United Nations


Commission on the Status of Women

23 January 1996

Fortieth session
11-22 March 1996
Item 5 (a) of the provisional agenda*


                           PRIORITY THEME:  EQUALITY

                 Elimination of stereotyping in the mass media

                        Report of the Secretary-General


      The Commission on the Status of Women, at its thirty-fourth session,
selected "Elimination of stereotyping of women in the mass media" as the
priority theme under the rubric "Equality" for its fortieth session.  The
present report discusses changes in the portrayal of women in the media,
including the increase in the representation of violence, and considers
various measures taken to achieve a more balanced portrayal, building on the
recommendations for action contained in the Beijing Declaration and Platform
for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women.  The report also
discusses recent developments in the communications sector, including
challenges set by new technologies.  Activities carried out by the United
Nations are described.  Issues that need further clarification and
investigation are defined.  A distinction is made between changes that can be
brought about through measures taken from within existing media structures and
those introduced from the outside.

     *   E/CN.6/1996/1.



INTRODUCTION ...............................................    1 - 7       3

      RELATION TO WOMEN'S HUMAN RIGHTS .....................    8 - 10      5

      MEDIA AND THEIR EFFECTS ON WOMEN .....................   11 - 19      5

      A. The challenges of new technologies ...............    13 - 15      6

      B. The media workforce ..............................    16 - 17      7

      C. Alternative media ................................    18 - 19      7

III.  CHANGES IN THE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN ....................   20 - 29      8

      A. Progress and backlash in gender portrayal ........    20 - 23      8

      B. Commercials and advertisements ...................    24 - 25      9

      C. Women in politics ................................     26          9

      D. Increase in the representation of violence, 
         particularly sexual violence, against women ......    27 - 29     10

      REMOVING STEREOTYPES .................................   30 - 52     11

      A. Changes from within the media ....................    31 - 36     11

      B. Changes from outside the media ...................    37 - 49     13

      C. Activities in the United Nations system ..........    50 - 52     16



1.   In the past several decades, the world has witnessed a revolution in the
field of communications - electronic, print, visual and audio.  Progress has
been made in computer technology, satellite and cable television, and global
access to information.  New opportunities for the participation of women in
the communications media and for the dissemination of information about women
have been created.  Yet, in spite of all these developments, progress in
removing stereotyped representations of women in the media has been slow. 
With this in mind, the Commission on the Status of Women, at its thirty-fourth
session, selected "Elimination of stereotyping of women in the mass media" as
the priority theme under the rubric "Equality" for its fortieth session.

2.   In its early days, the women's movement had at its core a critical
attitude towards the mass media, which were held to be deeply implicated in
the patterns of discrimination operating against women in society.  The
critics recognized that the media had the power to change perceptions and
attitudes and might be useful instruments in advancing the status of women and
fostering equality between men and women.  As new means of communication have
increased, the media have become some of the most powerful socializing agents
in modern society, and their role in either shaping stereotypes or promoting a
fair and accurate representation of women is unquestioned.  As stated in the
Beijing Platform for Action "Everywhere the potential exists for the media to
make a far greater contribution to the advancement of women". 1/

3.   Men and women alike are the objects of sex-stereotyping in the media. 
Women are often represented in archetypal feminine and caring roles or as sex
objects.  The stereotyped beauty myth attached to them has been most strongly
criticized by women who face barriers to their advancement for reasons of
race, age, ethnicity and disability.  Early critics simply requested the
removal of stereotyped portrayals or negative images of women, not taking into
account that a value judgement was attached to any critique of so-called
negative and positive images.  The Beijing Platform for Action reflects new
thinking when it states that "Print and electronic media in most countries do
not provide a balanced picture of women's diverse lives and contributions to
society in a changing world". 2/  It asks for a "balanced portrayal of women
and girls in their multiple roles" 3/ and encourages the "use of non-
stereotyped, balanced and diverse images of women in the media". 4/ 

4.   The stereotyping of women in the media and the media's influence on
public opinion about the role of women have received considerable attention in
the work of the United Nations for the advancement of women.  The United
Nations International Decade for Women (1975-1985) was a catalyst for
activities in the field of women and media.  UNESCO initiated the first
international review and research in this area.  The Commission on the Status
of Women has long shown an interest in women and the media, starting with the
period leading to the World Conference of the International Women's Year, held
in Mexico City, in 1975.  In 1979, a special rapporteur was appointed to
undertake a study on the impact of the mass communications media on the
changing roles of men and women; the study was later submitted to the World
Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women, held at Copenhagen in
1980. 5/  It was acknowledged from the beginning that certain deep-rooted
attitudes based on cultural patterns represented serious obstacles to the
advancement of women.  Technical advances in the mass communications media
made it possible to disseminate those attitudes on a large scale.  It was
already recognized that important measures for change should include
monitoring and regulations by Governments in order to advance the
participation of women in the media and reinforce the role of the media as
integrating agents. 

