Media play important roles in society. They report on current events, provide frameworks for interpretation, mobilise citizens with regard to various issues, reproduce predominant culture and society, and entertain (Llanos and Nina, 2011). As such, the media can be an important actor in the promotion of gender equality, both within the working environment (in terms of employment and promotion of female staff at all levels) and in the representation of women and men (in terms of fair gender portrayal and the use of neutral and non-gender specific language).
White, A., 2009, ‘Getting the Balance Right: Gender Equality in Journalism’, International Federation of Journalists, Brussels
How can journalists and other actors working in the media contribute to gender equality? This handbook aims to assist people working in the media to assess progress on gender equality, identify challenges, and contribute to debates and policy formulation. It urges those working in the media to do more to confront gender distortions in newsrooms and in unions.
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Studies have found that although the number of women working in the media has been increasing globally, the top positions (producers, executives, chief editors and publishers) are still very male dominated (White, 2009). This disparity is particularly evident in Africa, where cultural impediments to women fulfilling the role of journalist remain (e.g. travelling away from home, evening work and covering issues such as politics and sports which are considered to fall within the masculine domain) (Myers, 2009). The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) reports that throughout the world, female journalists are more likely to be assigned ‘soft’ subjects such as family, lifestyle, fashion and arts. The ‘hard’ news, politics and the economy, is much less likely to be written or covered by women.
The level of participation and influence of women in the media also has implications for media content: female media professionals are more likely to reflect other women’s needs and perspectives than their male colleagues. It is important to acknowledge, however, that not all women working in the media will be gender aware and prone to cover women’s needs and perspectives; and it is not impossible for men to effectively cover gender issues. Nonetheless, the presence of women on the radio, television and in print is more likely to provide positive role models for women and girls, to gain the confidence of women as sources and interviewees, and to attract a female audience.
Byerly, C. M., 2011, ‘Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media’, International Women’s Media Foundation, Washington DC
What is the condition of gender equality in the global news media? This study presents findings from its analysis of news company behaviour in relation to gender equality in staffing, salaries and policies. It finds that men occupy the vast majority of governance and top management jobs and news-gathering positions in most nations included in the study.
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Myers, M., 2009, ‘Radio, Convergence and Development in Africa: Gender as a Cross-Cutting Issue’ Paper submitted to International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Carleton University, Roundtable Discussion on a Research Agenda, 10-13 September, Butare, Rwanda
How do gender issues play out in the media? Media professionals are subject to prevailing social, economic and cultural norms. Their views, outlook and output often reflect these norms. This paper highlights the cross-cutting nature of gender issues in media practice, production and consumption. When looking at media producers, the most striking gender issue is that the industry is dominated by men. Gender issues are also prevalent in media content, portrayals of men and women and stereotypes. The paper argues for the consideration of gender issues in all research on radio, convergence and development in Africa.
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Fair gender portrayal in the media should be a professional and ethical aspiration, similar to respect for accuracy, fairness and honesty (White, 2009). Yet, unbalanced gender portrayal is widespread. The Global Media Monitoring Project finds that women are more likely than men to be featured as victims in news stories (with the exception of domestic and sexual violence, which receives little media coverage) and to be identified according to family status. Women are also far less likely than men to be featured in the world’s news headlines, and to be relied upon as ‘spokespeople’ or as ‘experts’. Certain categories of women, such as the poor, older women, or those belonging to ethnic minorities, are even less visible.
Stereotypes are also prevalent in every day media. Women are often portrayed solely as homemakers and carers of the family, dependent on men, or as objects of male attention. Stories by female reporters are more likely to challenge stereotypes than those filed by male reporters (Gallagher et al., 2010). As such, there is a link between the participation of women in the media and improvements in the representation of women.
Men are also subjected to stereotyping in the media. They are typically characterised as powerful and dominant. There is little room for alternative visions of masculinity. The media tends to demean men in caring or domestic roles, or those who oppose violence. Such portrayals can influence perceptions in terms of what society may expect from men and women, but also what they may expect from themselves. They promote an unbalanced vision of the roles of women and men in society.
Attention needs to be paid to identifying and addressing these various gender imbalances and gaps in the media. The European Commission (2010) recommends, for example, that there should be a set expectation of gender parity on expert panels on television or radio and the creation of a thematic database of women to be interviewed and used as experts by media professionals. In addition, conscious efforts should be made to portray women and men in non-stereotypical situations.
Gallagher, M. et al., 2010, ‘Who Makes the News? Global Media Monitoring Project 2010', World Association for Christian Communication, London and Toronto
To what degree is the news media democratic, inclusive and participatory from a gender perspective? This report presents findings of a survey taken on one 'ordinary' news day to record the portrayal and representation of women and men in the news media. The results are compared with previous surveys, taken every four years since 1995, to illustrate longitudinal trends. Women are underrepresented in news coverage, resulting in an unbalanced representation of the world.
European Commission, 2010, ‘Opinion on “Breaking Gender Stereotypes in the Media”, Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Social Europe, European Commission, Brussels
This report highlights the gap between the reality of women's and men's lives in Europe and how they are portrayed in the media. It proposes measures for the promotion of: balanced and nonstereotyped perspectives; equal opportunities and working conditions in the media sector; and increased participation in and access to expression and decision-making for women in and throughout the media. It calls for an in-depth study of the public image of women generated by the media, including advertising.
Llanos, B. and Nina, J., 2011, ‘Election Coverage from a Gender Perspective: A Media Monitoring Manual’, UN Women
How can the media contribute to gender equality in election campaigning? The media has in many instances become the principal forum where electoral competition is played out. Some studies reveal that the structural and institutional obstacles women face in political competition are compounded by the lower levels of media coverage of women candidates and their proposals. This publication aims to be a useful tool for promoting fair media coverage during election campaigns, generating an informational approach that includes all candidates’ points of view during election campaigns.
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GMMP, n.d., ‘Mission Possible: A Gender and Media Advocacy Toolkit’ Global Media Monitoring Project, World Association for Christian Communication, London and Toronto
This GMMP media toolkit is designed to train activists to build gender and media campaigns using the findings of GMMP studies. The toolkit explains how best to work with and through the media to put gender on the news agenda.
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Participatory community media initiatives aimed at increasing the involvement of women in the media perceive women as producers and contributors of media content and not solely as ‘consumers’. Such initiatives encourage the involvement of women in technical, decision-making, and agenda-setting activities. They have the potential to develop the capacities of women as sociopolitical actors. They also have the potential to promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media and to challenge the status quo. In Fiji, women who took part in a participatory video project presented themselves as active citizens who made significant contributions to their families and communities. These recorded images improved the status of women in the minds of government bureaucrats.
There are limitations to participatory community initiatives, however. If unaccompanied by changes in structural conditions, participation may not be sufficient to foster substantive social change. Baú (2009) explains that the establishment of a women’s radio station (run and managed by women) in Afghanistan faced constraints in that women engaged in self-censorship in order to avoid criticism from local male political and religious leaders.
Pavarala, V., Malik, K. K., and Cheeli, J. R., 2006, ‘Community Media and Women: Transforming Silence into Speech’, Chapter 3.2 in eds. A. Gurumurthy, P. J. Singh, A. Mundkur and M. Swamy, Gender in the Information Society: Emerging Issues, Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme, UNDP and Elsevier, New Delhi, pp. 96-109
To what extent do community media empower women? This study finds that community media initiatives perceive women as producers and contributors of media content and not just as consumers. Community media encourage greater involvement of women in technical, decisionmaking, and agenda-setting activities and have the potential to promote a balanced and nonstereotyped portrayal of women in the media.
Harris, U. S., 2009, 'Transforming Images: Reimagining Women's Work Through Participatory Video', Development in Practice, vol. 19, no. 4 & 5, pp. 538-549
How can participatory media support empowerment, dialogue and community building? This study of a participatory video workshop involving rural women in Fiji found that women integrated local norms and practices in their video production. They used social capital – relationships and social networks – as a key element. Women presented themselves as active citizens who made significant contributions to their families and communities. The project highlighted the importance of encouraging multi-ethnic or heterogeneous social networks in Fiji.
Baú, V., 2009, ‘Media and Communication for Gender and Development’, Southern African Gender & Media Diversity Journal, vol.6, pp.170-174, Gender Links, Johannesburg
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The approach to Communication for Development (C4D) has evolved over the years. Initially developed after World War II as a tool for diffusion of ideas, communication initiatives primarily involved a one-way transmission of information from the sender to the receiver. This includes largescale media campaigns, social marketing, dissemination of printed materials, and ‘educationentertainment’. Since then, C4D has broadened to incorporate interpersonal communication: faceto- face communication that can either be one-on-one or in small groups. This came alongside the general push for more participatory approaches to development and greater representation of voices from the South. The belief is that while mass media allows for the learning of new ideas, interpersonal networks encourage the shift from knowledge to continued practice.
Communication for development has thus come to be seen as a way to amplify voice, facilitate meaningful participation, and foster social change. The 2006 World Congress on Communication for Development defined C4D as ‘a social process based on dialogue using a broad range of tools and methods. It is also about seeking change at different levels including listening, building trust, sharing knowledge and skills, building policies, debating and learning for sustained and meaningful change’. Such two-way, horizontal approaches to communication include public hearings, debates, deliberations and stakeholder consultations, participatory radio and video, community-based theatre and story-telling, and web forums.
Inagaki, R., 2007, ‘Communicating the Impact of Communication for Development: Recent Trends in Empirical Research’, World Bank, Washington DC
How can the use of communication in international assistance programmes be promoted and improved? This report argues that the communication community needs to: articulate more clearly why communication is essential for meeting the MDGs, demonstrate positive impacts of communication on development initiatives, and conduct more effective evaluations. It aims to contribute to the promotion of communication in development by presenting evidence of positive impacts from a review of recent research in the field. It also discusses weak spots in the evidence and proposes areas of further research.
