OPINION | Tshegofatso Modubu: Accountability needed for African language radio stations’ comments on women

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Radio. (Photo: Getty Images)
Radio. (Photo: Getty Images)

African language radio stations’ popular religious programming exert pressure of female respectability sanctioned supposedly by the religious domination the programming subscribes to, writes University of Pretoria doctoral student Tshegofatso Modubu. 

As an avid listener of Sunday radio on African language stations, I cringe at the various gender stereotypes perpetuated by the presenter all in the name of morality. Often the presenters suggest that women are not adhering to what they perceive as societal norms of pious women who are obedient. 

On more than one occasion the presenter of a Sesotho religious show has cast blame on females and for societal ills. At some point he had a topic entitled;”tlohela ho iketsa fatuku ya moketeng” suggesting that young women are behaving like a dishcloth that is used at festivities or events that is overused to the point of running out of colour. 

Another topic the presenter, had the topic, “Ausi wig ntse di dutse hantle komora ho etsa move in”, implying that women’s looks are affected after choosing to move in with a partner and in this particular episode he mentions how a woman will lose her wig, pick up eyelashes on the floor and have makeup smeared on her face due to her moving in with a partner. 

Studies on gender-sensitive language mostly in English 

Critical analysis of the words used in African languages is important albeit this is rarely done due to the fact that studies and material on the gender-sensitive language are collated in English. This calls for material to be translated and accessible to media practitioners across the language spectrum. The other nuanced factor is that various languages also have idioms and proverbs that have embedded prejudice against women; it’s critical that language experts are also solicited to ensure that accurate and contextual translations are done. 

Media play a pertinent role in influencing audiences and often reinforce negative and positive narratives that exist within society. The concept of "setting a good example" as a woman should be expressed at the expense of the dignity of the masses of women who are systematically marginalised due to lack of jobs, opportunities and cemented patriarchal structures in various sectors of society.

In a book about the life of Wangari Maathai authored by Professor Grace Musila she cites Maathai found it puzzling that, “women are commonly described as carriers and promoters of culture exempting men from the pressure and policing of behaviour that comes with these expectations”. This adage of women being promoters of culture has exposed how presenters of African language radio stations’ popular religious programming exert pressure of female respectability sanctioned supposedly by the religious domination the programming subscribes to. Moral narratives can be perceived as universal truths when spoken on an influential platform particularly when they are repeated over a period of time and embedded within cultural nuances. 

Media can encourage behaviour change 

Media shapes attitudes and can influence behaviour change with content they put out to audiences. Behaviour change communication has been identified as a catalytical tool to change norms and behaviours that fuel gender-based violence and creating a mindset that is highly conscious of language used by powerful platforms such as media to shape narratives on gender equity. Media also have a role in raising awareness about the various negative stereotypes that can trickle into societal behaviour. 

Religious programmes on the radio cannot be used to suggest to audiences that women should be governed through institutions such as marriage and a nuclear family setup. A presenter can create awareness of moral decay without prejudicing those who do not fall within the categories of what they perceive as the norm or proper family structuring. 

Comments that are offensive and do not entirely align with the public service mandate that seeks to reflect the attitudes, opinions, ideas and values of South Africans, as well as a plurality of voices on analysis of news and information, are the antithesis of the very mandate which is meant for public good. 

In thinking about how the situation can shift and narratives can be amended on African language stations it would be important that the use of language is done within the prescripts of the public service mandate and not sensation and driving up listener numbers for advertisers.

Religious educational programmes that have a high listenership should also be dedicated to creating awareness on gender-based violence and behaviour change. The change must start with what the presenters “preach” on Sunday mornings to millions of audiences who are potential change agents. 

- Tshegofatso Modubu is a media and gender student pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Pretoria with research interests in gender, language and African media. 

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