5.   The Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women
emphasize the critical role of the media in advancing the status of women and
their role in development and call for the elimination of exploitative and
stereotyped portrayals of women in various forms of the media, including
advertisements. 6/  The approach to women and the media taken in the
Strategies was limited in its focus on the alternative media, publicly
operated communication networks, and the adverse effects that advertising
could have on attitudes towards and among women.  Although the Strategies
mentioned degrading images of women in articles and programmes disseminated
worldwide, it was only in the first review and appraisal of its
implementation, in 1990, that a link was established between the portrayal of
violence against women in the media and violence against women in the family
and society.  It was recognized that the perpetuation in the mass media of
stereotyped images, in particular the glorification of traditional male and
female roles, delayed women's advancement by providing justification for an
unequal status quo.  In its resolution 1990/15, the Economic and Social
Council insisted that Governments should, in conjunction with women's groups,
take steps to reduce the stereotyping of women in the mass media, whether by
self-policing on the part of the media or by other methods. 

6.   The second review and appraisal of the implementation of the Nairobi
Forward-looking Strategies, in 1995, examined the contribution of the media to
women and development, emphasizing the achievements of the alternative media
and women's contribution to the mainstream media.  It found that the nexus of
women, the media and development was finally being recognized as a central
element of local, national and international action in research, policy-
making, funding and other areas. 7/

7.   Building on previous work and the Toronto Platform for Action, 8/ the
Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, went further when
it considered "women and the media" as one of 12 critical areas of concern. 
The Beijing Platform for Action defines action under two strategic objectives:

     (a) To increase the participation and access of women to expression and
decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of

     (b) To promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the

It clearly identifies the various actors - Governments, national and
international media systems, national machinery for the advancement of women,
non-governmental organizations and media professional associations and the
private sector - responsible for action in the field of women's full and equal
participation in the media and women's access to and use of new media and in
combating stereotyping.  The Beijing Platform takes a strong view of measures
to combat stereotyping, including appropriate legislation against pornography
and the projection of violence against women, and to develop professional
guidelines and codes of conduct which should be consistent with freedom of
expression. 9/  The present report focuses on the second strategic objective
identified in the Platform for Action and discusses measures that can be used
to achieve a more balanced, fairer portrayal of women and girls in their
multiple roles in society and thus ultimately contribute to change in the
portrayal of men and gender relationships. 


8.   Any discussion about regulation of media content faces the need to
provide for respect of the press and freedom of the press and of expression. 
The right to freedom of opinion and expression, which includes the freedom to
hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information
and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers, is contained in article
19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  To have the media free of
State censorship and repression is acknowledged as a condition of a democratic

9.   Freedom of the press and women's rights in terms of the media cannot be
seen in isolation from one another.  If women do not enjoy the same
opportunities for access and expression as men, freedom of the press has not
been achieved.  Women journalists from developing countries have been claiming
that there is a link between the suppression of women in the media and the
attainment of media freedom as a whole. 10/  In certain countries women's
increased participation and visibility in the media, which is a symbol of
their growing involvement in the public sphere, has often made them targets of
gender-specific violence, intolerance and even terrorism.

10.  There is evidence that women journalists working in war zones have
brought new insights to mainstream reporting about conflict.  Women
journalists reporting on the war in the former Yugoslavia, for example,
contributed to the worldwide focus on the systematic rape of women in armed
conflicts and its recognition as a crime of war. 


11.  The structure and the functioning of the media have undergone dramatic
changes in the past two decades, at various levels.  In many of the countries
that previously had public, government-run and State-regulated broadcasting,
the arrival of new electronic media that can easily transmit messages and
programmes across national borders has left national Governments with very
limited or no control.  Market-based self-regulation and technological
developments have made the old media order of regulatory measures, designed by
Governments with the intention of ensuring diversity, fairness and the
protection of minority interests, obsolete.  Many countries have been
confronted with a proliferation of private broadcasting.  In the print media,
the call for democratization has led to radical changes and an increase in
print products in some regions, such as the countries of Central and Eastern

12.  The information revolution continues to perpetuate many inequalities. 
If the global information and communication system has turned the world into a
"global village", the majority of people around the world are not
participating on an equal footing, neither as consumers or producers.  The
changes may have opened doors for women - in particular in access to
information and employment in the media - but inequalities persist, and
stereotyped representation has been carried to a global level.  The increasing
concentration of the media in the hands of a few transnational corporations
with global reach which transmit images and print at a planetary scale has
brought with it the export of cultural models and their codes, perceptions and
prejudices, including gender, cultural and ethnic stereotypes.  Info-
entertainment images coming from a few developed countries are flooding the
most remote areas of the globe.  The process of commercialization has had an
impact on programme content and quality, and communication forms have been
radically changed.  Old distinctions between information and entertainment,
production and distribution are being eroded.  These trends may have a
considerable impact on the future of people living in the global village. 11/ 
Many developing countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America
and the Caribbean have raised concerns regarding the images and messages of
the transnational networks which often stand in stark contrast to local values
and norms and lack social reality and relevance.  The public, however - in
particular, women - often responds favourably to those images and messages.

