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Media’s role in countering gender stereotyping

Author: Olga Komarova | 9. April 2021

On March 25, GFMD hosted an NGO parallel event at the 65th Commission on the Status of Women (NGO CSW65) together with CFI, Fondation Hirondelle, Free Press Unlimited, International Media Support, and Sembramedia. In line with the core CSW65 theme (women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life), the event focused on gender stereotyping and the role news media can play in creating and countering it.

Media’s portrayal of women and girls has the potential to shape cultural norms and expectations on gender’s role in society, potentially excluding women from full and effective participation in public life. This can be seen through portrayal of women as care-givers, victims, or dependents, in contrast to men’s portrayal as professional, independent leaders. The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP)’s latest preliminary results have highlighted that – despite some progress – news media remains a far from equal space for women and historically marginalised groups. Despite this, the project reported that at present 48% of televised news is being reported by women, an increase on 38% in 2015. However, in 80 out of the 100 countries analysed as part of the project, women were sorely lacking as sources and subjects in the news – making women’s voices significantly underrepresented in world news.

The session, moderated by Joyce Barnathan, President of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), featured input and discussion from:

Throughout the discussion, panelists highlighted pragmatic solutions to countering gender stereotyping and empower women in the media industry, several of which can be found below.

Educate Newsrooms

Motunrayo Alaka, Founder of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, noted the importance of training women in newsroom leadership positions to understand the power that they have, contrary to the line commonly promoted by stereotypes. Ensuring female reporters and media leaders understand their power and ability allows them to influence newsrooms in a way that combats gender stereotyping and ensures women’s voices are heard and fairly reflected. Expanding on this, it is vital that journalists are educated on the nuances on issues related to gender. In order to effectively counter gender stereotyping in the media, journalists must understand the value of gender-equal portrayal and the effect it can have on the representation of women and girls in society. Not only does this offer a potential route to counter gender-stereotyping, it may also play a key role in contributing to the long-term sustainability of news organisations. A more diverse newsrooms producing content for a more diverse audience is more likely to attract a larger and broader readership.

Source Women’s Voices

According to Motunrayo Alaka, journalists – whether intentional or not – have a tendency to repeat sources and use the same pool of experts. While understandable, this can lead to a perpetuation of gender imbalance in the media and, in turn, gender stereotyping. Journalists have an obligation to keep a log of expert females sources in all fields. Newsrooms should develop their own source guide of females experts so they can recommend new sources that can offer a fresh and balanced perspective.

Speak the Language of the People

From an advertising perspective, Melanie Tobal, Founder of Publicitarias.org, noted that marketing teams regularly view gender stereotyping as merely a trend, something to consider in the production of content or to discuss briefly in workshops. They rarely acknowledge the complexity of the issue and its potential to spill over into other major problems such as gender-based violence.

To combat this, media and advertisers need to start at a basic level of illustrating the issue of gender-stereotyping and why it must be stopped. Starting at this level, with creative, often comedic content that challenges stereotypes and highlights its real-life impact on women and girls in society allows media to create a foundation of understanding to prevent the proliferation of stereotyping.

Education is Key for LGBTQ+ Stories

Speaking on challenging stereotyping in LGBTQ+ stories, Brian Pellot, Founding Director of Tamboom Media, notes that not everyone is educated on how to tell stories on issues faced by sexual and gender minorities. For journalists looking to avoid proliferating the stereotyping of these vulnerable minority groups, the bar is relatively low. It is vital that they learn and understand the terminology used by these groups. Additionally, journalists must acknowledge and learn the unique safety concerns faced by gender and sexual minorities. Journalists covering LGBTQ+ stories must consider issues around informed consent and the safety of their sources, with specific focus on unique local contexts.

Fund Changes from Within

Funders and donors can play a major role in challenging gender stereotyping. While changes must come from within, donors can support news organisations in their efforts to end gender stereotyping in the media, says Chiara Adamo, Head of “Gender Equality, Human Rights and Democratic Governance”, DEVCO. Funding can be used to incentivise newsrooms to implement training programmes to develop ethical standards on gender-sensitive reporting.

As a concrete example, the EU’s “Creative Europe” programme requires all potential beneficiaries to commit to gender equality in company strategies before receiving funding. This particular model can be replicated and applied to media funding around the world.

Implementing International Regulation

When considering regulations to counter gender stereotyping in media, it is imperative that they do not infringe on other human rights, particularly the right to freedom of opinion and expression. However, there is potential for regulatory framework to play a key role in challenging stereotyping and its negative impact on women and girls. As an example, the EU’s Audiovisual Media Service Directive ensures that broadcasts in all EU Member States do not contain content which incites hatred or violence on grounds of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Furthering this, regulatory frameworks can be developed to introduce common definitions of hate-speech against women and girls and, as a result, can see the introduction of common sanctions for those who commit hate-speech.

For further information on this topic, a full recording of the NGO CSW session can be found here.


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