The recent meeting of the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) in Lisbon, Portugal was focused on a new role for women and the media in solving problems in facilitating dialogue and breaking down social barriers, such as hate-fuelled stereotypes as a first step towards meaningful dialogue with practical results.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 taken one decade ago this month stressed the urgent need for women to be given equal participation and full involvement in matters of peace and security, due to the fact that women and children are frequently the victims of conflict and because of “the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building”.
This year’s 18th meeting of the UN DPI in Lisbon focused on the way that the new media and an enhanced role for women can help solve problems in the Middle East.
The New Media
The UN DPI stressed the increasingly important role the New Media, or social networking sites, can play in increasing awareness, in forging partnerships and fostering relationships, in breaking down social barriers. Why? Because the New Media is made by people, not by institutions. The New Media is free, not controlled by editors.
Such barriers have in turn been created by the Old Media, pandering to agendas and controlled by vested interests that dictate firstly whether or not your publication will be economically viable and secondly what is written in its pages. Fleeting subtle references, introduced at just the right time, can cloud the hearts and minds of an entire generation, painting graphic images of demonology against entire countries and peoples.
Take for example the reference to a possible Serbian connection in the murder of BBC journalist Jill Dando in 1999, precisely at a time when the international corporate media had decided that the Serbs were to be presented as the Devil. Such notions that Americans are fat and stupid, that Jews are this or Arabs are that, are no more or less than racist attempts at scare-mongering, at xenophobia, creating hatred and perpetuating conflict.
At the Lisbon conference last week, Kiyo Akasaka, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, gave the example of Israeli and Palestinian officials exchanging information about the situation on the ground and sharing details about their personal lives. For Kiyo Akasaka, increasing dialogue has more chance of solving conflict than attributing the blame.
Given that the New Media is free and given that it has such a wide audience, it has the potential. Notice, however, how search engines can be manipulated and filter information, separating and choosing the information they wish to make visible, keeping negative or positive information and articles, even together with slanderous references, while the truth is hidden somewhere out in cyberspace, harder to find and that much more invisible.
The Role of Women
The UNO has long been fostering gender equality and the empowerment of women as a means to create new vectors in providing mechanisms to sponsor peace and development.
At the annual meeting of ECOSOC last week, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang, stated that “gender equality and the empowerment of women (is) at the center of the development agenda”. For Hamidon Ali, President of ECOSOC, 2010 is a watershed year for women: “Gender equality and the empowerment of women sit squarely at the heart of development and peace worldwide”.
Given that women make such an important contribution to the governing of communities through their role in local councils and in families, how is it possible that in today’s world women are excluded from so many decision-making processes?
Let us be perfectly honest: take a look at the world in 2010 and see where a male-dominated society leads us.