                    A.  The challenges of new technologies

13.  The boom of new technologies is rapidly transforming traditional means
of communication.  Among the most important new technologies are computer
networks, including visual and print media, which are opening new modalities
of communication, permit interactive communication at the local or global
level and provide access to distant sources of information.  Owing to the
relatively low costs of the basic infrastructure, computer networks are
becoming increasingly accessible in certain developing countries.  The
disparity between regions and between urban and rural areas is increasing. 12/

14.  The new networks have the potential to democratize information and
communications, owing to their interactive and participatory nature, but
questions about women's access and use of them have been raised by women's
groups.  Evidence suggests that fewer women than men master the new
technologies; for example, women make up only about 10 per cent of Internet
users in the United States.  They have unequal access to computers at school
and at home, and the computer environment, including its languages and
operating systems, is often hostile to women. 11/  A number of consumer groups
and particular interest groups have criticized the existence of sexually
explicit material and the depiction of violence against women on the Internet.

15.  During preparations for the Fourth World Conference on Women, women made
increasing use of cyberspace.  As was the case in other global conferences,
the United Nations and the community of non-governmental organizations created
several spaces and on-line instruments for exchanges among women's
organizations.  In order to help disseminate information on the Conference,
the Division for the Advancement of Women, in collaboration with the United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP), established a World-Wide Web site for
the Conference on the Internet.  UNDP also established and coordinated an on-
line conference prior to the Conference, with a Web site, and a gopher server
set-up.  There was a large demand for these services:  160,000 requests for
information came from 68 different countries, in contrast to only 11,000 such
requests during the Social Summit in Copenhagen only six months previously.  

                            B.  The media workforce

16.  Many countries have seen a dramatic increase in women's employment in
the media in the past two decades.  In some countries, the proportion of women
journalists has doubled since the 1970s.  Women have become increasingly
visible in the media, particularly on television.  However, behind the scenes,
they continue to face barriers in their careers and have access only to a
limited number of jobs.  Women's employment in the media is a matter not only
of equal access but also of impact on output in terms of greater
diversification of images and messages, definition of news content and
emphasis and diversification in the portrayal of women and men. 

17.  The discrepancy between women and men in training and employment
opportunities persists.  In a survey of 70 countries, women represented more
than 50 per cent of the communications students in two thirds of the
countries.  Yet they held less than half of the media jobs.  Although they
have become more visible, particularly in radio and television over the past
decade, as presenters, announcers and reporters, they are underrepresented in
production, creative and technical jobs and in top management posts where they
could have an impact on programme content and help ensure a more comprehensive
coverage of women's priority concerns.  In Western European broadcasting
organizations, for example, women are employed in only 5 per cent of the
technical jobs but in up to 50 per cent of the administrative, low-level
secretarial and junior management jobs. 13/

                             C.  Alternative media

18.  In the past decade, most regions have seen a steady growth in women's
alternative media in all forms, with the print media experiencing the earliest
and fastest increase in all regions.  (The term "alternative" can stand for
both alternative use of the media and outside the mainstream media.) 
Independent alternative media controlled by women include written press,
video, film, radio broadcasting and, increasingly, the new communication
technologies.  Traditional communication tools such as street plays, songs and
dance programmes continue to be used to create social and political awareness
among women.  Women have created and used alternative and communicative
channels to support their efforts, defend their rights, diffuse their own
forms of representation and question the dominant model of mainstream culture.

Alternative productions by and for women within the mainstream media have also

19.  Womenşs associations and non-governmental organizations own radio
stations, publishing houses, video and movie production studios.  Radio
broadcasting remains one of the cheapest and most widespread form of media
communication in developing countries.  Feminist International Radio Endeavour
(FIRE), established in 1984, is one example of a successful feminist
broadcasting initiative.  Women's Feature Service (WFS), an independent press
service on women, established in the mid-70s covers a multitude of news on and
for women.  Women's Television Network (WTN) in Canada was launched and
awarded a speciality licence in 1994.  With a workforce that is 98 per cent
female, WTN has specialized in programmes that are of special interest to
women. 14/


                 A.  Progress and backlash in gender portrayal

20.  Despite increased attention to the fair portrayal of women in the media,
there are not many success stories to report.  A variety of monitoring,
enforcement and educational measures in many countries have brought some
changes to the portrayal of women in the media.  A few improvements can be
observed in the increased numbers of female characters, female experts and
news sources, and in the decreased segregation of women into traditional
stereotyped roles.  In many countries, the proliferation of media outlets in
recent years has provided greater opportunity for productions, by, for and
about women. 

