[OPINION] What does empowerment of women look like in post-truth world?

What are the challenges of gender-transformative journalism in a post-truth world and what is its capacity to help build a more peaceful, just and inclusive society?

These were some of the main questions focused on a feminism and gender transformation panel, hosted by Gender@International in Bonn, Germany.

I had to ask another question first. My mind reeled at the words “post-truth-world” and it wasn’t the first time. What is a “post-truth world”? I don’t like that term, and I don’t know why. It reminds of the word “woke” which I am not particularly fond of as well because it has been so overused. Except that now “post-truth world” has become more popular than “woke”. Besides what it literally means, (we’re past the truth), what does it mean the dynamic ways it is used? And it my opinion, it is used way too often. I explored and found the following definitions:

  1. Beyond or superseding the importance of truth; pertaining to an era or situation when truth is no longer significant or relevant; usually in a pejorative sense, uncaring of factual accuracy. Or: The fact that emotional persuasion (not lies) is more effective than truth. (Source: Wiktionary)

  2. Wikipedia, on the other hand, has only an explanation of “post-truth politics”. It again mentions the whole emotional persuasion thing but then also clarifies that this “trend” is often cited a contemporary problem because of the internet, but has long been a mechanism both in the media and politics. Think about picketing as an example. And think about how certain publications only cover certain stories to tug at the hearts and minds of certain audiences. This has been going on for decades. (Source: Wikipedia)

  3. The post-truth era is a phenomenon that actually has a name: Agnotology. And the definition of agnotology is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt. Its implications are huge. (Source: Forbes Magazine)

That last definition is one that enthuses me. I have long had a problem with ignorance and doubt induced by cultures and communities. And if that, at its heart, is what post-truth is scientifically about, it’s something I can get behind.

If you take a step back and put two and two together, it’s not hard to see how blatant mob mentality ignorance has had a negative impact on the way people think. Especially when it comes to gender equality and how it perpetuates the disenfranchisement of women. The traction of this messaging takes place at an alarming pace in both the media industry and communities. The result? A further perpetuation of ignorance.

“Media is one of the most crucial social tools at our disposal, able to transform the gender landscape by empowering women through advocacy, building stronger relations and changing the structures of power,” said Albana Shala, chairperson of the Unesco International Programme for the Development of Communication. “We need to establish coalitions with influential editors and managers who will be the champions of gender equality in and through media.”

We’re not just dealing with stories told in print, over the radio and on television anymore. Voices are amplified on social media and the wrong messages can spread like wildfire. Gender equality illiteracy can spread like wildfire. Post-truth, and disregarding facts, well, that can spread like wildfire as well. And it does.

Catherine Nyambura, regional program advocacy associate of FEMNET from Kenya, emphasised “the backlash and pushback on gender equality and women’s empowerment in real and civic space in many countries is getting worse. We recognize that social media offers a platform for solidarity and concerted efforts – especially now when resources are limited.”

Mainstream media on both digital and traditional platforms need to be responsible and at the forefront of supporting and reporting on gender equality.

Food for thought: When’s the last time you saw the sports section of a newspaper cover the Banyana Banyana team?

How then can we be equal in societies and strive for an equal society when we’re not even reported equally? There is literally no reason for this. No explanation whatsoever. And there is nothing post-truth about that.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment.