The World Association of Christian Communication's (WACC) ongoing global news media study shows that women are consistently under-represented - findings that connect to ways women are marginalized in society.
Evidence of discrimination, such as violence against women, will be a topic of discussion leading up to the 57th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), taking place in New York from 4 to 15 March, 2013, said WACC Programme Manager Dr Sarah Macharia.
Macharia spoke on the topic "Communication rights and gender" at a workshop presented at a conference titled "Communication Rights for All – Communication rights and media," held at the University of Erlangen, Germany, 7-8 February.
She noted that she has been invited "to participate in an online discussion themed 'transforming social norms to prevent violence against women and girls' and that the findings will be presented at the U.N. on 4 March at an event co-organized by the OECD Development Centre and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.
She also noted that the World Development Report 2012 on gender equality and development found "persistent gender disparities" in "economic activity, earnings, house and care work responsibility, asset ownership and constraints to women's agency in both the private and public spheres."
"Social norms," Macharia said, in other words, "practices, attitudes, behaviours, modes of reasoning that are institutionalized in our everyday lives, our understanding of … what is acceptable and what isn't."
Social norms are constituent components of culture, "which is linked to communication in intimate and complex ways," she said. Communication content that presents hypermasculine or hyperfeminine views contributes to a logic "that accepts skewed gender power relations and the resultant injustices as natural, normal and beyond reproach."
WACC's Global Media Monitoring Project has studied women's representation in the news media every five years since 1995, Macharia pointed out. The 2010 study found that only 24% of the people heard or read about in print, radio and television news are female, with 76% being male. "This is a significant improvement from 1995 when only 17% of the people in the news were women. However … the world depicted in the news remains predominantly male." Reality is that at least one half of the world's population is female, she said.
Men are 80% likely to be quoted as spokespersons or experts, whereas women are quoted 44% of the time as ordinary people. Female news subjects are identified by their family status four times more than male news subjects, Macharia said.
In addition, 46% of stories reinforce gender stereotypes and just 6% challenge them. However, progress has been made in all regions, with Latin America deserving special mention for leading with the highest percentage of stories that challenge stereotypes (13%) "after a quadruple increase since 2005," she said.
"To the extent that media are a conduit and shaper of culture, media also hold the power to construct alternative social norms in which women in particular thrive free of discrimination and the stereotypes that limit their abilities and restrain the possibilities available to them," Macharia said.
But research shows a "serious communication rights deficit for women," she noted.
"Asking questions about dominance and subordination, exclusion and marginality, who sets the agenda, who is allowed to participate in discourse and who is silenced, is a first step towards recognizing our possibilities for engagement," she concluded.