21.  However, there has also been resistance and even a significant backlash. 
An analysis of sex roles and stereotypes indicates that women have been
excluded or silenced in many media forms.  Regular media monitoring in Canada
and the United States of America shows relatively slow progress towards equal
representation of women and men in the media.  As part of a global monitoring
exercise in 71 countries in January 1995, 15,500 stories were analysed; it was
found that only 17 per cent of the people interviewed were women and only
11 per cent of the reports dealt with issues of special concern to women or
contained any gender perspective. 11/

22.  A key question is whether the media provide an accurate account of
women's multiple roles in society.  A second question is why does stereotyping
persist despite two decades of research and action aimed at changing it? 
Final media output is shaped by professional norms and values, institutional
structures and processes, perceptions of audience preferences and the demands
of advertisers, which change slowly.  Consequently, the portrayal of women and
men in the media lags behind the reality of women's and men's actual lives and
roles.  The portrayal of women and men in the media mirrors socio-economic
conditions which follow their own rules - in particular the rule of the market
 but they are also an expression of political ideology.  Images of women have
been used as symbols of political aspirations and social change. 11/

23.  The former socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe provide an
example of how stereotyped representation of women can be used as a vehicle
for political ideology.  There, the portrayal of women has gone from one
extreme to the other:  previous images of political and working women have
been replaced, in the democratization process, by images of the fashion model,
beauty queen and mother.  National versions of international glossy fashion
and beauty magazines, previously non-existent, have conquered huge markets in
only a few years.  At the same time, there has been a surge in pornography. 
Pornographic publications reached their peak in 1991-1993, coinciding with
complete freedom of the press.  In Central and Eastern Europe, female images
have been a profitable commodity in the new market economy. 15/

                      B.  Commercials and advertisements

24.  Advertising is one of the most influential institutions of socialization
in modern society.  Many studies confirm the persistence of highly stereotyped
portrayals of women and gender relations in advertising.  By design, messages
transmitted through advertisements are usually based on thorough research of
consumers' preferences and attitudes.  Frequently, both the middle-of-the-road
"clientele" approach addressing prevailing attitudes, and the avant-garde
approach, projecting new images, can be offensive to those who find themselves
represented in an unfair or stereotyped way.  The need for monitoring and
regulation of the images and language used by advertisers has been widely
accepted in democratic societies.  Many women perceive sexist stereotyping and
the exploitation of women's bodies as insulting or degrading and complain that
their concerns have not received enough attention by monitoring bodies which
focus more on honesty, fairness and truthfulness than on gender portrayal.  In
many countries, consumers complain if they feel offended by a certain type of
publicity.  The number of complaints has increased in past years, in reaction
to more aggressiveness in advertising, on one hand, and raised public concern
and use of lobbying mechanisms, on the other.   

25.  Women represent an important market in today's commercial media
environment.  The 25-45 age group and especially professional and middle
management women are the demographic groups whose purchasing power and
influence is most sought.  Advertisers traditionally reached them through
women's magazines, but commercial TV channels with programmes targeting women
have recently begun operation in the United Kingdom, Germany, the United
States and Latin America.  The programmes feature advice, celebrity cults,
tele-novelas and other entertainment programmes that reflect women in
stereotyped roles. 

                             C.  Women in politics

26.  As more women become active in politics, a fair and accurate portrayal
of them in leadership positions has taken on particular relevance.  The number
of women in decision-making positions has steadily increased in the past
years.  In the twentieth century, 25 women have been elected heads of State or
of Government, half of them since 1990, and more women are holding ministerial
positions than ever before.  In 1994, 9 per cent of parliamentarians and
5.6 per cent of cabinet ministers were women.  Yet in the news, stories about
influential women still focus on such exogenous factors as hairstyles and
family situations.  A recent study on the portrayal of women leaders in the
media concluded that they are less visible than their male counterparts in the
news.  Although there seems to be little evidence that journalists employ
simple sex stereotypes when covering new women leaders, it is undeniable that
they frequently give no credit to the women's credentials - their training and
previous experience - but rather present them as outsiders who attained their
status of power by chance, in an interim arrangement, or through family
relations.  When women leaders first rose to power, they were usually
presented as agents of change whose appointment was a breakthrough for all
women.  Thus distinctive demands were put on them, which they had difficulty
in fulfilling. 16/ 

                D.  Increase in the representation of violence,
                    particularly sexual violence, against women

27.  The representation in the media of violence against women, particularly
sexual violence, has increased tremendously in past years.  Television 
deregulation, combined with transborder satellite channels, has resulted in a
10-fold increase in televised pornography over the past decade in Europe. 17/ 

