Portrayal of Women in Media

(L to R): Shakil Imran Badar (IPS), Shazia Haris (ERRA), Khalid Rahman (IPS)

Portrayal of Women in Media

The second meeting of the SGGI – Working Group on ‘Women & Media’ was presided by Mr. Khalid Rahman, and chaired by Ms. Shazia Haris.

SGGI Working Group ‘Women & Media’ holds its 2nd Roundtable

The second meeting of the SGGI – Working Group on ‘Women & Media’ was presided by Mr. Khalid Rahman, and chaired by Ms. Shazia Haris.


Presenting portrayal of women in electronic media Ms. Maria Mustafa defined media as mode of communication and said that its role in society is to educate, entertain and inform the audience. She said that media is a cultural force, which not only reflects the social reality but also modifies it. In contemporary times electronic media is receiving increasing importance in the society sweeping across the barriers of literacy and geographical boundaries. It is influencing the minds and changing the lives. She focused TV, Radio and Cinema from among various modes used as electronic media. She further viewed that Drama, morning shows and advertisements constituted the most significant part of radio and TV presentations that particularly focus on women in the society.


Maria Mustafa (AIOU)She was of the view that portrayal of women in the media is mostly unfair and imbalanced. They are under-represented which falsely implies that men are the cultural standard and women’s role in the social life is unimportant or negligible. Men and women are portrayed stereotypically that reflect and sustain socially endorsed views of gender. Their presentation in the media does not conform to their real role in the society. She observed that one of the reasons for projection of patriarchal image of the society is disproportionate number of men in the key positions in media.

As to the qualitative aspect of portrayal of women in the media she said that they are generally portrayed as unthinking, dependent and submissive beings with reproduction as their fundamental role. She is either portrayed as ideal or deviant. Her real life feelings and behaviors are rarely depicted on screen. She is shown more in fantasy roles than her real life. Common woman in the society finds it hard to relate herself to the depiction of females in the media.


She also observed that a woman has reproductive, productive and community roles in a society, her role as mother is emphasized disproportionately and her contribution to the society in other capacities are normally disregarded. Even the morning shows that are designed specifically for female audience do not normally present women in leading and non-conventional roles.


Ms. Mustafa was more concerned about portrayal of women in advertisements more than any other medium. She noted that women are generally used to add glamour. Women have been used as an object to seek attraction of the viewers and are, therefore, shown in each commercial even if the commodity being advertised has no direct utility for women. This is worst type of exploitation of women in which audience, advertising agencies, and sellers of the product or service are equally responsible.


Zaheer-ud-din Babar (Indus TV)Radio may not be that important in social life today as it once used to be but it still enjoys significance especially in rural areas and specific segments of society like drivers, laborers and house wives. It is not only cost effective and accessible almost globally but it is also influential to persuade people to endorse a specific view or adopt a specific behavior. Its reach to common people in their native languages makes it a useful tool for awareness and education. Participation of women in this media is more prominent.


Portrayal of women in cinema is strongly deviant from her true role and status in our culture; she is either over glamorized or of a very weak nerved human being. Violence and abuse against women in the films is very prevalent. She concluded her presentation saying that negative portrayal of women in the media not only does not correspond with the reality but also leads to promote unhealthy and harmful traits among the public.


Mr. Shakil introduced virtual media as a medium of communication that cannot be physically touched but still carries bulk of information in the shape of images, texts, videos and animations. He gave an overview of presentation of women in different forms of virtual media including arcade (software operating machines fixed in a place with a video game installed), console (Atari), hand-held (portable video game), mobile phone, online (global forum) and PC. He explained that women can be found involved or presented in various forms and activities including mere entertainment, strategic, action and adventure.


Shakil Imran BadarVirtual world has given birth to an entirely new culture that is independent of commonly known values and cultural boundaries. Regretfully the portrayal of women is predominantly negative. Her social status has been degraded and she is most of the times presented as sex object. She is presented as a weak and emotional being who can be easily victimized and whose primary responsibility is to provide satisfaction to her male counterpart. Virtual media have exposed children to the experiences which one should not be exposed before a certain age. It is degrading, devaluing and misinterpreting the cultural and religious values.


Gravity of the issue has been realized globally and certain countries (Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Finland, UK, Germany and other European countries) have taken proactive measures to check and censor improper use of this form of media. Other countries too have been taking occasional measures to check the menace. Some 16 countries1 have banned around 3500 items with negative portrayal of women, but regretfully, such items are among the best selling in Pakistan.


