Women and the Media

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You could go to a film, switch on the TV, tune in to the radio, turn the pages of a magazine, or surf online. Regardless of your choice of media, you’d have a good chance of encountering stereotypes that perpetuate gender discrimination.

Women in all types of media tend to be thin and sexualized. They talk less than men. They have fewer opinions. And they are far less likely, in the entertainment industry, to play roles as leaders or professionals, or even as women who work for a living.

Research spanning more than 100 countries found that 46 per cent of news stories, in print and on radio and television, uphold gender stereotypes. Only 6 per cent highlight gender equality. Behind the scenes, men still occupy 73 per cent of top media management positions, according to another global study spanning 522 news media organizations. While women represent half of the world’s population, less than one third of all speaking characters in film are female. Cyberviolence has extended the harassment and stalking of women and girls to the online world.

Twenty years ago, 189 UN Member States recognized the central role of media in shifting the gender stereotypes that influence how we think and act. They made women and media one of 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, and called on media everywhere to make a far greater contribution to women’s advancement.

WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY

They agreed that the number of women in the media must increase, including in decision-making. More should be done to present women as leaders and role models, and to abandon stereotypes. Encouraging women’s training, adopting professional guidelines to reduce discrimination, and establishing media watch groups for monitoring were among measures to move forward. Women’s involvement in information and communications technologies and media networks, including electronic networks, were also highlighted as a means of strengthening women’s role in democratic processes.

There has been some progress since the Beijing Conference. The percentage of stories reported by women has edged up in most issue areas, and women are among the most active social media users. But even a cursory look at media content shows how far there is to go.

Women have an equal right to participate in public debate, including in the media, and offer insights and ideas that must be heard. Everyone deserves to live free from the burden of harmful gender stereotypes.

The media shapes our world—but so do women, as powerful agents of change in all areas of society. It is time for media to reflect this reality.

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Fast facts

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In the words of...

Geena Davis – The time is now for media to make the future – on-screen and off-screen

Geena Davis
Photo courtesy of Geena Davis

Academy and Golden Globe Award-winning actor Geena Davis is a long-standing advocate for increased and diverse representation of women in film and within the entertainment industry. She is the Founder and Chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, working with media and entertainment companies through research, education, and advocacy programmes to improve how girls and women are portrayed on-screen. The Institute released the first-ever global study on female characters in popular films in 2014, with support from UN Women and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Read her article »

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Editor's picks

Gender balance as a business imperative: A Q&A with Matt Winkler, Bloomberg News

Matt Winkler
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Where: U.S.A.
Organization: UN Women

As Editor-in-Chief of Bloomberg News, Matt Winkler oversaw a dedicated strategy to increase gender balance in both the newsroom itself and in the organization’s editorial coverage. In a wide-ranging interview, he reflects on how and why they pursued this transformative strategy, and its successes and challenges.

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Reading between the lines: Moldovan journalists embrace balanced reporting

UN Women Moldova
Photo: UN Women/Iurie Mardari

Where: Moldova
Organization: UN Women

After gender sensitivity training and follow-up self-assessment exercises run by UN Women, coverage of women has nearly doubled in 17 print and online Moldovan media outlets.

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Underrated, underreported: Working women in Pakistan

ILO photo
Photo: ILO

Where: Pakistan
Organization: ILO

Gender stereotypes are common in Pakistani media and continue to make it difficult for women to play an equal role in the country’s workforce. A recent ILO project focuses on Pakistani journalists themselves, using media to re-shape public perception about working women.

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Adjusting the frequency: Women on the airwaves

Radio Canada
Photo: Karine Poirier

Where: Global
Organization: UN Women

As World Radio Day is observed globally, we highlight how UN Women and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters are raising awareness of critical issues through a series of co-productions for the Beijing+20 anniversary.

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Media to play key role in eliminating FGM

Where: Africa
Organization: UNFPA, the Guardian

In 2014, UNFPA launched a global campaign with the Guardian to improve media coverage on female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa. As part of the campaign, the Pan African Award for Reportage on FGM will be granted annually to an African reporter who has shown innovation and commitment in covering the practice.

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The Autocomplete Truth - Ad series reveals widespread sexism

UN Women autocomplete truth
Photo: Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai

Where: Online
Organization: UN Women, Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai

A series of ads, developed as a creative idea for UN Women by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai, uses genuine Google searches to reveal the widespread prevalence of sexism and discrimination against women. The ads expose negative sentiments ranging from stereotyping as well as outright denial of women’s rights.

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Related video »

The power of radio helps ease the hardship of Somali refugee granny

UNHCR photo
Photo: UNHCR/D. Mwancha

Where: Kenya
Organization: UNHCR

In northern Kenya, a community radio station funded by UNHCR is working to help struggling refugees at camps in Dadaab, attracting donations from across the globe and support from the local population. One story in particular, about an older Somali woman, has touched hearts everywhere, thanks to the efforts of a station reporter.

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Data visualization – Talking about equality between men and women

Data visualization
Photo: UN Global Pulse

Where: Online
Organization: UN Global Pulse, UN Millennium Campaign, DataSift

UN Global Pulse and the UN Millennium Campaign team up to harness the power of online communications technologies to reveal what global development topics everyday people are talking about. Sifting through real-time data on Twitter, this interactive visualization reveals social conversations around a number of set topics, including equality between men and women.

View visualization »

Changing the landscape for women in media

UNESCO Editor's Picks
Photo: © IWMF/Matthew VanDyke

Where: Global
Organization: UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) works on a number of initiatives worldwide to promote equality between women and men working in media. In this line-up, UNESCO highlights sample activities it has engaged in to support gender balance through various media, from the the development of gender-sensitive indicators to conducting a global survey on the topic.

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Related link: Women Make the News: Let the Images of Women Speak!

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Resources