Many productions with explicit violent content including movies and television
productions, and so-called "male sports", are taking up prime and major
sending time and are targeting an exclusively male audience.  An eight-country
study on television violence in Asia conducted by the Asian Mass Communication
Research and Information Centre classified 59 per cent of all the programmes
studied as violent, with particularly high levels of violence found in India,
Thailand and the Philippines.  There has been a boom in sexually explicit
material in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe.  The production and
marketing of this material  has become an important business, with established
links to forced prostitution and traffic in women, which is also increasing at
an alarming rate and reaching global dimensions as a form of organized crime. 
Moreover, an increase in sexually explicit products on cyberspace has been
reported, to which access is unrestricted and anonymous. 11/

28.  The purported link between sexual exploitation and images of violence,
including sexual violence, against women has frequently been debated.  The
issue of media effects is one of the most complex in communications research. 
Some psychological studies on the relationship between violence on the screen
and violent impulses or behaviour in the viewers have found that exposure to
scenes of gross violence makes people respond more violently in subsequent
situations of aggression; others claim a cathartic effect. 

29.  One specific approach to the issue is to consider gender differences in
reaction to violence on the screen.  Women are less likely than men to watch
violent programmes and films and are less likely to enjoy them if they do
watch.  They do not tolerate scenes of sexual violence against women.  Whether
they have themselves been the victims of violence or not, women have been
found to become frightened by scenes of violence, with fear of rape being
particularly common.  Surveys and informal reports have found that women in
all regions express high levels of anxiety about media violence.  Women are
especially concerned about the possible impact of violent messages on
children. 18/ 

                 AND REMOVING STEREOTYPES                          

30.  Steps to improve women's access to the media and to remove stereotypes
in the portrayal of women can be promoted either from within existing media
structures or from outside.  Media responsibility can be achieved on a
voluntary, self-regulating basis or through legal measures.  The scope and the
effectiveness of both approaches need to be scrutinized.  

                       A.  Changes from within the media

              1.  Codes of conduct and self-regulatory guidelines

31.  An urgency to formulate ethical codes for the media with relation to the
portrayal of women has been generally recognized.  The Beijing Platform for
Action requests the mass media and advertising organizations "to develop,
consistent with freedom of expression, professional guidelines and codes of
conduct and other forms of self-regulation to promote the presentation of
non-stereotyped images of women" 19/ and "that address violent, degrading or
pornographic materials concerning women ... ". 20/ 

32.  Within media structures, several types of codes of conduct exist
already.  Similar to the codes of ethics of numerous press agencies, the
broadcasting industry's self-regulation codes contain a set of voluntary rules
designed to respond to the public's concerns.  While these measures are
introduced by the media institutions themselves, they are often developed as a
result of external pressure.  Where self-regulatory bodies such as press
councils exist, individuals can use complaints procedures if they feel
discriminated against by a message.  Journalists' organizations have adopted
codes of conduct or practice that define ethics in journalism.  Some national
journalists' organizations have developed guidelines on non-sexist reporting
in an effort to make their members more aware of gender issues. 21/  Some
media organizations have in-house policies and controls, such as the ombudsmen
at the Times of India. 22/  In general, few media have self-regulatory
guidelines or policies relating to the portrayal of women.  A 1993 survey of
broadcasting companies in 23 countries found that of 75 responding
organizations, only 12 per cent had any written policy statements on the
matter. 23/ 

33.  So far, self-regulatory mechanisms in the media have not been shown to
be particularly effective.  A code of conduct would include the pledge not to
reproduce denigrating stereotypes and images of women and gratuitous gender-
based violence, encourage the media actively to promote, from a gender
perspective, a more positive image of women's multiple roles in society, and
contain provisions to involve more women in decision-making on orientation,
programming and content, in order to guarantee the effective implementation of
the code. 12/  Codes of conduct apply at various stages of media production
and dissemination and often include ethical codes of conduct established by
organizations of media professionals, media enterprises, press agencies or
broadcasting industries.  There can be overlapping and duplication.  Many do
not include sanctions or disciplinary procedures, because they do not
establish monitoring bodies or mechanisms of enforcement.  Voluntary codes of
conduct may be sacrificed if economic considerations and profit are perceived
to be at stake.

                            2.  Employment of women

34.  The main obstacles to the employment of women in the media are similar
to those obstacles in other fields:  stereotyped attitudes by male colleagues,
including sexual harassment; gender differences in values and priorities as
regards professional topics; salary differences; lack of self-confidence and
ambition; career structures and working conditions that do not allow
reconciling work and family responsibilities.  A variety of measures, which
are not specific to the media sector, would help to overcome those obstacles: 
organizing and lobbying; mentoring; changing in policies and attitudes,
including setting concrete goals and targets; improving recruitment and
selection, training, career development and working conditions; monitoring
employment patterns. 24/  Of considerable importance is attaining a critical
mass of women professionals, since this is likely to ensure an impact on
choices made about content.

