United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women

Online Discussion

"Participation and access of women to the media
and their impact on and use as an instrument
for the advancement and empowerment of women"

26 August to 27 September 2002

Week Two Summary

"Access, employment, decision-making"

It's been a stimulating week discussing the topic "Access, employment, decision-making." We received 21 contributions from West Asia, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe. In this summary, I have again clustered the contributions according to the answers and analysis they provide on the following issues:

  1. Obstacles to women's advancement within the media
  2. Strategies and initiatives that have been adopted to overcome obstacles to women's advancement in media and to redress the gender imbalance in decision-making and policy-making positions in the media
  3. Impact of media advocacy and lobbying actions on women's access to and employment in the media
  4. Gender employment patterns in the newly emerging media

Obstacles to women's advancement within the media

There is a general observation among the discussants that there has been a considerable increase in the number of women entering the media profession in the recent years. Moreover, as experiences in Kenya, the Philippines, India, and a number of Pacific countries reveal, more women are now holding senior positions in print as well as in the broadcast media. However, there is also a general observation that a balance has not yet been reached. There is still a clear gender imbalance in senior decision-making and policy-making positions. Following are some of the obstacles to women's advancement identified in the discussion:

At least three discussants pointed out the management perception that women's productivity decreases when they take on reproductive roles as an obstacle to women's advancement within the media.

The traditional/cultural pressures from the home environment was also cited as another obstacle. An observation that is shared by Nina Ratulele from the Pacific, Nkechi Nwankwo from Nigeria, Miral Tawfik from Egypt, and Anjali Mathur from India is that women are expected to play their traditional roles as wives and mothers and not work the hours that come with working in the media. Such pressure is also exerted on young women who are not encouraged to accept work challenges such as traveling to take up foreign assignments. Young men, on the other hand, readily grab such opportunities.

"We have several members in our Network of Women in Media, India, who still have to fight with their families to continue in journalism. The main objection is to the late hours and to the fact that the job necessarily involves a lot of interaction with men!" -Anjali Mathur, India

Moreover, some employers in media organizations/media enterprises are reluctant to provide benefits such as extended maternity leave and flexible time arrangements. This, despite the recognition that women work just as hard, if not much harder than men.

Citing her personal experience of the glass ceiling when she was offered the position of a Resident Editor (which is one notch lower than 'Editor') despite her qualifications, Anjali Mathur noted the perception among employers that women are cheaper and more malleable than men. In this particular case, Anjali was paid a lower salary than the man who was doing the same job earlier. The lack or absence of support system for women-whether from home or from the media organizations/media enterprises-that takes into account work and family balance was also seen as an obstacle.

Nkechi Nwankwo from Nigeria pointed out the seemingly endless cycle of women's marginalization within the media when she said "A major obstacle to women's advancement in the media is that they get pigeon-holed into covering only those "soft" beats that do not really count for the male decision-makers during promotion time."

Leonie Morgan from Australia spoke about the strong influence of the old boys' network which is so much in place and the lack of women role models or mentors as added obstacles to women's advancement to senior decision-making positions in the media.

The lack of proactive support from government was also mentioned as an obstacle.

"Australia is one of only two developed countries without a national paid maternity leave scheme. At present public and industry support for such a scheme is growing, and it is also supported by the opposition parties and the unions. The Government has refused to support any proposals. The Government, as part of its downgrade of its relationship with UN human rights treaty bodies, has also refused to sign the Optional Protocol to the Women's Convention. This is an interesting intersection between race and gender, because the refusal was sparked by criticism of Australia's refugee policy. It reflects a conservative backlash which has seen, on the gender front, the issue of families come to the forefront rather than women's work." - Nicola Joseph

Juliet Capati from Lebanon raised women's lack of access to information regarding opportunities for advancement to senior posts in media and lack of the necessary training as additional hindrance to women's advancement in the media.

Dorothy Otieno from Kenya asserts that the progression of women in the media is inhibited by the fact that the major decision makers are still non-gender sensitized males and therefore lobbying and training aimed at sensitizing them on gender issues must continue.

In the community radio sector, Bianca Miglioretto informed us that attempts at establishing a women's quota in decision-making positions (except for the permanent representative from the Women's International Network (WIN)) within the World Association for Community Broadcasters (AMARC) have been turned down.

