Geneva hosts media convention on women’s rights, gender equality

David Wertheimer, a Webster Geneva communications major, speaks about his photo project on gender equality titled “Androgen,” in which he compares the physical qualities imposed by society on both males and females. Wertheimer was one of the presenters at the Swiss campus at the recent media conference on gender equality and women’s rights. - Carlos Restrepo

On March 21 and 22, the School of Communications at Webster University’s campus in Geneva, Switzerland, hosted the second annual International Media Trends Conference. This year’s topic was women’s rights and gender equality in the media.
“Every day women are starved, they are beaten, they are raped, they are cut, they are burned and they are stoned to death,” said Tammy Rosso, head of the media communications department at Geneva. “Even in the developed countries, we still have these issues. Take for example the U.S. where one in six women is either raped or a victim of attempted rape. It is not just a question of developing countries working on women’s rights; it’s a global issue.”
More than 20 different speakers from across the world addressed these issues and more at the conference, including two faculty members from the St. Louis campus.
Rebecca Ormund, film production professor, and Laurel Hayes, media professor and campus minister, each got the chance to travel to Geneva to present their research on women’s rights and gender equality in their respective areas of interest.
Ormund presented her findings stemming from a feature-length comedy film she created with students of her film theory class. The film reversed the way woman protagonists are usually presented as objects through a male character’s eyes and then to the audience, which Ormund said undermines the subjectivity of the heroine.
“In my area, language is how we experience things,” Ormund said. “When films basically put the audience in the view of the male protagonist, the women essentially become nothing more than static objects.”
Ormund said it is important to train upcoming filmmakers how not to objectify women, which can happen inadvertently, she said, in even the slightest detail, such as camera angles. Ormund said she was excited to the student’s work being presented at the conference.
“I always involve my students in my projects, it’s great to see their work out here,” Ormund said.
Hayes, meanwhile, presented on the impact of social media in providing resources for women’s equality and empowerment. Hayes is a volunteer for the World Student Christian Federation, a global Christian group made primarily of students who analyze societal issues in their communities. Among those issues, the WSCF has raised awareness to end violence against women through the use of Facebook. She used the WSCF as a case of study for her research.
“Social media is particularly popular among women because it allows them to build communities, stay in touch with existing friends and make new friends online,” Hayes said.
Hayes cited statistics that showed women 65 and over were one of the fastest growing demographics of Facebook users, however, she said she realized many African countries did not have access to this resource.
“Social media is a practical way to reach women, but there are many existing technology challenges,” Hayes said.
Among other notable speakers at the conference, former Egyptian Minister of Family and Population Moushira Khattab addressed the role of women in the recent revolution in Egypt.
“The role of women was pivotal for the revolution,” Khattab said. “The revolution was the work of men and women equally. Women voiced their concerns and fought in the streets alongside men, challenging traditional expectations for their behavior.”
Khattab said it is important women do not lose the momentum they have gained in improving their rights.
“The central role of women in the making and success of the Egyptian revolution made us all proud,” Khattab said. “The challenge now for women is to maintain the pressure as the nation moves forward.”
Michelle Odiambo, a communications major visiting the conference from the campus in Leiden, also commented on the hopes that revolutions happening in North Africa will be the beginning of new rights for women.
“We see women on TV walking on the streets protesting,” said Odiambo, a native of Neirobi, Kenya. “This is giving other women leeway to be more rebellious and in doing so they are empowering themselves.”
Jorge Oliver, chair of the electronic and photographic media department at the St. Louis campus, also attended the conference. Oliver currently teaches classes at the Webster Vienna campus but said he did not want to miss the chance to be present for the conference.
“You have the ability by going to an event like this to meet people from all over the world and hear their stories and I think that has been extremely valuable,” Oliver said. “We need to create consciousness regarding women issues. When you live in a western society you tend to forget that there are a lot of people who don’t have rights and there is a lot of work to be done. There is complacency and we say, ‘Oh that’s their problem.’ But it is not. It is our problem as well.”

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