                        3.  Organizations and networks

35.  At all levels, from the local to the regional and international, women
communicators have established both women-only and mixed professional
associations and networks to advocate their concerns and act on gender issues
in the media.  Many initiated their activities only in the 1990s as a result
of the increased presence of women in the media and awareness of women's
rights.  By organizing, women working in the media have been able to increase
awareness of women's issues and provide training and mutual support to one
another in order to foster self-confidence.  One particular role and duty of
women's professional media associations is to advocate for training, better
working conditions, improved chances for promotion, equal pay and social
benefits such as maternity leave and child-care facilities.

                                 4.  Training

36.  Although more women are entering schools of journalism and undertaking
communication and documentation studies, programmes and curricula have not
necessarily become gender-sensitive.  Women represent more than 60 per cent of
the students enrolled in third-level mass communications studies in developed
countries, 60 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 50 per cent in Asia
and the Pacific and more than 40 per cent in Africa.  Curricula and training
material on gender stereotyping need to be developed for academic and
vocational training in mass communications and journalism.  There is also need
for in-house training and awareness-raising on gender stereotyping for those
already employed in the media.

                      B.  Changes from outside the media

                        1.  Legislation and regulations

37.  The influence of the State on the media, through regulation and
legislation, has always been questioned in terms of its possible interference
with the fundamental freedom of expression, even when such intervention in a
democratic society is meant to ensure fair access and representation.  When
private broadcasters operate through public channels to which access is
regulated, the State exercises control and has the authority to grant
licences.  For instance, in Australia, the Broadcasting Tribunal, the
independent statutory authority established under the Broadcasting Act to
regulate broadcasting, can grant, renew, suspend or revoke broadcasting
licences and make programme standards for both radio and television. 25/

38.  In the case of transboundary satellite transmission and computer media,
the question of control becomes more problematic; it can only be achieved by
prohibiting the means of access to, for instance, technical devices such as
receptors or satellite dishes.  Access to information can be denied on grounds
of interference with national interests.  But if this is done, article 19 of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which expresses the right to
receive information through any media and regardless of frontiers, is

39.  Some countries have taken active measures to combat stereotyped
portrayals of women through legislation and media guidelines or codes of
ethics.  Complaints procedures for customers have been established, or self-
regulation by the broadcasting industry has been proposed.  Some countries
have defined regulations with regard to equal opportunities in employment in
the media.  In the United Kingdom, the Government considered that creating a
climate in which more senior posts in broadcasting would be held by women was
the most effective way of ensuring that women were represented fairly and
sympathetically.  The Broadcasting Act was considered consistent with that
objective. 26/  In Belgium, the Flemish public service broadcasting
organization launched a policy of equal opportunity in 1989 and established a
positive action plan, including training, awareness-raising and career
measures. 27/  The European Commission, through its Steering Committee for
Equal Opportunities in Broadcasting, has launched a series of proposals with
regard to training and career development, recruitment and working patterns
for member States. 28/

40.  The elimination of sexism from language is a basic tool for eliminating
inequalities between women and men and discrimination against women.  Language
has a fundamental role in forming the social identity of an individual and
mirrors ideas and perceptions.  In 1990, the Council of Europe adopted a
recommendation on the elimination of sexism in language, in which it
recognized the interaction that exists between language and social attitudes
and the important role played by the media in shaping attitudes.  It
encouraged the use of non-sexist language in the media. 29/

41.  The question of imposing regulations on sexually explicit material has
raised debate in many countries.  Regulation is widely accepted in the case of
child pornography or if physical violence is involved.  Such activities fall
also within the scope of broader legislation relating to assault or the age of
consent.  Many countries act strongly on child pornography offences, including
production and possession.  For example, in 1985 Norway revised its Penal Code
to cover serious, brutalizing and denigrating pornography. 30/  A few
countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, have taken new,
stricter stands on television portrayal of violence against women.  In New
Zealand, the Government-appointed Committee of Inquiry into Pornography
introduced legislation in 1992 that condemned violence and sexual violence
against women and children. 31/  The use of regulations and the definition of
"indecent" or "obscene" are strongly debated.  Any strict regulation risks
wiping out civil liberties and censorship can affect the freedom of speech of
minority groups.  The Canadian Supreme Court in a decision of February 1992
took a new course in its definition of obscenity.  It recognized the harm to
women, children and society arising from pornography as justified constraint
on the free speech right of pornographers and concluded that the expression
found in obscene material lay far from the core of the guarantee of free
expression. 32/  Since sexual violence against women is a violation of women's
human rights, the perspective is shifting away from the question of morality. 
The definition of violence against women in the Declaration on the Elimination
of Violence against Women, as "any act of gender-based violence that results
in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or
suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary
deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life",
provides a useful international legal instrument to be used in this
respect. 33/

