19 Mar 2021 UN member states must address gender representation in the news, says GMMP co-ordinator
The news media are “downplaying women’s leadership during the greatest health crisis of our time,” said Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) global co-ordinator Sarah Macharia during a virtual informal meeting of the 65th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women March 17.
“Women are 1 in 4 of persons interviewed as experts and spokespersons in news stories related to the pandemic, yet studies abound on how women are driving the Covid-19 response in their institutional leadership capacities as well as informally within their communities,” she said, noting preliminary results of the 2020 GMMP. Macharia was one of the panelists at the meeting on “Building alliances for women’s full and effective participation in public life.”
Macharia stressed that news media can help change negative stereotypes about women in leadership through fair and balanced portrayal, representation and treatment.
“Journalists tap people they perceive as leaders to give expert opinion on issues or to speak on behalf of groups as spokespersons,” she said.
She noted that who the news media portray as leaders “has changed at a snail’s pace” in the quarter century that the GMMP has collected statistics worldwide. And while the upward trends are “encouraging” they still don’t adequately reflect the reality of women’s leadership.
Three out of 10 leaders in business are women but only 21% of those appearing in the news as business executives. Women are 24% of parliamentarians globally compared to only 18% of those represented in this capacity in the news.
Media monitoring of elections coverage also reveal gendered treatment of candidates and their campaigns, she said. “Women get far less coverage and when they do, the media tend to remain silent on policy issues and focus instead on the women’s appearance or their private life. When women do attain public office, sexist and biased media treatment follows them throughout their careers.”
There have been a few countries working to effect change, said Macharia. She cited Argentina, whose ombudsperson presented recommendations for the treatment of political violence based on gender in the media; this is in addition to incorporating political violence in the National Comprehensive Protection Law in 2019 to prevent and punish violence against women. Mexico’s Senate approved Olimpia’s law, which punishes digital violence, bans the sharing of “sexual content” without the subject’s consent and bans the promotion of sexist stereotypes and hate messages online. These developments are significant, she said, since “misogynistic and sexist stereotypes on digital media platforms affect 75% of women Internet users and according to the ITU [International Telecommunication Union) more than 4 out of 10 women MPs.”
Macharia called on Member States to include issues of gender representation in the news into their regulatory frameworks for print, broadcast and digital media.
Media have a critical role to play in debunking negative stereotypes about women and historically marginalized groups through fair portrayal of both groups, of those aspiring for leadership positions, and those in positions of leadership in politics, in business and economy and in communities, she added.