Media advocacy training with Masisikumeni

On 14 and 15 Nov 2011, Justice and I spent two days with the Masisukumeni Women’s Crisis Centre developing skills and strategies for using the media to further the aims of the organisation.

The training took place in Tonga, a rural community an hour and a half’s drive from Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, where services are limited and needs are great.

The workshop was based on the Media Advocacy Training Module that Sonke has recently developed as part of our work with FNB. The training looks at working with print, radio and television, and includes a focus on developing communications strategies and identifying key issues that the partners feel need to be discussed in the community.

Talking to the Media

Despite some challenges (like the fact that we had no workshop materials because the airport misplaced my luggage!), the training went well. Through a series of activities, including role plays, we identified key issues of concern facing the organisation, including child abuse and neglect, access to services for people without South African ID documents or birth certificates, and teen pregnancy. We then explored ways in which local, regional and national media could be used to raise awareness about these issues and create pressure on relevant government departments to change or better implement policies.

The group did a fantastic job of outlining some very promising opinion pieces on these topics which we hope to have published in regional newspapers between now and the end of January. The participants approached this task nervously but clearly have strong and well considered opinions about the issues they face, as they were able to put together the essentials of three articles in less than an hour!

Our media mapping exercise identified a distinct shortage of community media in the area with one community newspaper having recently closed down, and no community radio stations reaching this area. However, regional media is strong and the organisation has existing ties with a number of different newspapers and radio stations which we agreed need to be reinvigorated in the coming months.

Involving Men and Boys

During all conversations we looked at how to include men in the discussions and how to ensure that men are regarded as part of the solution. Where are the teen fathers? Where are their parents? Where are the men opposing bail in cases of violent crime in the community?

Although the majority of the participants were women, there were two enthusiastic young men in the group, who helped inform the discussions about male stereotypes and the pressures on men to behave in certain ways. It was also invaluable to have Justice’s strong gender sensitivity in the room to  guide discussions and ask challenging questions (not to mention translating for me when my ability to understand siSwati failed abysmally!)

Men as Fathers

Many of our discussions revolved around the question of fatherhood. Why are there no nappy adverts showing fathers? Why do teenage fathers get ignored in cases of teen pregnancy?

I was very sad to hear some of the social workers in the group express sentiments which we previously heard when conducting this training with the Jo’burg Child Welfare: although we want men to be more involved with their children’s lives we are suspicious of men who show their children, especially their daughters, physical affection. One of the participants related how she and her sisters had all had a very close relationship with their father until a case of child abuse in the community, involving a father and child, resulted in community members regarding her family with suspicion and disapproval. This led her father to distance himself.

As Sonke we will need to spend more time thinking and talking about these concerns regarding fatherhood. Hopefully profiling positive father role models in the media will help to change perceptions of fatherhood.