WOMEN AND MEDIA
*Justice G.N. Ray
“There is no chance of the welfare of the world unless the condition
of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on one
- Swami Vivekananda
The most significant and longest social movement continuing is
movement for emancipation of women. Though the primary goal for women
empowerment is to improve the quality of life of women but it has also deep
ramifications in social, economic and political scenario of body polity. The
media through its reach to people at large has been instrumental though not
to the extent desired in supporting the movement for women emancipation
by focusing neglect and marginalization of the position of the women in
It sounds intriguing how from a highly dignified position in India’s
mythic history, the woman in India has been relegated to a secondary
position. The vested interests of the ruling elite and the male lobby influenced
by alien cultures legitimised woman as an individual of little consequence.
It would be a sad commentary on the subordinate role of women in
India when woman is ideally viewed as Shakti (Power), the origin of power
itself but in reality found as helpless, hapless woman without any identity
except that of a wife, or the mother who has very little voice in decision
making and has very little by way of her own basic choice. Although
discrimination against and exploitation of women are global phenomena, their
consequences are more tragic in the some parts of the globe particularly in
under developed countries where, ignorance, deprivation of the basic
* Address by Mr. Justice G.N. Ray, Chairman, Press Council of India at the inauguration session of
National Press Day on November 16, 2008 at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi.
necessities of life, and the ever-growing pressure of transition from tradition
to modernity- all combine to aggravate the inequalities that women suffer to
a point at which their existence is reduced to a continuous battle for survival.
Improving the status of women is regarded as the key to narrowing the
gender gap and achieving a better quality of life.
Women are under great social control and scrutiny which has
restricted what they can say and where and to whom. Cultural moves in
almost every social set-up determine women’s socialization in no uncertain
terms. This has an important bearing on their ability to communicate and
express their thoughts.
To discuss women empowerment it is necessary to deal with the
present situation of women in India. I would like to briefly discuss certain key
aspects related to the women which media should adequately cover and
facilitate the process of empowerment of women.
A vast majority of Indian women work through out their lives but the
fact is that it is not officially recognized. Statistics on work force shows low
figure of women workers. There is a serious underestimation of women’s
contribution as workers even though when given a chance they have
convincingly proved their ability. Women’s workforce participation - the
percentage of adult women who are actually working is accepted indicator of
women’s status and component of the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM)
used in GNDP Human Development Reports. According to a survey
conducted by NCW covering over 1200 women in both organized and
unorganized sector it has been found that 50% experienced gender
discrimination by way of physical and mental harassment of women at work.
The survey reported discrimination not only in salary but also in promotions,
work distribution and working hours. Promoting gender equality was
identified by the Government as priority strategic goal for the UN System in
India under UN Development Assistance Framework. We should not forget
that Gender Equality is not just a women’s issue. It is an issue for the nation.
Women generally earn a far lower wage than men doing the same
work. In no state in India women and men earn equal wage in agriculture.
This is equally applicable to other areas of works such as mining, trade,
transport services etc. In the various work sectors average wages earned by
male is more than the wages earned by female.
I would emphasize on the findings of UNDP which were published as
Human Development Report concerning gender equality. It says: “Women’s
work is greatly undervalued in economic term. The value of household and
community work transcends market value.”
The media can certainly bring some of these biases in to light.
Specially, women journalists must take up this cause. The Indian constitution
makes it mandatory to give equal protection to every citizen. Thus
sympathetic media, judiciary and executive should stand for this together.
Reform movement too is necessary in this regard.
Crime against women
The soaring crime rates and violence against women in the country
reflects women as weaker sex who are being dominated and exploited. They
face violence inside and outside the family throughout their lives. The Crime
Record Bureau of India’s website shows that in the year 2006 (latest data
available on website) total crime reported against women was 1, 91731.
Police record shows that a woman is molested in the country every 20
minutes; a rape occurs every 34 minutes and every 43 minutes an incident of
sexual harassment takes place. Every 43 minutes a woman is kidnapped and
every 93 minutes, a woman is killed.
Before empowerment of women can be achieved it is necessary to
enable women to give voice to their experience, their sufferings, and for
society to understand them as human being and respond to them with
Under Representation in important position
Women are under represented in governance and decision making
positions. At present women represent approximately 8-9% of Parliamentary
seats and less than 6% of cabinet positions. Less than 4% seats in High
Courts and Supreme Courts are occupied by women. Less than 3% of
administrators are women.
Millions of Indian women simply lack the freedom to go out of the
house in search of health services they need. According to National Health
Survey – 2 only 52% women in India are not even consulted on decision
about their own health. The antenatal and postnatal care are beyond the
reach of many Indian women. The National Health Survey – 2 estimate
mentions that some 1,00,000 to 1,20,000 women die every year due to
pregnancy related causes. In some States death rate is quite high and
alarming. The rate in India is quite higher than the maternal mortality rate
surveyed in Cuba, China, Srilanka and Vietnam.
