Women’s rights advocates call for media support

Fritzie Rodriguez
How can the media help advance women's rights?

MANILA, Philippines — Women in media. Media on women. 

Is it a healthy relationship?

The media have been criticized for their misrepresentation of women, mostly apparent in the objectification of women in television and film, and in the unrealistic standards of beauty it sets. 

However, the media can also be an avenue for tackling and amplifying women’s issues and for empowering women through dignified and diverse portrayals.

More importantly, the media can be a tool not only for informing the public but also for generating social change, women legislators said at a joint forum of the House of Representatives and the Philippine Commission on Women on Tuesday, November 25.

The media played a vital role in the passage of Republic Act 6955 or the Anti Mail-Order Bride Law in 1990, which prohibits the business of facilitating marriages between Filipino women and foreign men on a mail-order basis.

“Mainit na isyu noon ang mail-order brides, at kinover ito ng midya  (Mail-order brides were a hot issue then, and it was covered by the media),” said Rina Jimenez-David, journalist and women’s rights advocate.

Jimenez-David lauded how the media can transform unknown or abstract topics into lively discussions, then later into actual policy reforms — all while keeping the public interested. 

She said the work of the media involves seeking out “specific examples” or  “actual people’s stories which bring to life the need for such laws.”

“The media can show how laws or the lack of laws affect the lives of families,” she explained.


Jimenez-David recalled how the media used to snub issues like reproductive health. It was only in recent years when the media started covering the issue intensively.

“RH before wasn’t noticed by the media. I remember when then Senator Leticia Shahani first proposed a resolution about RH, a lot of her colleagues were shocked,” she recalled. 

Other examples include the coverage of the cybercrime law, the pork barrel scam, super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) – which helped nudge local authorities into paying closer attention to disaster management and climate change – and more recently, how the local government of Manila addresses the needs of its youth centers and street children.

Jimenez-David observed that it is sometimes helpful for a bill to be “controversial,” since it gets more media attention, which can then improve its chances of passage.

This, of course, is different from sensationalism — which exaggerates stories while lacking both ethics and evidence.

The media should also be careful on how it frames stories. In 2006, Rachel Khan of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility wrote how the coverage of the Subic rape case was “two-edged.” 

“The coverage of the court hearings has gone beyond the ‘people’s right to know’ in detailing the circumstances of the crime,” Khan wrote. “Who needs porn when you can now get it from your mainstream newspapers?”

Khan urged the media to focus on other important issues that emerged from the case, such as the Visiting Forces Agreement. The same can be said for media coverage on the Jennifer Laude murder case.

However, advocates also urge the media to cover issues other than the “big stories” – common but often overlooked topics such as women and hunger, gender inequality in agriculture, women OFWs, and issues faced by same-sex couples, among many others.


Legislators pushing for “women’s priority legislative agenda” hope the media can help advance women’s rights by putting the most important issues within the public’s reach. (READ: Media and divorce law)

Jimenez-David urged the media to explain the context of laws to the public.

“Cooperation is really needed. In return, we need to explain the laws to the media,” she said.

In a video message in celebration of the National Consciousness Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children on November 25, Senator Pia Cayetano called on lawmakers to help the media inform the public better. “We need to provide the media, too, with the material they need.” 

In October, professors from the University of the Philippines and the Ateneo de Manila University launched The RH Wars, a book exploring the framing of the RH debate. UP professor Clarissa David challenged the media to cover public policy issues more substantially.

“The problem with the media is that it covers the ‘he said, she said’ conflict only, while lacking explanation,” Jimenez-David observed. “The focus should be what’s inside the bill, rather than the people involved.”

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