TRADE UNION CONFEDERATION
Spotlight Interview with
"We need to
build bridges to mobilise men to fight for equlity too"
Brusssels, 28 September
(ITUC OnLine): Diatou Khady Cissé, editor-in-chief of Senegal's national
television station, is president of the Senegalese journalists' union(SYNPICS),
and vice-president of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ*), the
first African woman to hold such a post. She believes the media can still be
very male chauvinist, like the society she comes from. She emphasises the need
to target training at decision-makers in the media, and to integrate a gender
dimension at every level of the global development dynamic.
How have you combined your professional career with
your commitment to equality?
It's true that I have worked on
women's issues a lot. I took some time out of the newsroom to work in private
organisations. I was the communications officer for the AFVP (the French
Association of Volunteers for Progress) an international NGO. Afterwards I
became director of a project for empowering women and promoting women's rights,
funded by Canadian development cooperation. Finally I was head of the Resource
Development and Communication's Department at Aide et Action, a French
international NGO. I am currently a television producer and president of the
Senegalese journalist's union, SYNPICS.
What progress has been made in equality issues in your
professional environment ?
Equality has slowly but steadily
progressed in the newsrooms. We often seem to forget that the media is still a
very male chauvinist world. Journalists are not always the most progressive of
people; they come from the same cultural background as their public. It is
understandable therefore that all the sexist stereotypes we find throughout
society are also present in the media.
What prejudices and stereotypes
Women in the media are seen as women first, and
journalists second. This sexist divide explains why women are to a large extent
confined to the so-called social interest subjects while men deal with the
political, scientific and economic issues. There are several factors keeping
these obstacles in place: women in the media have internalised the roles
attributed to them. Strategic posts on editorial teams are still monopolized by
men to a large extent. The decision-making men in the media have often
completely jettisoned equality issues. There have developed a resistance of
course and yet they are rarely the target of gender training. The status quo in
the media is considered completely normal. Media professionals need to put on «
gender » glasses to get a clearer view of their working environment.
What, in your view, are the best
ways of tackling these attitudes?
Gender promotion requires
profound change; it is no small matter. Everyone knows that social change is a
long term process. I think the equality debate should take place everywhere, and
we need to deconstruct the way our societies are organised so that people
realise that there is nothing innate about gender roles, they have simply been
constructed. States also need to show real political will. It is not about
having a ministry for women, just to keep up with the times. Gender must be
present at every level of a strategy for African development. You cannot make
progress by leaving half the human race behind.
The problem of violence against women still receives
inadequate coverage in the media. How in your view is the Senegalese media
progressing on this front ?
Personally I believe the media
have done a lot to legitimise the fight against violence against women. Not a
day goes by when they don't talk about it. It is true however that the way they
report this violence still leaves a lot to be desired. The tone of the
articles and the words they use often don't convey the seriousness of the
situations. Furthermore, some include in their reports stereoptypical comments
that abuse and stigmatise the women, or hold them responsible. There is also
the need to respect the women's anonymity and their dignity, which is
How did your commitment to
trade unionism begin ?
To be honest, I came to the trade
union movement almost by accident. My trade unionism is an extension of my
commitment to equality. At a certain point I felt there was no reason to leave
men to fight the battle alone, so I joined the ranks. With my feminist
background, I soon began to speak out on behalf of women. I quickly made my way
up to the decision-making levels, until I got to where I am today, at the head
of my union. This same process later led me to the IFJ, where I am now a
vice-president. It is the first time an African woman has held this position.
What is the role of women in the
Senegalese journalists' union ? What policies do you think could help them make
They are very courageous, even though there aren't
many of them at the top level. My arrival at the helm of my union triggered
something. More and more women are becoming leaders of branch unions, and those
who sit on the executive committee with me are becoming increasingly assertive
and showing leadership potential.
you explain how the Senegalese media deal, for example, with the rights of women
domestic workers ?
I don't have the impression that they focus
on this specifically. The Senegalese media like all others concentrate on
subjects that sell, like politics. But it is important to take it further. If
the people working in this field do not develop a real communications strategy
that includes a strategic partnership with the media, there is a strong risk
that there will not be any sustained interest in these subjects by the media.
When it comes to the dramatic
stories about illegal migration, has there been any specific coverage of young
women by the media ?
When a boat runs around somewhere, they
talk about it, but no more than that. Here again there is a need to go beyond
this symptomatic approach. The Senegalese media often don't have the means to
carry out in-depth investigations into the whole chain, and the motives that
lead people to leave the country for the mirage of Europe. It is frustrating to
see that our foreign colleagues, less affected by this than we are, have the
means to do this sort of reporting. Given that it is difficult to report on this
subject in depth in general, obviously women are not the target of any specific
The ITUC's World Women's
Conference is to be held in October 2009, on the theme "Decent Work Decent Life
for Women - trade unions taking the lead in the fight for economic and social
justice and equality". What does this theme mean to you, and your daily
I think this theme is highly relevant. Women have
the right to fulfilment, as workers, mothers and wives. It is unfair that they
are forced to choose because of their gender. These are three key dimensions in
the life of a woman, and for the harmony of family life, and of society in
general. Women have the right to decent work and a decent life, with all those
As a media
professional and a trade unionist, what message would you like to convey to
women trade unionists from all the regions who will be taking part in this
Stay mobilised, be determined, but also build the
bridges that will bring men on board. Not all of them at first, but those who
are open to discussing equality, those who understand the aim of the fight for
(*) See the International Federation of
Journalists declaration on "Ethics and
Gender: Equality in the newsroom", Brussels 30-31 May 2009 at http://www.ifj.org/assets/docs/087/136/90a2c57-ec33088.doc
This declaration was published at the end of the IFJ conference attended by
Diatou Khady Cissé in Brussels, together with 60 other journalists from around
-For more information on IFT gender policies go to : http://www.ifj.org/en/pages/gender-issues
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