Mass media, women and public life in Uganda : interrogating representation, interaction and engagement.
Maractho, Emilly Comfort.
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This study was motivated by the strides Uganda has made towards the growth of the media and women’s participation in public life. The puzzle is that this increased participation of women in public life is hardly captured in the media, particularly public affairs programmes on the broadcast media. This study, therefore, interrogates women’s media participation through representation, interaction and engagement as components of conjunctural factors that are relevant to facilitating women’s participation in public life. The research is informed by critical theory, and in particular feminist thought, cultural studies and public sphere theory. The marginalisation and oppression of women advanced by feminist theorists, the systems of representation through power and knowledge in cultural studies, and the open participation of discursive programmes that demystify gatekeeping practices in traditional programming in public sphere theory, were the frames used to guide this study. I use multi-method and multidisciplinary approaches that entail quantitative content analysis, qualitative case studies and grounded theory to interrogate the influence of the broadcast media on women’s participation in public life. The thesis of my research is that women’s media participation in public affairs programmes through representation conceptualised as voice and visibility, interaction as consultation and conversation and engagement as involvement and influence, would facilitate women’s participation in public life. Limited representation, interaction and engagement, therefore, frustrate or at least do not advance, women’s participation in public life, contrary to the perceived potential and transformative role of the media. I find that participation remains minimal. The problem is not just the media which has in most studies is found responsible for the negative portrayal of women, but a complex interrelationship between women and the state, society and the media. The state opens up space for women and, paradoxically, closes it, culture defines women’s role in society, and the media reproduces cultural narratives that are injurious to women. Women push back, sometimes but often remain loyal to the state, respond to cultural expectations and ignore the media or disengage from it. This, thus thwarts meaningful opportunities for participation that could help change the perceptions about women’s role in society as well as mobilise and motivate women to participate in public life. The implication for policy and current strategies for women’s empowerment, in particular affirmative action pursued in Uganda and elsewhere, is huge. There is need to rethink the existing models of women’s empowerment and the gender equality agenda, cognisant of the current paradigm of neoliberalism, in particular liberalism and globalism, that thrive on competition, communication and competence.