Last, but not the least, Bayo Omolola from Gambia shared similar observations by enumerating the following factors that contribute to the inadequate representation of women in the media in Africa:

  1. Lack or inadequate professional education of many women;
  2. Women's fear of the risks involved in the media practice, especially journalism;
  3. Ownership of numerous media organizations by men;
  4. Women's lack of funds to invest in media businesses;
  5. Lack of parents' interest in female education in traditional and primitive society;
  6. Men's remote control and interest to dominate the scene; and
  7. Lack of government policies to indicate the percentage of men and women that should own or work in the media organizations.

Strategies and initiatives to overcome obstacles to women's advancement within the media

Following are some of the strategies to promote women's advancement in the media presented by this week's discussants:

The experience of the Australian Women's Broadcasting Collective (AWBC) back in 1975 provided excellent examples of what can be achieved in establishing strong women's networks within the media. The AWBC lobbied for change within the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that resulted in the hiring and promotion of women to middle management level; establishment of a workplace childcare center; provision of radio and television training for women; and in changing the management culture of the organization.

Another strategy that can be learned from the AWBC experience that was shared by Nicola Joseph is the establishment of a mentoring system which includes participation in policy and management meetings, selection committees and interaction with other officers in the media organization.

Leonie Morgan, manager of the Women Working in Television Project in Australia, provided us with a good example of what can be achieved by partnership and networking between women media practitioners and the government. She informed us of the discussions and the skills development workshops they have organized for television producers and for women working in technical areas. Leonie also mentioned the books they have published and are currently working on which can serve as practical references for women in media.

The value of networking and solidarity-building was likewise underscored by Pamela Bhagat from India. Indian women journalists came together earlier this year where they identified the following steps that should be urgently taken:

  • Media organizations must incorporate gender justice and equity in all organizational policies.
  • All benefits and employment rights of women journalists must be protected.
  • The Supreme Court directive on sexual harassment must be implemented by media organizations.
  • Media should increase coverage of gender and developmental issues. - Media organizations and journalists should evolve and observe an appropriate code of ethics. - Organizations that protect the rights of media workers and institutions that uphold the independence and integrity of the media must be strengthened.

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls from Fiji suggested providing more assistance to women in management and decision-making positions including those in middle management- for them to best develop their managerial skills which reflect the values we are trying to promote-[e.g., providing equal chance for women to reach senior positions]. Sharon also raised the need to support NGO initiatives [in promoting women's advancement within the media particularly in their efforts to gender-sensitize] journalism schools. This, according to her will be a most useful way to engage young women entering the workforce in discussions and help them understand 'the gender debate.'

The inclusion of gender issues in all management training for women and men in the media is another strategy that was suggested.

The provision of training in media production such as the one on TV documentary production sponsored by UNESCO in the Pacific and in Nigeria was also cited as a good strategy for promoting women's advancement within the media. It was stressed however, that such training initiatives should be sustained given the fact that there is a high turn-over of staff in most media organizations. It was also noted by the discussants that the initiatives that seem to work best are those that are multi-pronged targeting various levels of decision-making in the news organization. The conduct of gender sensitivity workshops for women in decision-making positions, in educational institutions, especially management schools and mass communication colleges is another strategy identified. It was noted however, that such workshops should be part of a regular training programme and not just conducted on a one-off basis.

A further strategy is to assist government in addressing the current gaps and this will entail the conduct of:

  1. basic women and media skills training focusing on the relationship of the two concepts; and
  2. resource generation to ensure that national machineries for women are able to develop, produce and disseminate information on issues relating to the implementation of [international instruments that address women and media issues such as the] Beijing Platform for Action.

Monitoring and ensuring the representation of indigenous women and women from non-European backgrounds in management positions in the media is another strategy identified in the discussion. This, according to two discussants from Australia, is imperative in countries which are as culturally diverse as theirs.

Radio Lora, a community radio in Switzerland established a 50% quota for women in all decision-making position as a strategy. However, since community radio work is voluntary, the station finds it difficult to fill up all the positions because these days, women need to work longer hours to earn their living than 10 years ago.

The reservation of 50% of the slots for women in all mixed-gender training offered by AMARC is another strategy. This, along with organizing among its women members resulted in the election of a woman president and increase in the number of women representatives in current AMARC International Board.

