Mark Saturday, March 15, 2014 in your calenders: it could be the beginning of a new political party in Jamaica. That may be an overstatement, but it would not be exaggerating to say that a group of young women were inspired to discuss the importance of the media and voting and the power of their voice that day.
This past Saturday, a fellow Cuso volunteer and I were engaged in training and informing a group of women between the ages of 15 and 20 about these topics for Women’s Media Watch. Entitled, PowerHouse, the session focused on encouraging girls to understand and claim the power of their voice in public spaces such as the media.
During the training session, we brought up the importance of the media as a tool for a healthy democratic society. This lead to a discussion of how crucial it is to exercise one’s right to vote, which of course lead us to talk about the lack of choice and general incompetence of and mistrust in politicians. Some of the girls in the group are not old enough to vote and the others had yet to do so.
As a passionate advocate of voting, I encouraged the girls to vote in the next election (while trying to remain sensitive to the difference in our political realities) and offered the option of spoiling their ballot. This seems to me a viable option in any election in that a citizen exercises their most fundamental of rights while indicating a lack of preference for a candidate. If enough people did this, it might send a message to politicians. My fear is that the alternative, people simply stop showing up at the polls, as is the global trend, could be interpreted by those in power as an indication of several things: that people do not value their right to vote, that those in power will not be held accountable, and as license to act with impunity while benefiting themselves and not their constituents.
But back to the training. The girls, who came from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, picked up on the option of spoiling one’s ballot. In Jamaica, this can be done by failing to select a candidate at all or marking numerous options. (Section 31 in the Representation of the People Act). They seemed to like this option a lot, after having declared loudly and extensively that they do not trust politicians and that both main parties are corrupt. Before we knew it, the girls were exchanging phone numbers and email addresses and planned to meet to discuss this topic further. It was inspiring.
In addition to discussing voting, we spoke to the girls about the fundamentals of journalism within the framework of gender and claiming one’s space and exercising one’s voice. I was taken back to my J-school days of learning about the inverted pyramid (how you tell a news story) the five Ws (who, what, when, where, why and how), how to conduct interviews, how to try to be objective and how to write well.
The common consensus was that Jamaican media is sorely lacking in terms of objectivity and quality. Hopefully we inspired some of the girls to pursue a career in journalism, or at least to exercise their voice with authority and conviction.
Here’s a bit more information about Women’s Media Watch: their mandate is to reduce gender-based violence through the promotion of gender equity and gender-aware media and communications. From their web site:
WMW Mission Statement
To reduce gender-based violence in the media and in society in order to achieve balanced gender relations and gender equality.
To be a dynamic organization committed to reducing gender-based violence and promoting gender equity.
To promote a gendered analysis of the media in order to increase awareness of the influence of the media in our lives.
WMW collaborates with local and international agencies such as CIDA, CUSO, MATCH, UNIFEM, UNESCO, World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), and the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communications (CARIMAC)
WMW’s achievements have included:
Conducting over 1,500 training and professional development events locally, regionally and internationally.
Pioneering a programme of gender training for male leaders.
Producing training resources and a manual on gender-aware analysis of the media.
Creating and teaching a university course entitled “Gender, Media and Development”.
Coordinating a national inter-agency campaign addressing violence against women and girls.
Presenting at international symposia including the NGO Forum, 4th World Conference on Women, Beijing.
Consulting with the Jamaica Broadcasting Commission to develop gender-aware policy guidelines.
Hosting Regional Symposia and Conferences on Gender and Communications Policy.
Coordinating national research and surveys on portrayal of violence in the media.
Whatever the outcome of Saturday, if one judges by the passion, intelligence and creativity evident among these girls, Jamaica is in good hands.