Women, War And The Media

BY Ammu Joseph| IN Media Practice | 16/04/2002
Women, War And The Media

Women, War And The Media

By Ammu Joseph

Did any one notice that women were missing from the gathering to select a new political order to replace the Taliban?

Ever since the so-called U.S.-led/British-backed attack on Afghanistan began on 7 October, I have been vaguely conscious of a particular anomaly in the media’s coverage of the war. I recognised what it was while watching the 24 October report on BBC news on the gathering of Afghan leaders in Peshawar for a discussion on the post-war scenario in Afghanistan: there were hardly any women in any of the reports (apart from female journalists, who have been quite conspicuous by their presence).

Recent critiques of media coverage of the aftermath of September 11 have dealt with a number of ethical issues that confront the media during times of conflict: patriotism versus accuracy and fairness, official vs. self censorship, national vs. public interest, majority vs. minority opinion, and so on. However, little attention seems to have been paid to the media and gender in the context of terrorism and war.

The day after I watched the television report from Peshawar I went to the websites of the BBC and the Los Angeles Times to see if anyone else had noticed that something was amiss. The Indian media had barely covered the conclave. Both the BBC and the LA Times correspondents mentioned several elements missing from the gathering of 800-1000 Afghan leaders, politicians and clerics who had come together to discuss "a new political order to replace the Taliban."

The LA Times noted that there was no official delegation from the exiled king, that several key former mujahideen commanders were absent, and that there was no representative from the Northern Alliance. The BBC’s list of "notable absentees" included representatives of the Taliban as well.

Its report described the Taliban as "the rulers of a land who have abused power and brutalised a nation in the interest of an extreme vision of Islam, and terrorised and crushed Afghan women." Yet it did not note the fact that women were conspicuous by their absence in that major meeting which had been specially convened to discuss the future of Afghanistan.

It seemed to me quite extraordinary that anyone could look at that overflowing hall in Peshawar and not notice that there was not a single woman there. Especially when everyone knows that the women of Afghanistan, and their children, have paid the highest price for the wars that have been raging in their country for two decades – wars that they have had no role in waging

I was amazed that journalists covering the event did not find it remarkable that the future of a nation was being discussed without even one representative of one half of its citizenry – by all accounts more, because of all the men who have been killed in the fighting. Especially when everyone knows that the women of Afghanistan have been the most brutalised and traumatised by the Taliban regime over the past five years.

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