In Pakistan, measures have been taken to check cyber crimes. 412 cases of cyber crimes have been reported during last three years (2007-09); 83 FIRs were registered and 47 are under trial in courts. Surprisingly, however, violence against women and even their pornographic presentation does not have a mention in the list of cyber crimes in Pakistan. 10 cases of child pornography have, however, been reported to FIA.


It is learnt that FIA has twice suggested measures to restrict misuse of virtual media but to no avail. Based on his interviews with some of the officials involved with the subject the presenter informed that 24,00,000 individuals visit any content containing a negative portrayal of women within first few hours after its uploading out of whom around 17,00,000 are from Pakistan. FIA had started public awareness programs in various institutions in 2008 and this effort has shown positive results. Mr. Shakil suggested that proper legislation or setting a code of conduct in this regard may help in controlling this horrifying trend.


Fehmida MalikHe stressed that there have not been very serious efforts to check the harmful use of virtual media and the steps in this direction neglected one aspect of the issue or the other and this ultimately led to channelizing the process instead of putting on brakes.


Based on his personal experience as media person he shared his view that mere presence of women in decision making positions does not ensure a proper presentation of women. He cited couple of examples where women headed a project, yet the production carried same exploitative portrayal of women.


He presented ESBR (Entertainment software rating board) as a case study that is working in USA and Canada since 1994. This board was originally meant to discourage misuse of virtual media but has in fact transformed into a tagging agency that assigns a rating to the contents available online without blocking or censoring them.


Shazia Haris (ERRA)Ms. Haris appreciated both presenters and commented that the working group is tasked to create a platform that works to identify real issues, propose and advocate solutions in the indigenous framework without causing a rift in the society. Both presentations clearly depict that there is lack of attention towards the sentiments held and problems faced by women. Certainly women had reached prominent positions in the national life yet the sensitivity about womenfolk has hardly increased. There are positive signs in the media and realization about real status of women in the society shows some increase yet it does not reach satisfactory level.


She also viewed that the working group could develop a community based approach that could harness maturity in the peoples and enlighten them to react effectively to resist negative portrayal of women. She stressed that awareness needed to be created at grassroots level and even housewives and school children needed to be involved and sensitized.


Mr. Rahman commented that legislation on cyber crime had recently surfaced and it is high time to consider and evaluate it at length and propose any amendments, if required. He, however, agreed that a more effective check on misuse of media could be ensured through community involvement made available through awareness and networking. Media products are sponsored and financed by commercial institutions and its operations are most of the time commercially motivated. A producer will, however, have to adjust his/her presentation to the popular sentiments, feelings and demands. Hence sensitizing the sponsors as well as educating the consumers will bring real change. Even if few corporate giants set a code of conduct for themselves, to be practiced voluntarily, a paradigm shift will be seen in whole media or at least in advertising industry.


It was suggested that consumer groups and consumer societies needed to be set up and made effective to prevent playing with psyche of the people under attractive yet destructive themes.

Impact of portrayal of women in the media, as it is today, on the institution of family needs to be underscored. In Pakistani society family is a strong institution and we want to strengthen it. It is therefore imperative that we remain balanced in our approach and try to answer the questions before us in a logical and objective way, while keeping in view our social setup and value framework.


Burhan AliMedia, on one hand, needs to portray women as an active and effective member of the society and on the other hand it should project the healthy and essential bond between both genders. Only a society where both males and females complement each other in their respective fields of activity can develop on sustainable basis. Presenting a father who is concerned for the education, health and overall wellbeing of women is as necessary as presenting a mother with all her care for her children.


Materialistic and capitalistic view of life admits only that person to be successful who excels in terms of wealth and power. Human traits like sacrifice, truthfulness and honesty do not define his status in the society. This approach seems to create a mindset where money is the yardstick for assessing the worth of an individual or an activity. This mindset has and is bound to impact family system that is essentially based on sharing and caring for others instead of snatching from them and seizing whatever can be acquired. We need our media to protect and promote human values through its depiction of role models. Such portrayal should not only avoid negative portrayal of women but also it should refrain from gender bias.


Media has become a major tool for launching psychological operations and influencing hearts and minds of the people around the world. Recently a study of 1000 Hollywood films has revealed that Muslims are generally portrayed as criminals. There are examples of governments allocating huge budgets to operate international propaganda channels. We may not close eyes from this phenomenon.


Homeless and children without parents is one of the biggest concerns of capitalist societies today. They are seeking to revive and reinforce their family system as they have experienced the perils of ignoring and undermining it. We too need to learn from their experience and revitalize our commitment to family as basic unit of the society.

Friday, June 12, 2009


(L to R): Mehr Tanveer, Madeeha Batool, Amna Aziz, Afshan Perveen, Rashida Hameed, Sammar Javed


[1] Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, UAE, UK and US

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