regard to the generalisability of this study’s results, the decision is left for academic community. Because, as explained by Blatter and Haverland, in a CON analysis approach “the final test for whether these case studies are ‘crucial’, in the sense of theoretically relevant, is left for the scholarly community, which can adopt these theoretical innovations or ignore them” (p. 165).


To gather information, qualitative methods were employed, specifically semi- structured in-depth interviews. Laws and Marcus (2003) state that one possible method of obtaining information is by conducting ‘unstructured, in-depth interviews’, called also ‘interviews-as-conversations’ (p. 289). They explain that interviewing by conversation is an opportunity to access participants ideas, thoughts, and memories in their own words. From this perspective, I thought that this tool would be the most effective to have access to information not available in previous studies and published reports. I started then looking for potential interviewees available for online video


Pag. 27 a 53 conversations, considering the wide variety of Arab and European countries where the interviewees are located and operate.

Contacts were provided by colleagues of mine from both CFI and Emirati media, who willingly agreed to provide the necessary support to conduct this research. They put me in touch with potential participants. In addition, a snowball method was used to obtain further interviews.

A total of 10 in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted, involving 5 interviewees for each strategy, with a female majority, between the end of October and the beginning of December 2020. Questions were classified according to 3 main topics aligned with the main theories and hypothesis of the research, aside from the initial questions which aimed to gather general information including the interviewees’ level of education and skills. (see appendix).

As stated previously, the aim was to conduct conversational interviews using online platforms for video communications, such as Skype and Zoom, and making use of my fluency in all the languages of my interviewees: apart from the Arabic and French languages, many other dialects of Arabic were used. Inconveniences, though, were that some of the participants were very busy, so they sent voice-recorded or written answers, while online conversations with others were frequently interrupted due to slow, sometimes unstable, internet connections. Thus, the solution was again the provision of written answers sent by email or through WhatsApp.

In addition to these in-depth interviews, institutional materials were examined, obtained from CFI and some Emirati media organisations. Information from these materials was used to strengthen the analysis of the interviews.

Ethics and study Limitations

Regarding ethical standards, the research relies on the assumption that anonymisation is one of the forms of confidentiality, and consists in concealing the identity of study


Pag. 28 a 53 participants (Saunders et al., 2015). All interviewees were informed of the anonymity of their identities during the first contacts. In the following sections, the letter C will identify CFI interviewees, and U those from the UAE media. Each participant was assigned a number, i.e, numbers 1 to 5 for each strategy.

Additionally, it is worth to shed light on the limitations of this case study, which is, like any other, influenced by the epistemological view of the researcher and participants. The relevance of one’s epistemology, affirms Crotty (1998), makes explicit the way we look at the world and make sense of it, and directly concerns “the nature of knowledge, its possibility, scope and general basis” (Hamlyn 1995, p. 242 cited by Crotty, 1988). However, the acquisition of knowledge is deeply marked by history and practice which are socially constructed (Charreire Petit and Huault, 2008), and therefore the experience of both researchers and participants shape the research process and influence its results (Creswell, 2013) .

Having spent the first half of my life in the Arab region, during which I experienced society’ systems and culture in a variety of roles, as a woman first and as a media professional then, I generated a multitude of biases, which are reflected in the professional, cultural and personal filters through which I conducted this research. Similarly, my participants' perceptions of me in the role of the female researcher and the colleague, were bound to influence their attitudes towards me and consequently affected the quality of data generated.


Pag. 29 a 53

4- Analysis & discussion

Media gender strategies: from inclusion to participation

CFI’s Gender Strategy

Under the slogan “Equality between women and men at the heart of our actions” the CFI’s “Gender Strategy” is published on the agency’s website17, highlighting that “while the Agency has placed particular importance on the issue of gender equality since 2011 (...) this issue is likely to become even more relevant over time, given the fundamental role played by the media in transmitting values and representing identities”.

The document was signed in September 2019, announcing the end of 2020 as the deadline for its initiatives based on its agreement – Contract of Objectives 2018-202018 – with the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

Thus, participant C1 recalls the creation of the gender strategy document as a strategic moment, asserting that “in that stage of work we had the obligation to question ourselves on how we could be more of a driving force towards women’s engagement in our objective contract. The main question to answer was: How can we better include the needs of women in development aid activities and therefore in our strategy?” The participant explains that they had two main indicators to take into account –from the contract of objectives – volumetric and quantitative. The first indicates that the proportion of women as direct beneficiaries of CFI’s projects should be in steady progression to exceed 40% in 2020, and the second sets the lower limits for the number of these initiatives to two projects per year. Indeed, the focus on women in the contract is mentioned under general objective 1, “to deploy CFI resources as part of our public development assistance policy”, and developed under its specific objective 2, “CFI will actively participate in the priority objectives of French APD19 (Public Development Assistance), in particular education, gender equality, economic

17 https://cfi.fr/en/news/equality-between-women-and-men-heart-our-actions 18



Pag. 30 a 53

development, sustainable development and the fight against pandemics.” The general objective also defines the geographical boundaries of these interventions mentioned as “strategic zones” for the French APD, giving priority to Sub-Saharian Africa, Maghreb, and Levant, with possible extension to Asian countries and the non-EU European neighbourhood.