The majority of women go through life in state of nutritional stress.
They are anemic and malnourished. Girls and women face discrimination
within the family; eating last and least.
Gap on Male-Female Ratio
Men out number women in India, unlike in many countries where the
case is otherwise. The main cause of the gap in the male female ratio is
prevailing practice of female fetus killing specially high in Punjab, Haryana
and Rajasthan. In these states, the ratio is shockingly low as compared to
other Indian states. Female infant mortality rates are higher than male infant
mortality rates. Sample Registration System (2000) reveals that female infant
mortality rate is 74 per 1000 live birth.
The mass media needs to focus on this health issue of women. The
various scheme incorporated by the govt. requires wider coverage so that
women especially from economically weaker section can be benefitted from
Education of women enables them to set their own priorities, seek
knowledge and information to make their informed choices. The literacy rate
among women continues to be lower than those for men. As per data of
2004-2005 available with the National Sample Survey, literacy rate per 1000
amongst rural women is approximately 450 and amongst urban female is
almost 700. If we view overall position, there has been a positive
development and female literacy rate has gone up 50% as per the National
Sample Survey 1997 report. Despite this progress more than 245 million
Indian women can not read and write.
Only 50% of Indian women are literate as compared to 65.5% of men.
Far fewer girls than boys go to school. Even if they are enrolled, many of the
girl students drop out of the school. The female adult literacy rate in
Malaysia, Srilanka, China, Vietnam, and Indonesia is more than 70% and
higher than that in India.
Very recently on 13th November, 2008 it had been reported in The
Telegraph on the basis of P.T.I. report that “ India is among the 20 countries
where the gender gap is the widest, the Global Gender Gap Report 2008 has
said. It holds the 113th position among 130 countries. India ranks 25th in
political empowerment, 116th in educational attainment and 128th in health
and survival. In economic participation and opportunity, India has been
Media’s Role in empowerment of women in India
Communication is extremely important for women’s development and
mass media play significant role. It is to be noted that growth of women’s
education and their entry into employment have contributed to the growth of
media. In all spheres of life whether for controlling population growth, spread
of literacy or improving quality of life for vast masses, women have crucial
role to play. However, women can be expected to play this role when they
become conscious of their strength and are not deliberately marginalised by
male domination. In this context, media has an important role to play – to
create awakening in women to achieve their potential as the prime movers of
change in society. In today’s world, print and electronic media play a vital
role in effectively conveying message that needs to be conveyed.
Portrayal of women by the Media
By and large the media scene in India is that media does not address
serious issues about exploitation and inequal treatment to women in different
spheres but is keen in reporting sex related incidents by way of
sensationalizing news of atrocities on women. Thus instead of highlighting
the exploitation of woman they end up becoming one of the reasons in
increase of violence as their coverage more often than not tend to glorify the
crime against women. It is true that media has brought to light, as never
before, certain misdemeanours against women but in a very subtle manner it
also perpetuated the stereotyped image of woman as a householder and an
inconsequential entity in the traditional value system. Generally, women’s
problems never figure on the front page of a newspaper unless it is a
gruesome murder or a case of rape. Newspapers even on women’s page
does not usually address relevant issues for women empowerment but
reporting is concerned with beauty tips recipes, fashion syndrome etc.
It is unfortunate that there is lack of sensitivity among the newspapers
in general to women and their problems. I would like to refer to the Study
conducted by the Media Advocacy Group viz. “Violence against Women:
Media Coverage and Representation”. The Media Advocacy Group made the
following recommendations on reporting violence against the women.
(i) Media needs to take an extended, broader view of crimes against
women. It has to be instrumental in conducting a social audit on
factors responsible for increasing crimes, particularly against women
and children, including indifferent investigative procedures, miscarriage
of justice, and growing social impunity of the perpetrators of crime.
(ii) It also has to be instrumental in creating an awareness among civil
society of the causes and nature of the crime itself, and of the
(iii) When treating these issues, media has to be extremely factual and
The study also stated that the only regulation that governs a sensitive
reporting on this issue is that the rape victim’s name should not be disclosed.
Barring this, the study found that everything else is graphically reported.
Often the victim’s family name and address is cited, making a mockery in the
letter and spirit of the regulation. Though much of this violation and
malpractice are committed by a small group of publications, others are
spurred on to imitate and keep pace with the sensational trend. Therefore, I
urge the media to take a serious look on the issue and do self-regulation and
self-monitoring with extreme care and caution.