Impact of media advocacy and lobbying actions on women's access to and employment in the media

Bianca Miglioretto form Switzerland informed us that due to lobbying and pressure from women's [groups], gender equality offices were established in national TV and Radio networks in her country. Women moved up to management level and into the news rooms-taking responsibility for hard news, such as politics, economics, sports etc. However, as may also be observed in the case of Australia, certain aspects of production have been privatized in the recent times [with the government giving] the argument of budget constraints and that the gender is now mainstreamed so that gender equality offices are no longer necessary. Moreover, the women at the management level who have left were replaced by men. Even the well-known women's programme Lipstick was abolished with the management saying that the whole programme is now gender mainstreamed.

Juliet Capati from Lebanon cited the sharing and dissemination of information on opportunities for women in the media. She gave the example of placing advertisement in local newspapers as well as announcements in radio stations on particular posts which may exist either in the media or in the private sector thus, inviting a number of applicants which may be interested in them.

The Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) trains journalists and editors to be gender sensitive. "Our discussions have shown that lack of knowledge on women's issues makes some journalists gender-insensitive, thereby dismissing any issues about women-[including gender equality in employment] as unimportant," says Pamela Mburia.

The lobbying and advocacy of the Australian Women's Broadcasting Collective resulted into the setting up of a significant freelance budget for the Women's Unit of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). The funds enabled the Women's Unit to offer women outside the organization the chance to produce programs. Women from minority groups were able to come up with media productions because of this-a concrete way to overcome the barrier of getting into a mainstream media organization like the ABC. The Australian Film Commission, through its Indigenous Program has supported the development and funding of several award-winning productions involving film makers from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

The gender employment patterns in the newly emerging media

Anjali Mathur from India shared her observation that there has not been any meaningful change in the new media where women are concerned. The managerial and senior positions continue to be hogged by men. In addition, The content is frivolous and shows even less sensitivity to gender than the traditional media.

However, Anjali also recognizes that more opportunities have opened up for women, particularly younger women, since training in these new technologies is easily available (at least in Indian towns) and, if one can afford a PC, one can even work from home. She also cited the immense possibilities for gender advocacy and networking using the new media. The Network of Women in Media in India in fact, plans to set up a website which will bring women journalists all over India in closer touch and help in mentoring, sharing of experiences and information, and in imparting professional skills.

Quoting the study "Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing" by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher, Jane Haile from Belgium informed us about the gender disparity in the design and creation of the new information and communication technologies. Consequently, "it is mostly men who reap the lion's share of financial rewards" of this kind of work. Jane also shared the book authors' investigation of the familial, educational and institutional origins of this gender gap and one of which is that children's initial exposure to computing is often through computer games which appeal overwhelmingly to boys as, by and large, men have defined the parameters of play. This pattern of "women in computing as guests in a male-hosted world" is perpetuated through the educational system and into the employment field.

In Switzerland, a trade union for ICT workers was formed recently and a big majority of the founding members are men. Bianca Miglioretto highlighted the fact that so far the [industry leaders] have not done anything to [involve] women of this sector.

Nkechi Nwankwo pointed out that in Nigeria, there is not much by the way of new media because the telecommunications system is still poorly developed and so e-business and e-media are in their infancy.

Other inputs

A number of discussants including Pamela Mburia from Kenya, Nkechi Nwankwo from Nigeria and Sharon Bhagwan Rolls from Fiji stressed the importance of training women NGOs and other women's groups to claim their space as consumers of the media. The training that their respective organizations conduct provide women with skills on how to work with the media and how to package their information to make the news.

Jane Haile put forward a very significant point that highlights the need to explore new approaches in promoting audience activism. "I'd like to refer back to the larger issue of women's representation in the media, by referring to some European data which showed that increase of women's share of media jobs even at senior levels appeared to have little impact on gender representation in media content, and that "decisions about programme genres tend to be determined much more by financial necessity than by preference". The conclusion of this part of the study was that changes in the nature of media content (due to innovations in genre and/or economic transformations) will affect the number of women in media industries, rather than the reverse being the case."