42.  Ways to counteract images of sexual violence against women need further
thought; legal action offers only one approach.  Other measures would include
public awareness campaigns, media education and specific action aimed at
producers and consumers.  Many women's media groups such as the Tanzania Media
s Association and Women's Media Watch in Jamaica have already launched
campaigns to address the problem. 34/

                    2.  Independent monitoring and lobbying

43.  As the media become more market-led, control by the State tends to
diminish and more responsibility is given to the consumer.  To benefit from
this shift, independent media watch groups have been established in many
countries.  A prominent example is MediaWatch, a volunteer feminist
organization in Canada which has played a fundamental role in reducing sexism
in the media there.  It focuses on specific action for media change such as
using non-sexist and parallel language, depicting women and contemporary
families realistically, ending the portrayal of women as sexual objects and
offering media literacy training to empower audiences.  MediaWatch monitors
the media on a regular basis and presents its concerns at hearings of the
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

44.  In another example, in order to counter offensive advertisements, the
Instituto de la Mujer, a part of the Ministry for Social Affairs of Spain, has
set up an "advertising observatory" with a free telephone line for women to
use if they wish to complain that they find a particular advertisement
offensive.  Complaints are brought before a 15-member council which decides
within 48 hours whether the advertisement should be withdrawn.  If a two-
thirds majority is in favour, the advertiser is notified that unless the
advertisement is withdrawn, legal action will follow.  The Instituto de la
Mujer has responded to accusations of censorship by underlining that its first
priority is to work with advertisers on the reform of stereotypes. 35/

                              3.  Media education

45.  Media education includes education of the audience as well as the
producers.  The audience is understood to be an active social subject, capable
of attaching significance to the messages and information received.  In the
United States a number of non-governmental organizations, including the
National Telemedia Council Center for Media Education, offer workshops on the

46.  In Latin America, one of the most systematic and wide-ranging
initiatives in media education has been taken at the Centre for the
Investigation of Cultural and Artistic Expression, in Chile, whose Education
Programme for Active TV Viewing tries to inculcate a more critical grasp of
televised messages and put pressure on broadcasters to rethink their messages.

This approach has been applied in particular to tele-novelas, in a double
educational effort:  to make the audience aware of stereotypes, and to
transmit critical comments to the producers. 36/

47.  A first step in promoting critical awareness among producers of the
subtle mechanisms of gender stereotyping in media content is monitoring; the
second is education and training.  A few countries undertake educational
activity for the advertising industry.  The Portrayal Department of the
Netherlands Broadcasting Corporation provides audio-visual examples of gender
stereotypes for producers.  It also issues guidelines, hears complaints,
monitors programmes, publishes reports and develops strategies to bring the
issue of gender stereotypes to newsrooms.  It involves the public in these
activities.  Its goal is to revise, enlarge and redefine journalistic news
values. 37/

48.  Beyond awareness campaigns, a systematic approach is needed to the
development of curricula and training materials that highlight the nature and
implications of gender stereotyping in media content.

                             4.  Other incentives

49.  In many countries, private and public interests have offered incentives
such as awards to those who represent women fairly in the media.  Women's film
and video festivals are held all over the world to celebrate productions by
women.  In Canada, for example, there is the Women of the Year Award presented
by Canadian Women in Communication, and other annual awards are given by
MediaWatch. 14/  Swedish Television gives an annual Prix Egalia to the
programme that best promotes equality between women and men.  The most
important prize on the European level is the European Commission's biennial
Prix NIKI, for programmes that contribute to a better image of women in
television, including children's programmes.  Taking a different approach,
women in media groups in German broadcasting select the most offensive
programme for their prize Saure Gurke (sour cucumber).

                  C.  Activities in the United Nations system

50.  UNESCO's programme of communication activities for women has focused
since its creation in 1981 on the portrayal of women in the media and women's
participation in media work.  While emphasizing the training of women in the
communications professions and the promotion of women to higher-level posts,
attention has also been given to assisting women's alternative media
information networks and regional and national professional associations,
establishing databases, and supporting women's groups and non-governmental
organizations concerned with women and the media and promoting media
education.  An evaluation of the programme for the decade 1981-1990
acknowledged its achievements in operational terms but criticized the lack of
research and analysis and a weakness in publicizing material that it had
produced. 38/  In preparation for the Fourth World Conference on Women, UNESCO
organized an international symposium entitled Women and the Media:  Access to
Expression and Decision-making.  It was the culmination of seven regional
preparatory workshops held during 1994.  The Toronto Platform for Action, an
outgrowth of the Symposium and UNESCO's major contribution to the Fourth World
Conference, contains detailed proposals on the elimination of stereotypes and
on women's employment in the media, women's media networks and media training.