Furthermore, the contract of objectives stipulates three main programmatic axes as a framework for these interventions: Media and Development, Media and Governance, Media and Enterprise. These axes are reported in the Gender Strategy’s document, explaining that the aim of these three programmes is to support the media’s commitment to dealing with issues relating to sustainable development; to strengthen the role of the media in public debate; and to provide support for the economic development of the media. Working on the text of the strategy, C1 states that “there were quite a few of us. The gender steering committee was quite large, and we were about ten people with women on the first line. Apart from the specialised training received by some participants, including me, we also had the collaboration of experts from different areas of expertise”. She also explains that the different specificities – the economic, political, and social situations – of countries included in the geographical area of CFI interventions require a constant exploration of women’s needs through continuous connections and interaction, both with official representatives in these countries, and with regional/local organisations from public, private, and civil society. Therefore, CFIs projects vary in their “programmatic axes” according to each country’s interplay of these factors.

Nonetheless, CFI’s gender strategy also draws on both the international and European agenda in terms of gender equality and women’s empowerment, as literally stated in the document and confirmed by C1. According to her, “the most important building block for any successful gender strategy is the effective participation of women, as they can provide, with their direct engagement, inclusive views and insights for sustainable developments”.


Pag. 31 a 53 UAE: National Strategy for Women’s Empowerment and Leadership

As stated on the official portal of the UAE government20, the national strategy for the empowerment of Emirati women aims to prepare a legal and institutional framework supporting women, according to the best practices related to women’s empowerment. It further aims to promote gender equality and empowerment of women and girls at all levels. A close review of the entire document21 shows that the strategy is not limited to a single field of work or society but includes all domains of life. More importantly, it announces that the strategy was launched for the years 2015-2021 by her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, chairwoman of the General Women’s Union (GWU), as a product of the cooperation between GWU and other competent organisations at the federal and local levels and social organisations. The GWU is indeed considered as the government machinery responsible for gender-related strategies and gender mainstreaming in the country22. It includes several other local women’s associations, and provides the framework for federal government institutions and organisations to develop work programmes to empower women in all areas of sustainable development. Interviewee U4, who participated in the preparation of the strategy’s document, affirms that “under the supervision of the GWU, the body that was leading this huge initiative in 2015, there were many sectoral workshops (...) many reference studies that we relied on, and there were many experts and advisors from all fields. Of course, women were present as a majority with an estimated proportion of eighty or ninety percent of all the participants in these sectorial workshops, among an estimated total of one hundred representatives from government institutions as well as associations that represent civil society, and large companies in many sectors, including the media one.”

The strategy’s vision as recorded in the document is “An empowered woman, an entrepreneur, and a participant in all practical and developmental fields, to a sustainable quality of life”. The message is “Empowering and building the capabilities



21 The full text of the National Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati Women in the UAE from 2015 2021,

is available only in Arabic language and accessible through this link.



Pag. 32 a 53

of Emirati women, and overcoming difficulties for their participation in all areas; to be an active and pioneering element in sustainable development, and to assume a position that is appropriate for her and for it to be an honourable model for women's leadership in all local forums, regional and international.”

There are four strategic priorities (SPs): (1) Building on the achievements of women in the United Arab Emirates to ensure the expansion of their participation in development. (2) Preserving the social fabric and its cohesion through integrating roles between men and women. (3) Providing the foundations for a decent and safe life and social well-being on high-quality foundations for women. (4) Developing the spirit of leadership and responsibility and enhancing the status of Emirati women in regional and international forums.

Aside from the comprehensiveness of the goals in terms of areas and fields, three roles of the media are specifically mentioned under the framework of SP4 as an implementation mechanism “Strengthening the role of media institutions in highlighting the achievements and gains achieved by women”, as an indicator in “establishing a media observatory that monitors the achievements and gains of women”, and as a result “Improving the image of Emirati women in the foreign media and highlighting their achievements”.

The fact that the UAE government does not have a specific current strategy for media development is, according to participant U5, “irrelevant”, because it is considered to be a stage successfully achieved in the near past. Reinforcing women’s participation in the media, as well as promoting women’s voices and images in news content, were indeed subjects of the UAE Media Strategy during the years 2010-2015. The participant clarifies that “the strategy was concerned with supporting and highlighting the role of the media in presenting a positive image of Emirati women to the world and empowering women of all age groups at the professional and cultural levels inside and outside media organisation. The strategy has identified several societal mechanisms and axes of work, including a growing community awareness of women, their rights and their role in the process of developing their societies, and a wider presence of women in media organisations.” She also points out that the results of this media


Figure 1: Media development requires increases in both skills and enabling conditions ( Nelson, 2019)


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