Women in the news – FIRE
In contrast to mainstream reporting on war in which women are portrayed all too often as victims, feminist media have contributed a different reading of what happens to women in war and the holistic approaches that women have to it. In our media work at FIRE we have turned women’s activities and actions during war into news, showcasing the fact that the way in which women care for everyone, rather than embracing the conflict, is a way of waging peace, not only surviving conflict. When women are portrayed as victims of war, no one wants them and they are not missed at the negotiating table. Women as protagonists of solutions to conflict is something only women in alternative feminist media portray. Feminist media frame war differently by addressing the interconnection between war and poverty, war and power, war and reproductive and sexual rights – and how each intersects with patriarchy. By doing so, feminist media venues have allowed women not only to be the news, but to frame the issues.
Ten second byte media cannot do that. Mainstream media journalists have picked up news about women from those of us who interact with social movements to find the news that others do not seek to cover. This is because feminist media are very closely connected to these movements which usually generates proactive interpretation, re-conceptualization and autonomy of thought, analysis and action. However it is the mainstream media that has the audiences. This is why any vision of the media that promotes alternative media or mainstream media, choosing one at the expense of the other, is on the wrong track. Both are necessary and each plays a different role.
So female journalists wanting to influence and to place their issues in mainstream media, have created “media in the hands of women” venues to do so. That was the aim of Japanese journalist Yayori Matzui in Asia when she not only reported the testimonies of comfort women during the Second World War in Asahi Shimbun, but also created the Violence Against Women in War Network and in 1995 the Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center in Tokyo. That has also been the aim of the Tanzania Women’s Media Collective created in 1987 by mainstream journalist Fatma Allo for female journalists to position women’s rights in mainstream media. Today it is the Tanzania Media Women’s Association. The Women’s Media Center in New York, created in 2005 and led by journalist Carol Jenkins, similarly works with mainstream media to ensure that women’s stories are told and women’s voices are heard. And in Latin America we have the case of CIMAC, a non-governmental organization created in 1998 in Mexico, becoming a press agency where mainstream journalists produce and distribute women’s news to mainstream media in the country. This basic work of collecting and framing the information, and working to position the issues, is something that cannot be done within mainstream media structures, dynamics and mandates. That is why placing the emphasis on mainstream media only is a big mistake.
This creation of our own media venues during the last eighteen years is the physical manifestation of communication as a human right, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In today’s globalized world, where the media is part of corporate globalization constituting a fourth power, this right to communicate is far from guaranteed and the right to create and own media venues must precede it. This means, from a holistic point of view, being able to bring forth news about women and a world view from the perspective of women, and opening international venues of communication where women can have a voice. FIRE is both a women’s media venue, and an international channel of communication for women to exercise their human right to communicate and we choose to work differently from mainstream media hubs. Why?
Because sharing in the framing of news is just as relevant as putting women’s experiences and perspectives on the news, and conventional media does not do this. Women are not only part of the picture, when they frame things they present a different picture.
Because too often conventional media approaches women’s issues as women’s rights, missing the holistic human rights framework. For us, violence against women is not a women’s right issue per se, but a re-conceptualization of peace: for how can a society be peaceful when half of its people are subject to violence just because they are women? Participation of women on an equal footing and with equal opportunity is not an issue of women’s rights: it is an issue of a re-conceptualizing democracy.
Conventional media create superstars out of our leadership. And people begin to believe, wrongly, that our success stories are the results of outstanding individual women who have risen above movements and the daily resistance of millions of women worldwide.
At peace tables, those who should sit are not those who are part of the conflict, but those who are part of the solution! What would that sound-bite look like in mainstream news? Imagine, the social movements, local enterprises, women in the informal markets, municipalities, etc. surrounding the actors in conflicts to let them know that we will not participate in it any longer. “No more bearing our children for the war” say the Colombian women. And they mean it. They go and bring them back by the ear!
Feminism has re-conceptualized war, contributing to its analysis as an extension and deepening of the patriarchal paradigm and political project of control, domination and the “othering” of anything and anyone that is not male, white, able-bodied, middle class, middle aged and living in the Global North. Conflict situations rarely change unless there is recognition and change in the way in which women’s lives are related to patriarchy and poverty. Colombian feminists of the Ruta Pacifica de Mujeres have made an amazing contribution to this framework and how it expresses itself in war and conflict situations.
It is therefore of prime importance for feminist media venues such as FIRE to emphasize that throughout human history, and particularly during the 20th century, women at all levels resist war and construct democratic alternatives for peace. Women living amidst war have organised and created spaces to provide for health, schooling, sanitation, security, provision of basic needs and even attended to others in dealing with their grief, loss and sorrow in spite of their own grief. Likewise they have created democratic meeting spaces to construct actions of solidarity and accompaniment, collective actions to identify or confront the accused, and actions of resistance and non-violent civil disobedience – all expressed through a symbolic political language about the effect of war and armed conflict on women’s bodies and lives. It is because of such work that we cannot honour enough groups such as Abuelas and Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Argentina.
Such activity is what it means to redefine democracy for peace, justice and equality: because at the basis of war and conflict is the expropriation through violence of the right to political participation of all actors in society by economic powers, military powers and de facto irregular powers, as shown in the cases of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, thus furthering injustice and inequality. So feminist media become crucial for reporting resistance: by framing issues, telling stories and giving perspectives in terms of the interconnectedness of militarism, masculinization in patriarchy, and the over-commercialisation of life, terms relevant not only to women, but to all of humanity