Why does gender equality in the media matter? Media shape our daily lives, infusing their messages into our social consciousness and impacting our behaviours and values. Unfortunately, media outlets too often perpetuate unrealistic, stereotypical and limiting perceptions of men and women. They reflect and sustain socially endorsed views of gender, emphasize traditional roles and sometimes contribute to normalizing violence against women.
Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) reveals that women make up only 24% of the people heard, read about or seen in the news, and this trend of underrepresentation has carried over from traditional news media to online outlets. Moreover, despite the growing numbers of women in the profession, they still have relatively little decision-making power inside media organizations.
Many complex factors contribute to this exclusion of women’s voices in the media. However, they are most often deeply embedded in the way news is gathered and produced and in cultural practices. Such ingrained practices are difficult, but not impossible, to change.
Since last two decades, after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which highlighted for the first time the critical role of media in the attainment of gender equality and women’s empowerment, this study provides first-hand insights into how issues of gender impact the lives and work of journalists in Asia and the Pacific.
What does a snapshot of gender in the region’s media scene look like today? What is the position of women in news production and in the management of media outlets? What are their working conditions and career development opportunities? What challenges do they face? These questions are the focus of this report and hopefully the answers contained herein will contribute towards gender equality and women empowerment in and through the media.
The Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, world leaders agreed that the women’s equal participation in and access to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication should be assured. They also agreed that a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media must be promoted in ending gender-based discrimination. Yet, twenty two years later, globally only 27% of top management jobs in media organizations are held by women, only 21% of filmmakers are women and only 23% of films feature a woman protagonist. We also see that the feminization of poverty is both a cause and a consequence of women’s limited access to and control over information and communication technology world-wide.
Social media is influential in ways that were unimaginable 20 years ago, in ways both negative and positive. They allow women and females to express themselves and influence political, social and cultural attitudes and actions, unmediated by patriarchy. Through these channels men and women who share this vision for an equal world- organise and are building a global movement of solidarity for gender equality while challenging a host of other intersecting inequalities. However, we are also seeing a rise and perpetuation of gender biases, misogyny and on-line abuse. Negative portrayals of women and false images of ‘perfection’ are causing young girls and boys to retreat into adverse behaviours and reinforce gender stereotypes. The media both reflects and shapes social norms and values. But despite this penetrating influence, their impact on gender related norms and practices as well as women’s engagement in media bodies receives limited attention in research.
In many countries across the Asia and the Pacific region, there has been a progressive and positive growth in the numbers of women in newsrooms, working as freelancers and in the online space as bloggers and writers. But the IFJ is acutely aware that the media is still very male dominated when the top positions are examined and in determination of what and who makes the news.
We also know that women continue to be marginalised in the news, both in context of the work they do and in the opportunities they have to make their way through the profession and in the unions that represent them. The situation for those women in remote and regional locations or coming from an ethnic or religious minority or disadvantaged caste is even more challenged.
The “Research Study on Media and Gender in Asia-Pacific” a project undertaken by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and supported by UNESCO and UN Women in seven countries in the Asia-Pacific region (South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific): Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu shows that media companies are largely led and governed by men – most editors are male, as are owners of news media, with women more likely to be in mid-level rather than top management.
The trends are similar in regional language media such as Urdu media, in Pakistan and India, both print and electronic where sexist images of women and derogatory language are more prevalent compared to English media. There is no law against sexual harassment in the workplace in countries like Vanuatu, where violence in the private sphere, is normalised. Unions in the countries of the region mostly represent interests of male journalists and women do not see utility in the unions for raising issues with respect to their working conditions.
Conflicts in many parts of the region has meant that the reality of women in these areas is very hard to cover. Impunity has reigned in Sri Lanka, with several unresolved murders, abductions and assaults, targeting Tamil journalists and media workers. One key trend in the region has been the increasing tendency to hire journalists on a freelance basis, without access to paid leave and other entitlements.