By Agbonkhese Oboh
The concerns of the rural woman are core aspects of governance at all levels in Nigeria. Also there are ministries, departments and agencies dedicated partly or totally to her. And the mass media report them and their activities. These put her on the front burner. But, as this content analysis shows, there is limited and/or no feedback from her. So the government might be unable to respond appropriately to her needs. Therefore, it is not enough to set agenda around the rural woman; she should speak in reports built on her realities. A reference to her, or a quote, will do.
An example of what giving the rural woman a voice means is the story of 84-year-old Magajiya Dambatta in Kano State. She used to be a popular singer, who addressed the importance of education, moral values and child upbringing. Dambatta retired to the village, when she became blind, and relied on begging to survive. A journalist, Jaffar Jafaar, learned of her plight. He travelled to her home in Makoda, 70 kilometres from Kano City, to see her, did a report and launched a campaign. It got governments and people’s attention. They responded to her plight and today Dambatta is a millionaire.
Below is Magajiya Dambatta in her singing days. The image on the right was her condition before the journalist intervened. SOURCE: Zuma Times Hausa/Facebook.
Dambatta, besides being a privileged rural woman, is one of the millions of rural women the media ignore or excise from stories. For example, a story’s headline is “FG disburses N55.3bn to youths, poor persons in 6 years.” Another says “FG exempts bread, sanitary pads, others from VAT increase,” and one more says “Take agric findings to the farm, minister orders institute.” In none of these stories was a rural woman directly quoted, mentioned or referenced. But every single one of the story directly affects the rural woman.
On the other hand, “Ekiti govt, UNICEF to immunise 2m against yellow fever” and “FG distributes 13,000 cooking gas cylinders to rural women in Nasarawa” gave the rural women some voice. Ironically, a story that directly, but inadvertently, spoke of the rural’s woman’s plight is about a journalist beaten to death in Adamawa; his mutilated body was discovered by women going to their farm at dusk. But the majority of rural women are ignored by journalists as seen in the analysis of 1,126 stories.
Subjected to content analysis, of the 1,126 editorial materials in nine January 2020 editions of three newspapers (names withheld), the rural woman’s voice appeared in just 22 stories. Although 242 stories concerned the rural woman, 220 of them did not speak of her or her environment. Conversely, if those 220 stories had taken a paragraph or two to reference her or get her to talk, she would have a voice.
A total of 399 stories were published in Paper A Friday, January 17, 2020; Wednesday, January 22, 2020 and Friday, January 24, 2020. Paper B published 324 in Thursday, January 16, 2020; Monday, January 20, 2020, and Wednesday, January 29, 2020 editions. There were 403 in Paper C of Thursday, January 16, 2020; Friday, January 17, 2020 and Friday, January 24, 2020. On a table, this is how it looks:
To explain the labels, “Stories” are editorial materials. These include news stories, features, editorials, columns, pictures and cartoons. Letters to the editor are not included. So also are foreign stories, except they address Nigerian issue(s). “Rural Woman” are stories that directly refer to the rural woman, events or issues that affect her or quotes her. Examples are “FG distributes 13,000 cooking gas cylinders to rural women in Nasarawa,” “UNICEF sponsors out-of-school children in Adamawa,” and the picture of an okada taking home a woman and her farm produce.
When a story is on an issue or a policy that affects the rural woman, but she is neither mentioned directly nor the rural environment given any thought, it is categorised as “Rural Policy”. An example is “FG exempts bread, sanitary pads, others from VAT increase,” and “Almajiri, victim of neglect.” Another is a picture of ministers commissioning the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in Abuja. “Others” are stories that do not say anything about, or refer to the rural areas at all. Under any of the labels, when a picture is illustrating a story they are counted as one (1).
The distribution of the stories looks like this on a bar chart:
From the bar chat above, dwarfism describes the bars representing Rural Woman. Meaning only a negligible quantity of stories represents her interests. She is on the front burner because the Rural Policy bars have a total of 220 stories. It means there are so many provisions for her wellbeing in governments’ policies, from the federal to the local government level. It also means there are issues, besides government policies, to report about her. Therefore, a little adjustment to the 220 stories would make them belong in the Rural Woman bars. This would lift their heights and, by extension, the rural woman’s voice.
The solution is to help her get a voice by making those bars rise. Because the policies that speak to the rural woman are numerous, to ignore them is dangerous. But to report them and ignore the targeted beneficiary is a disaster. It must be said at this juncture that of the 22 Rural Woman, only one made her talk. It is the story of Magajiya Dambatta in Kano State, as narrated earlier.
Examples of the policies that cover her concerns are United Nations Millennium Development Goals, MDGs; Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs; affirmative action among others. The issues cut across finance, domestic and sexual violence, Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, health, education, politics, agriculture and crime. Furthermore, there are ministries, departments and agencies at the federal, state and council levels of governance fully or partly focused on the rural woman. So when a news item focuses on any of these areas, as it affects the rural environment, but doesn’t directly or indirectly mention the rural woman, it makes her voiceless in a conspicuous way.
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The extent to which the rural woman is kept quiet is also visible in percentages:
The three pie charts above display the percentages of Rural Woman, Rural Policy and Others to the total number of stories published by individual news medium. This gives another perspective to the analysis. For example, although none of the publications devoted more than three percent (3%) of its editorial materials to the rural woman, some did better in relation to the total number of editorial materials it published. But a little addition of the rural woman’s voice, directly or indirectly, to stories and she would be heard by the relevant authorities.
Who is this Rural Woman? According to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), there were 558,148 live births in rural areas in 2007. Given that the rural areas lack adequate health care facilities, babies that could be half that number died. Given that this figure is more than 10 years old, the values must have doubled. The women that go through the hassles of giving life a meaning for these rural newborns are the Rural Woman. In 2018 figures, Enhancing Financial Innovation & Access (EFInA) says of the 61.1 million adult Nigerians living in rural areas, 49.9 million (or 79%) are women. The effectiveness of relevant government, organisations’ policies cannot be measured if journalists do not give these millions of rural women voice.
Table and charts by Vanguard