We also received additional inputs from Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Kenya,the Philippines, Poland, Pacific, India, Gambia to the week 1 discussion on policy approaches in media as enabling frameworks which validated most of the earlier observations. Following is a summary of the additional inputs to week 1:

  1. There are no codes of ethics or guidelines that take account of gender in the countries where the discussants come from. In India for instance, media has been working on self regulatory measures which is not binding in nature. Some private media enterprises do have codes of conduct/ethics but, according to Ammu Joseph, most tend to view them as internal documents that they seem reluctant to share with "outsiders." Therefore, it is not clear how far and in what way the codes that do exist take account of gender. The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act of 1986 in India "turned out to be a missed opportunity -- conceptually flawed, vaguely worded and difficult to implement," asserts Ammu. The public television network, Doordarshan, adopted a code for commercial advertising in 1987 which improved upon the Act, taking into account broader concerns about the negative portrayal of women in the media, but did not cover programming (a major lacuna). The Central Board of Film Certification (a.k.a. the Censor Board) has its own set of guidelines although, judging from the majority of the movies emerging from India's enormous and powerful (commercial) film industry, they appear to be observed mainly in the breach. In the Pacific, the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) has promoted discussion on establishing codes of ethics [that includes the formulation of provisions that take account of gender issues]. After a long debate, the members from around the region decided codes were something each country should decide at a national level rather than having one regional code. This was because of the [socio-political, economic, and cultural] diversity of the Pacific region.

  2. There are Media Complaints Committee and Media Councils in different countries that have some guidelines but in some cases, majority of the media workers are not aware of what those guidelines are. Institutions like the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Council of the Media Ethics criticize and publicize drastic cases of violating the codes of ethic by media. [There is no mention, however, if the violations are related to the portrayal of women in the media.]

  3. Lobbying by NGOs and other activists has to some degree influenced media organizations to increase the coverage of women's issues and to come up with guidelines on the portrayal of women in media Many India women's' organisations are initiating media monitoring groups to react and respond in times of necessity. Many women media practitioners are now conscious of gender/media issues and often take the initiative to highlight them in different ways: through media activism, advocacy organisations (some of which include "lay persons") and/or professional associations and unions, through the mainstream media and/or through media journals/websites such as The Hoot (a relatively new Indian media-watch initiative: www.thehoot.org). But a lot more is necessary to be done to sensitize media on gender justice and the women readers about demanding [positive and non-stereotype portrayal of women]. The Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women has an ongoing project - GeMM - Gender Media Monitor. Among the objectives of the group are:
    1. To advocate for change in the way in which women are depicted in the media;
    2. To design and implement awareness training for media practitioners; and
    3. To increase the media literacy and advocacy skills of the media monitor core group.

  4. In Kenya there is an advertising code of ethics that stipulates that all ads must conform to society norms and not offend public morality.

  5. The regulations and rules concerning the Internet in Kenya are in the drafting stages. In the case of Poland, there is no publicly recognized codes of conduct/ethics that cover the new media. In instances where there are rules connected to the discussion on Internet forums run by major Polish portals, one would not find any reference to gender.

  6. There is a need to determine if the media and the public at large do understand the need for these codes or the need even to change the way we portray women in media and advertising. Maritess Sison from the Philippines argued that there are still many professional journalists who do not see what the discussion on media codes is all about. She cited her experience of working with a daily newspaper wherein female editors were the ones responsible for puttings photographs of scantily-clad stars in the front page. Marites stressed that there is a large gap that needs to be filled before we even begin to discuss what should be in the code of conduct. Media practitioners need to first understand "what the fuss is all about" and how changing the current situation will produce better journalism.

Thank you very much to all those who participated in the second week of the DAW online discussion on women and media including those who read the postings. Special thanks also go to those who contributed to the week 1 topic on policy approaches in media as enabling frameworks.

You may note that because of the excessive length of this summary, I have not included a separate section on recommendations. I assure you however, that the recommendations (which will be mainly based on the strategies identified) and all the other inputs that I have edited will be included in the final report. However, if you think you will need the recommendations written out separately from the strategies, to move on to the next topic of discussion, please let me know so I can post them.

For those who were not able to participate in this week's discussion, you are most welcome to share your ideas in the coming weeks. Looking forward to another vibrant week of sharing and exchanging experiences, ideas, views, and opinions.

Warm regards,

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza

Go to summaries for week: One , Two , Three , Four , Five
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Division for the Advancement of Women -- DAW

Website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations