The holistic gender and media agenda in focus

26 March 2018

Achieving gender equality in and through media requires a comprehensive approach covering a full gamut of longstanding as well as new challenges.

Assessing the issues – ranging from media ownership and staffing, news coverage, the safety of women journalists, through to policy effectiveness - is essential if society is to overcome the snail’s pace of progress to date.

This was the thread running through a panel session convened at the UN headquarters in New York on 23 March by UNESCO and the Global Alliance for Media and Gender (GAMAG).

Taking place as a side event during the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the occasion previewed a number of analytical position papers which GAMAG had prepared with the support of The Netherlands and channeled through UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).

The position papers, to be published in book format later this year, helped GAMAG to focus its advocacy around the CSW's annual review theme on women’s’ participation in, and access to, the media and information and communications technologies.

The work also helped towards references to media and ICT being included in the CSW’s conclusions concerning its primary theme of “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”.

Aimée Vega Montiel from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the Interim Chair of GAMAG presented the wider context of the position papers. She pointed out that media has a key role in the achievement of gender equality across all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals through shaping the social and cultural norms underpinning discrimination and inequality.

Sarah Macharia of the World Association for Christian Communication and co-ordinator for the Global Media Monitoring Project flagged how little progress has been made in the portrayal of women in media. Within a 10-year timeframe, women's appearance as experts in media has only risen by 2 percent.

Combatting sexist stereotypes is a necessary part of the process but it is hindered by the low representation of women in decision-making roles on boards of media companies. As Carolyn Byerly, a professor at Howard University noted, media and social media power is still highly concentrated in the hands of men. She cited research showing that out of the 100 largest media companies, only 6% have a woman CEO.

Rampant sexual harassment within the media and society is an enduring problem, with women journalists being abused within newsrooms and also by sources, said Mindy Ran from the International Federation of Journalists.

She said that women in media faced a "triple jeopardy" - enduring the same risks as their male counterparts, social pressures because they are female, and additional abuse because of the combination of being a woman who is a journalist. “Protection mechanisms are often completely inadequate at workplaces”.

Claudia Padovani from Padova University in Italy signaled the importance of having effective policy to mainstream gender equality in and through media. She highlighted, however, that many governments lacked such an instrument, and that there are questions about the effectiveness even where policies exist.

Abeer Sa’ady, Vice President of International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) summarized the discussion, urging that "we need to close the gap between good intentions and practices".

Gender equality should be everyone’s concern, she said. "It is not about women, but about everyone, about men and women", adding that there was a need for action across governments, trade unions, universities, civil society and private and public sectors.

UNESCO's Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, called for relevant actors to introduce or revise gender policies for media in order to ensure greater implementation.

Many governmental, social media and newsroom policies serve only as "weak symbols" that may reflect the aspirational gender norms, but are not translated into practices, he noted. 

The event was moderated by June Nicholson from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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