Aarushi murder case is another prime example of irresponsible and
sensational reporting by the Media. The gruesome murder of a teenage girl
for days have been the sound basis of increased TRPs of the News Channels.
The media both electronic and print are morally and legally bound to avoid
sensationalisation of news relating to victims of crimes. The Press Council of
India had already drawn guidelines on the subject and appeals to media to
follow them meticulously while reporting atrocities on women/child.
It is important for me to refer at this point of time to, also an
important issue that greatly and gravely impacts women in overt as well as
covert manner, the HIV/AIDS reportage by the media. The Press Council had
focused on the issue way back in 1993 when the AIDS was treated as an
incurable ‘epidemic’ and anyone who contacted it was pariah. The prime
sufferers of such ostracization were the women, being treated as an
important cause and carrier of the so-called desease.
Much water has flown down the ganges, since then and with medical
advances, it has become necessary for the media to focus on the issue with
not just a proactive but positive approach. Therefore, the Press Council has
in consultation with the UNDP and the activists of the field redrawn the
guidelines for media reportage that find place in the souvenir that is to be
shortly released. I hope that guidelines, in the form of easy to refer ‘Dos’ and
Don’ts’ and detailed ones for indepth understanding of the issue, will find
place on the desk of every media person and their coverage of the HIV/AIDS
stories will help the world handle the issue with greater sensitivity.
Limited coverage in Media
Newspapers cover women’s problems drawing the attention of
policymakers to issues requiring immediate attention such as the adverse sex
ratio, infant and maternal mortality, crime against women and the effects of
poverty on women and their families. But this coverage is very limited with
the rest of the space occupied by cinema actresses, models, video jockeys
(veejays) and the rich women and their hobbies. Many of the women’s
magazines are devoted to fashion, glamour, beauty aids, weight reduction,
cookery and how to sharpen ‘feminine instincts’ to keep men and their in-
laws happy. There are comparatively fewer articles on career opportunities,
health awareness, entrepreneurship, legal aid, counseling services, childcare
services and financial management. A study in this regard was conducted in
Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
Two regional newspapers and two English newspapers were selected for the
study. Prominent newspapers only publish 5% of women related issues and
8% are published on main page and remaining are placed inside. Study
showed no importance is given to development issues of women. In the
television serials women are the central characters, but they are portrayed
largely as tormentors or the victims while the men very often take sideline
and just seem caught in a web of unfavourable circumstances. Television
culture has portrayed a breed of weak, indecisive men ensnared by sexy
women when in reality men also play an active role in oppressing women in
various ways including subjecting them to physical assault, rape, pushing
them into the sex trade and even abandoning them. It is only desirable that
serials should be close to reality and give message to the viewers where and
how the society is going wrong.
This portrayal of women in media has led the National Commission for
Women to recommend amendment in the Indecent Representation of Women
(Prohibition Act), 1986. The NCW wants to include new technologies like MMS
and the electronic media and some which were left out side the ambit of the
Act like posters and TV serials which perpetuate stereotypes of women.
Explaining the reason for including soaps in proposed amendment in the Act,
National Commission for Women has stated that “women are either being
portrayed as Sita (Ramayana) or as Kaikayee (Ramayana) and there seems to
be nothing in between the two extreme characters being shown in Soaps.
Divorces, adultery are highlighted frequently in Soaps where characters break
the law without repercussion.”
Negative images or just portraying reality is not enough. Infact, it can
often be harmful. It has been observed that sheer duplication of the dark side
of life can often lead to apathy and passivity. This can be avoided by
depicting the positive images or success stories of women in whatever sphere
There is need to produce programmes that talk about income
generating schemes for women. Unfortunately, in these kinds of ventures
typical “womanly jobs” like papad-making, sewing, embroidery, pickles
making etc. are propagated. Stress should be given on non-traditional skills
which can break the myth that women are suited to certain kinds of jobs
only. A systematic survey of the existing schemes (Government/non-
Government) and presentation of the analysis and changes needed to
upgrade the schemes which would make them more purposeful is essential.
The distance between women and media not only deprives the women
of their right to information and knowledge but also keeps the women in the
dark regarding the blatant misuse of the female and the distortion of the
truth. Although the images of women as reflected by the different mass
media in the country are not very different, it will be an interesting exercise
to study how these images feed and reinforce the stereotypes.
The distortion of realities by the media has increased the gap of
understanding between the different sections of society. Effective informative
communication is one of the most important channels for the growth and
development of women in the informal or unorganized sector, as without
information regarding services and benefits available through legislation,
government schemes, banks and voluntary organizations, women can hardly
take advantage of them. Thus the media should take into consideration the
(i) The media must project the working women in the unorganized sector as
worker and not merely as performing the duties of wife/daughter. They
being major earners, they must be projected as producers and not