Globally, gender equality is one of UNESCO’s top priorities. UNESCO has been at the forefront of efforts to support women’s and girls’ rights, empowerment, and gender equality across all domains, including communication and information.
UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) is the only multilateral forum in the UN system designed to mobilize the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries. The Programme not only provides support for media projects but also seeks an accord to secure a healthy environment for the growth of free and pluralistic media.
In 2017, Jordan’s “7iber” media organization received an IPDC grant. 7iber works on creating informative multimedia content and providing a platform for critical conversation, conducting research on issues related to media, Internet governance and digital rights, conducting training on digital media.
Sawsan Zaideh is the lead researcher at 7iber and also a celebrated journalist and researcher in her early 40s. She understands what it means to be a female working in the realm of media – and the struggles that often accompany this important work. Sawsan completed her undergraduate studies in Syria and then, determined to bolster her credentials and improve her work, she completed a Masters of Journalism in the United Kingdom. “I returned to Jordan and finally began to feel that I was respected for my qualifications and not for my body and age”.
Nevertheless, Sawsan shared that she “watched supervisors consistently give new and exciting opportunities to men”. With encouragement from her family and her husband, a fellow journalist, Sawsan worked tirelessly to become a manager at a journalism outlet in Amman. However, when this role did not feel like a good fit, Sawsan began freelancing. “For me, this was a magic solution” and, after a short time, Sawsan landed at 7iber.
With UNESCO’s IPDC support, 7iber is undertaking research supporting media assessments. This work is based on UNESCO's Gender Sensitive Indicators for the Media and will produce concrete findings and comprehensive recommendations on how to foster balanced and fair gender portrayal in media content in Jordan. It will also provide a benchmark for other Arab countries to assess their gender equality in media operations and content. Civil society and the government can utilize the findings when designing their media and gender development programs. It can also be a credible and scientific source of information for journalists and media outlets.
Sawsan notes that more than half of journalism students are female but when one looks at the numbers of women working in this field, there is a gender imbalance with men enjoying the most interesting positions. She has noticed as well that there is a lack of female representation found in middle management and editorial roles in Jordan, with women chiefly working as reporters. Within these roles, there is not tremendous scope for analysis or research, remarks Sawsan, and as women age and are no longer the “bright, young faces” of the news, they often struggle to transition to alternate journalistic positions.
Female journalists are often forced to work much harder than their male colleagues to “prove themselves” while accepting reduced salaries”, shares Sawsan. Despite their best efforts, Sawsan explains, women are often less likely than men to be promoted to leadership positions, which can result in power dynamics that set the stage for the type of institutionalized discrimination that Sawsan says she faced, where women are objectified rather than seen as valuable contributors in their fields of expertise.
The UNESCO Amman office is operating under the conviction that communication and media lie at the heart of sustainable development. With the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Jordan, the Communication and Information team is working to strongly contribute to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ensuring a gender-sensitive approach through Goal 5. SDG 5 aims to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
While Sawsan has much to celebrate, she says that the hallmarks of discrimination are embedded within her professional experiences. As the UN Agency with the specific mandate to promote “the free flow of ideas by word and image”, UNESCO is working to ensure that the views of all members of society - irrespective of gender - are reflected in the media. 7iber’s assessment will work towards this goal, encouraging media organizations to develop gender-responsive internal institutional policies, including gender-responsive editorial policies in journalistic content.