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Pettit, J., Salazar, J. F. and Dagron, A. G., 2009, 'Citizens' Media and Communication', Development in Practice, vol. 19, no. 4&5, pp. 443-452
Citizens' media and communication comprise social, cultural and political processes that have the potential to be transformative. These approaches and processes are often not well understood, however, by mainstream development policy and practice, resulting in weak implementation. This introductory article finds that citizens' media and communication is about more than bringing diverse voices into pluralist politics: it contributes to processes of social and cultural construction, redefining exclusionary norms and power relations. Local participation, ownership and control can allow people to reshape the spaces in which their voices find expression.
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Communication initiatives aimed at changing attitudes and behaviours have increasingly been used in the health sector since the 1970s. Such initiatives – including television and radio shows, theatre, informational sessions and pamphlets – can and have affected social norms related to gender roles, since gender norms are linked to all facets of health behaviour. Initiatives that seek to affect gender norms and inequities as a goal in itself, however, are a relatively new phenomenon.
Community radio is considered to be an effective tool in promoting women’s empowerment and participation in governance structures. Radio is often the primary source of information for women. It is accessible to local communities, transcends literacy barriers and uses local languages. Afghan Women’s Hour, for example, aims to reach a large cross-section of women and offers a forum to discuss gender, social issues and women’s rights. It was found that female listeners demonstrated a pronounced capacity to aspire, defined as the ‘capacity of groups to envision alternatives and aspire to different futures’ (Appadurai, cited in Bhanot et al., 2009, p. 13). Women developed specific aspirations in areas that had been recently covered by the programme segments. Their aspirations, however, were not particularly focused (Bhanot et al., 2009). Challenges with other community radio programme initiatives include women’s general under-representation and in some cases, the negative portrayal of women.
Participatory approaches are considered to be an effective tool in encouraging alternate discourses, norms and practices, and in empowering women. The use of sketches and photography in participatory workshops, for example, has encouraged women who have traditionally been reluctant to engage in public forums to express themselves.
In order for the empowerment of women to have a genuine impact, opportunity structures also need to be addressed, such as conservative and male opinion. Afghan Women’s Hour has a large male audience (research by BBC Media Action found that 39% of listeners were men), which provides a way to challenge male views on gender norms. Group educational activities, a common programme for men and boys, also have the potential to contribute to changes in attitudes on health issues and gender relations and, in some cases, changes in behaviour.
It is also important for communication initiatives to build on tradition and culture, not only because this can resonate better with communities, but because it can help to mute opposition from conservative segments of society. The involvement in projects of key community leaders such as teachers, cultural custodians and government officials is also important for greater impact and sustainable change.
Cooper, C., Goodsmith, L., Lotter, E. and Molony, T., 2010, ‘Communication, Participation and Social Change: A Review of Communication Initiatives Addressing Gender-based Violence, Gender Norms, and Harmful Traditional Practices in Crisis-affected Settings’, USAID, American Refugee Committee, Communication for Change
In conflict and post-conflict settings, high levels of gender-based violence (GBV) can result from disruption of social structures, men’s loss of traditional roles, poverty, frustration, alcohol and drug abuse, and criminal impunity. Harmful traditional practices (HTP) also pose a threat to conflictaffected populations, and the incidence of HTP may increase in communities during and after conflict, as affected communities often respond by strengthening cultural traditions to deal with the loss experienced through the process of displacement. This review of development communication initiatives addressing GBV, HTP and related health concerns in crisis-affected settings finds a need to increase the number of genuinely participatory development communication programmes in conflict-affected areas where these concerns are pervasive.
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Haider, H., 2011, ‘Communication Initiatives to Change Attitudes and Behaviours’, GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report, Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, Birmingham
This report presents literature on communication interventions in developing countries designed to change attitudes and behaviours, particularly around gender relations. It looks at entertainment education, group education and various participatory approaches. Studies and evaluations of communication initiatives addressing gender issues have found positive outcomes. Key lessons include: conduct formative research when conceptualising communication strategies; adopt mixed methods of communication; build on tradition and popular culture; and reach out to community leaders.
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Solervicens, M., ed., 2008, ‘Women's Empowerment and Good Governance through Community Radio: Best Experiences for an Action Research Process’, AMARC, World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters
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Morna, C. L., Mpofu, T. and Glenwright, D. 2010, ‘Gender and Media Progress Study: Southern Africa Gender and Media Progress Study Southern Africa, Gender Links, Johannesburg
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Tom, T. O., 2008, ‘Enhancing Gender Equality in the Media in Eastern Africa’, Regional Study, Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA), Djibouti
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For discussion on gender and social media, see ‘New media and citizenship’ in the Gender and Citizenship section of this guide.
See the GSDRC’s Topic Guide on Communication and Governance for more information on communication for development, communication for governance reform, and communication for social change.
Women Make the News (WMN) is a global policy advocacy initiative aimed at promoting gender equality in the media.