by Katharine Daniels, Executive Editor
2011 was a remarkable year. People no longer conceded to sit idly while unjust economic policies and governments denied them prosperous futures. Around the world citizens began to occupy the establishment. At these global protests and uprisings women were common symbols – holding placards, marching in the streets, and speaking truth to power.
Whether it was in Egypt or Wisconsin, Libya or Chile, Tunisia or Spain – people took their power back. The year was inspirational. Yet, what we have learned since we began publishing The WIP is that we cannot rely on the dominant media to stay on top of these stories – to amplify the voices of the voiceless who rely on media coverage or their stories disappear.
Since our launch in 2007, we have discovered that our women writers are less interested in the opinion and politics that dominate commercial news media, in particular the 24-hour cable news cycle, than they are with human rights. Profit-driven news organizations are under great pressure to boost ratings and one way to guarantee that is by featuring politics, talking heads, and sensational news.
The news media undoubtedly has a large influence on audiences. There is a correlation between what stories the dominant media focuses its attention on and what the public later perceives as important. Imagine if instead of the Republican primaries day in and day out, anchors spoke of the devastating crisis in education facing both girls and boys? Imagine if the headlines portrayed the human face of climate change – the starvation, the thirst, and the resulting wars extreme weather patterns cause in countries far away from the perpetrators? Imagine if the dominant media told us day in and day out that 925 million people – more than the populations of USA, Canada, and the European Union combined – do not have enough to eat?
One of the most important things I have learned as executive editor of The WIP is that while we live in a world that is deeply sexist, many are willing to turn a blind eye to that reality in the pursuit of ideological beliefs. Whether it is the pursuit of democracy in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya or the pursuit of stability in Afghanistan, the inequality between the sexes is still perceived as a ‘women’s issue.’ It is left to be fought for by feminists rather than seen as a societal issue for which we all bear responsibility, and when rectified, we will all flourish.
While The WIP is clearly a partner in the fight for equality, I did not use the label ‘feminist’ until I taught women’s studies this fall and discovered a classroom full of American students who had never heard of Gloria Steinem. The names Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Emma Goldman were equally absent from their vocabularies. Although I embraced the label and wore it proudly during my course, I could not help but feel the coat is worn and out of style. I do not know anybody who does not believe in equality. Most of the women and men I know, love, and associate with, do not don the label ‘feminist’, yet they all qualify. One new year’s resolution could be to get everyone I know to embrace their inner feminist but not only would that be time consuming and a divergence from my vision, it would also not be nearly as effective as what I hope to see The WIP continue to do in 2012.
My resolution is to work even harder to bring the issues our community cares about out of the confines of labels like ‘feminist’ and into the realm of society and the mainstream. My resolution is to declare the importance of these stories and these issues every chance I get and to not let my fear or shyness deter me from having that conversation. My resolution is to grow The WIP’s imprint from the thousands to the millions – to see our writers stories not just on the pages of The WIP but in publications and papers throughout the world. Their issues are our issues and are critical to challenge the influence of the dominant media. These stories – that often center on gender inequalities and human rights – are key to opening the dialogue for peace, equality, prosperity, and the health of our people and our planet.
Recently I asked our writers why The WIP is important to them. Overwhelmingly they cited the opportunity to highlight voices and perspectives rarely seen in the mainstream media. A WIP Contributor from Egypt wrote how “few publications highlighted the role of women in the popular uprising that brought an end to 30 years of tyranny and corruption.” And how much she appreciated and respected “the freedom to honestly report these voices for an international audience.”
From Nepal, a public heath physician told me how widely her article on ‘Safe Birthing’ was disseminated throughout the country. Her WIP story led to a subsequent policy adopted by the government guaranteeing one Assistant Nurse Midwife at each Village Development Committee.
In Pakistan, a senior editor from a leading publication shared with me the frustration of always being in the news “for the wrong reasons.” For her, The WIP equals “the space to project social issues which are generally brushed off as women’s issues in the male-dominated world of the news that focuses on politics.”
On December 11, 2011 WIP contributor and a featured speaker at our 2008 event Women As Agents of Change, Leymah Roberta Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In her Nobel lecture, Leymah told the audience, “We succeeded when no one thought we would, we were the conscience of the ones who had lost their consciences in their quest for power and political positions. We represented the soul of the nation. No one would have prepared my sisters and I for today — that our struggle would go down in the history of this world. Rather when confronting warlords we did so because we felt it was our moral duty to stand as mothers and gird our waist, to fight the demons of war in order to protect the lives of our children, their land, and their future.”
I envision the day when our media is made up of stories like Leymah Gbowee’s. When that happens, I believe our priorities, as nations, will be very different. Please join The WIP in 2012 to share untold stories, where woman’s rights are human rights, and where what is happening to people on the ground everywhere is the news.
Happy New Year to all our community from everyone at The WIP.
About the author:
Katharine Daniels is the founder and executive editor of The WIP.