Nimra Ali Afraaz

In the mid-1970s, pioneering academics made the first systematic analysis of women’s relationship to and visibility in the mass media and in their ground-breaking study, they used the term ‘symbolic annihilation to describe what they found. Almost 40 years later, most gender and media scholars would suggest that progress has stalled, and there is significant work left to be done, including in relation to mainstream media. Women still feature less frequently than men in news discourse; women journalists and media professionals are often locked out of the more prestigious beats, and their occupation of senior positions within media organizations is still minimal. According to the Global Media Monitoring Report in threats. 2015 women made up only one in four media decision-makers, one in three reporters and one in five experts interviewed.

Around the globe, women journal ists and female media workers face offline and online attacks putting their safety at risk these attacks can range from violence, stigmatization, sexist The role of women in media

revolves around the four axes of media: media freedom, media plural- ism, media independence, and media safety. Women in media do not face the same difficulties and threats as men, but also experience gender inequali ties, safety issues, or under representation.

Women in media:

Women in media are individuals who icipate in media. Media are the collective communication outlets or tools used to store and deliver information or data.

Safety of women journalists:

Safety of journalists is the ability for journalists and media professionals to receive, produce and share informa- tion without facing physical or moral

hate speech, trolling, physical assault, rape to even murder. In addition to being targeted on the basis of their work as journalists, they are also the targets of gender-based violence.

Studies have shown that female journalists are targeted online signifi cantly more than their male col leagues, and that the threats they face are highly sexualized, focused on their physical features, ethnicity, or cultural background, rather than on the content of their work. As a result, these threats tend to silence women journal ists’ voices and to deplete freedom of speech by interrupting valuable investigative journalist work. They also distort the media landscape by threatening diversity and perpetuat ing inequalities both in newsrooms and in societies.

A 2014 global survey of nearly 1,000 journalists, initiated by the International News Safety Institute (INSI) in partnership with the International Women’s Medial Foundation (IWMF) and with the support of UNESCO, found that nearly two-thirds of women who took part in the survey had experienced intimidation, threats or abuse in the workplace.

In the period from 2012 through 2016, UNESCO’s Director-General denounced the killing of 38 women journalists, representing 7 per cent of all journalists killed. The percentage of journalists killed who are women is significantly lower than their overall representation in the media. workforce. This large gender gap is likely partly the result of the persistent under-representation of women reporting from war-zones or insurgen cies or on topics such as politics and crime.

The Guardian surveyed the 70 million comments recorded on its website between 1999 and 2016 (only 22,000 of which were recorded before 2006). Of these comments, approxi mately 1.4 million (approximately two per cent) were blocked for abusive or disruptive behavior. Of the 10 staff journalists who received the highest levels of abuse and ‘dismissive troll ing’, eight were women.

The INSI and IWMF survey found that more than 25 per cent of ‘verbal, written and/or physical intimidation their work valued to the same extent as including threats to family and friends’ took place online.

Media freedom:

men. In many newsrooms around the world, there continues to be a culture that makes it difficult for women to progress. In such workplaces, harass- Media freedom is the freedom to ment is common, and a lack of moni- participate in media, the rights of toring means that even with gender expression, and access to and produc- equality policies in place, they are tion of media content. These are all often ineffective in challenging

only by considering their gender Under-representation of women:

issues that can be fully understood gender discrimination. equality dimensions as they often overlap, and they have been com pounded by the growing complexity equality with men, nor do they have

A related challenge has been the absence of women’s voices as an issue of the digital sphere. Across all these in media freedom, including in issues, women do not enjoy full internet governance policy-making more generally. This ongoing issue appears to have stagnated in recent

years. The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Dynamic Coalition on Gender and Internet Governance, which pushes for recognition of the gendered issues relating to internet governance, reports that although women’s participation at the 2015 IGF reached close to parity, women were still underrepresented in discussion and debates: only 37 per cent of panelists were women, a decline from 40 per cent the previous year.

In organizations, such as the Internet Association for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), senior leadership positions remain largely dominated by men. In 2017, ICANN’s board of directors consisted of four women and 16 men. Minimizing the divide between the number of women and men in senior decision-making roles in relation to internet gover- nance is an important step to ensuring that gender-based issues relating to access, privacy and security are prioritized.

International recognition:

The existence of problems regard- ing gender and media pluralism has inequality. also been recognized by regional and international organizations and agencies over several decades. In 2010, UNESCO developed a comprehensive set of Gender-Sensitive Indicators for Media, aimed at encouraging media organizations to benchmark them- selves against equality criteria. In 2013, the Council of the European Parliament adopted the recommenda- tion made by the European Institute for Gender Equality, that the media industry should adopt and implement gender equality indicators relating to

women in decision-making, gender equality policies and women boards.132) on

During the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in 2016, United Nations (UN) Women launched a new partnership with major media organizations to draw attention to and act on the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, which aims to eradicate all forms of

Many feminist media scholars have argued that what we see in front of the camera is determined to some extent issues. by who is behind the camera and there is some reason to believe that more women in the newsroom would produce news that is more diverse. Several studies, including the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), show that women journalists are more likely to source women in their stories than men, leading to more balanced reporting which is better able to reflect the views of more and diverse commu-


According to Sarah Macharia, even if more women appear in media, there may be limited impact on the entrenched biases and stereotypes present in media content. This can promote narrow gender roles that limit the choices and options available to everyone. This is why many actors. continue to encourage all media workers to become more gender sensitive through training and inter nal policies that monitor coverage and promote greater awareness of gender

A number of formal and informal networks of women media profession als also support women in the media. One of the oldest is the Alliance for Women in Media (AWM), originally established in 1951 as American Women in Radio and television, which supports women across all media to expand their networks, participate in training and professional develop ment and celebrate their talents.

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