Changing the narrative: Young women claim the digital media space

Leader at Activate! change drivers, Tebogo Suping, speaks about the importance of young people’s involvement in media. Picture: Phelokazi Mbude
Leader at Activate! change drivers, Tebogo Suping, speaks about the importance of young people’s involvement in media. Picture: Phelokazi Mbude

Women from different walks of life gathered in Braamfontein on Monday to interrogate representation and the involvement of women in media in the digital age.

Among the Activate! change drivers organisers were community leaders from rural areas, writers, entrepreneurs and the keynote speaker, Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo.

The event began with a presentation by the minister of communications, which was followed by a roundtable discussion about how women can be more than just the subjects of media but become creators as well.

“So part of what we’re trying to question and trying to interrogate is to look at how we can open up the space so that all young women can see themselves; all young women can access media,” said Nelisa Ngqulana, communications manager at Activate! change drivers.

“Part of the conversation today is for us to not just talk about how we can represent but we look at how to do – we practically partner together so that young women can also see themselves in media and so that their work is given a space,” she added.

Dlodlo highlighted the importance of building alternative voices in media.

“If you remember from the era of apartheid, what carried the voices of most South Africans was alternative media and not necessarily mainstream media,” she said.

“I think the narrative even today will be changed by those who are not in mainstream media.”

The conversation in the room moved to a critical analysis of how digital platforms can be used as channels of producing media that aims to uplift communities.

“Currently we are using quite a lot of informal platforms to showcase the work that we’re doing”, said Activate! leader, Bongiwe Ndlovu.

The minister spoke about the government’s goal to completely digitise South African media by December 2018.

“We are currently in the process of going digital, a digital migration programme which in itself poses numerous opportunities; it opens up the space for content developers, people who have stories and issues that they want to share through the various platforms,” she said.

“I’d like to see how that trickles down to the man at grassroots level. For me that sounds very high level which is why [we ask] that at least 50% of youth trainers that are involved in setting up those set-top boxes at community level,” Ndlovu responded to the minister’s comments.

Gabaiphiwe Makgaka, co-founder of the Girl Pride project, said: “Media is the best communication ever; where you can get your message across. I think what the government is trying to do is awesome. It’s incredible. But why did they wait to only do it now?”

Makgaka is from a small mining town in the North West. Together with her partner in the Girl Pride project she mentors young women between the ages of 13 and 21 to express themselves through the arts.

“I want them to be leaders of our community because where I’m from women are treated as weak; they are seen as bearers of children and that’s it. So I want them to be more than that.”

Coming from a semi-rural area, Makgaka is eager to see the fruits of the minister’s words for her community.

“They don’t know what is happening on the other side. For them to see what is happening, [they would] get inspired.”

“Activate! is a network of change drivers. What we wanted to achieve with the event today was to discuss the image women are portrayed in media and how we can showcase the stories of real women out there in our communities and the work we are currently doing,” said Ndlovu.

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