A new study by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and Gallup on women and media in Africa says education and language skills play a big role in influencing which platform women access most frequently. And while daily TV usage for men and women is similar in most places, the same cannot be said for radio, mobile phones and the Internet.
The research focused on seven countries in Africa including Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, Niger, Mali, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Keynote speaker Tara Sonenshine says the results show that the political, economic and social participation of women in Africa can unleash dividends.
“We know that if girls are educated and utilize media and have access to information, they will participate in the political arena, they will exercise their power and leverage in the economic sector and they will make a huge difference in the global economy," said Sonenshine.
While Gallup sample sizes surveyed 1,000 people per country, the BBG interviewed about 1,500 to 4,000 people. Magali Rheault, the regional research director for Francophone Africa at Gallup, says opinions about media freedom vary from place to place.
“In Nigeria and Zimbabwe, attitudes toward free press are relatively low, then you have Cote D’Ivoire that tends to be in the middle, where half of the people think there is a lot of freedom. And then the last group of countries with Ghana, Kenya, Mali and Niger where a strong majority - both men and women - say the media in their countries have a lot of freedom," said Rheault.
Sonja Gloeckle, the International Broadcasting Bureau’s director of research, says daily use of the different media platforms shows differences not just between men and women, but also between countries and platforms. With television for example, there is virtually no difference in usage between the genders. She says the reason is simple.
“In Africa if a household has a TV, it tends to be a single television. TVs are usually a prized possession and are located in a common room, and a lot of TV viewing is actually a communal activity," said Gloeckle.
For radio, she says, there are striking differences in daily use between males and females.
“Fifth-two percent of women in Cote D’Ivoire use TV on a daily basis compared to 28 percent of women who use radio," she said.
Women tend to also lag behind men in frequent Internet use, but Rheault and Gloeckle say there are many ways to communicate and engage women in Africa.
“If you say I want to communicate with women in Nigeria, that’s still too broad a notion. I would use our data, for example, to target down women in northern Nigeria. I would use a different platform, a different language and a completely different strategy than if I want to talk to young women in Lagos," she said.
Covering the topics they care about the most is also a must, says Rheault.
“Issues of safety, health, entrepreneurship. A lot of time, women want to see in programs, they want to see models even if it’s not from their own country, what other women are doing very successfully. Seventy-three percent of women say they would like to start their own business," said Rheault.
Researchers also talked about introducing vernacular languages as an important tool to open up the media sector, especially for a country like Mali where only 15 percent of women speak French, the official language.