It urged professional media organizations to address the needs of women
journalists.  It also asked media enterprises to develop guidelines on gender
portrayal in cooperation with organizations of journalists and media
professionals. 8/

51.  The United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the
Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) started its programme on women and
communications in 1988 when it organized the International Consultative
Meeting on Communications for Women and Development.  In 1991, the Institute
carried out a project involving Argentina, Colombia and the Dominican Republic
on the development of communication material for women and development. 
INSTRAW has prepared a media handbook to assist people working in media
programming and decision-making to become more aware of gender bias in the use
of language and images. 39/

52.  With regard to the linkage between media and violence, the Ninth United
Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders
underlined the important role that the media play in crime prevention.  A
workshop on the mass media and crime prevention issues examined the use of
regulations and enforcement to control violence in the media, including
violence against women, and its effectiveness.  In its recommendations, it
urged the United Nations to help the media encourage the development of
appropriate measures and mechanisms which would contribute to the eradication
of violence against women while reasserting the importance of a free press as
part of the democratic process. 40/


53.  The following questions arising from consideration of the implementation
of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in the area of women and
the media are worthy of further consideration by the Commission on the Status
of Women at its fortieth session:

     (a) Should the Government, through national machinery for the
advancement of women and other mechanisms and in collaboration with the mass
media, assist in defining codes of conduct by, for instance, providing
detailed proposals?

     (b) What goals should be expressed in such codes of conduct for the
media:  to avoid sexism in language, not to reproduce denigrating stereotypes
and images of women and gratuitous gender-based violence, to promote a more
positive image of women's multiple roles in society, to involve more women in
decision-making on the orientation, programming and content of the media?

     (c) What kind of enforcement mechanisms should be created to guarantee
the effective implementation of such codes?

     (d) How should special attention be given to ways of reducing or
eliminating the representation of violence against women in line with the
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women?

     (e) How can media education be used to educate the audience as well as
the producers, particularly in raising an awareness of violence against women?

     (f) How can organizing and networking on the part of women producers and
journalists be encouraged and facilitated?

     (g) How can the outreach of media monitoring groups, including
advertisement monitoring groups, be improved and the enforcement of complaint
procedures undertaken?

     (h) How can communication training be made more gender-sensitive and on-
the-job and in-house-training in all forms of the media be improved?

     (i) How can public access to computer networks and to facilities for
training women in the new communication technologies be best provided or
improved in countries and areas with meagre access?

     (j) What are the specific roles and responsibilities of the
international community in the area of women and the media?


     1/  "Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing,
4-15 September 1995" (A/CONF.177/20), chap. I, sect. 1.J, para. 234.

     2/  Ibid., para. 236.

     3/  Ibid., para, 243 (a).

     4/  Ibid., para. 243 (c).

     5/  "Influence of the mass communication media on attitudes towards the
roles of women and men in present-day society" (A/CONF.94/BP.19).

     6/  Report of the World Conference to Review and Appraise the
Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women:  Equality, Development
and Peace, Nairobi, 15-26 July 1985 (United Nations publication, Sales
No. E.85.IV.10), paras. 206-208, 366-372.

     7/  "Second review and appraisal of the implementation of the Nairobi
Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women"

     8/  Adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization, International Symposium on Women and the Media:  Access to
Expression and Decision-making, held at Toronto (Canada), 28 February-
3 March 1995.

     9/  "Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women ..."
(A/CONF.177/20), chap. I, sect. 1.J.

     10/ Gwen Lister, "Freedom of press and the role of women journalists in
leadership positions in Africa", unpublished paper prepared for the Division
for the Advancement of Women, United Nations Secretariat, 1995.

     11/ Margaret Gallagher, "Lipstick imperialism and the new world order: 
women and media at the close of the twentieth century", unpublished paper,
prepared for the Division for the Advancement of Women, United Nations
Secretariat, December 1995.

     12/ Sally Burch, "Women and the media in the era of new communications
technologies", unpublished paper prepared for the Division for the Advancement
of Women, United Nations Secretariat, October 1995.

     13/ Margaret Gallagher, An Unfinished Story:  Gender Patterns in Media
Employment, UNESCO Reports and Papers on Mass Communication No. 110 (Paris,

     14/ Liss Jeffrey, Progress in Canada Toward Women's Equality and the
Media:  Access to Expression and Decision-Making, report prepared for Status
of Women Canada, background paper for UNESCO International Symposium "Women
and the Media:  Access to Expressions and Decision-Making", Toronto,
28 February-3 March 1995.

     15/ Nadezhda Azhgikhina, "Woman as presented in the Russian media",
unpublished paper prepared for the Division for the Advancement of Women,
United Nations Secretariat, December 1995.

     16/ Pippa Norris, "A splash of color in a photo op:  women leaders
worldwide", in Women, the Media and Politics, Pippa Norris, ed. (New York,
Oxford University Press, (forthcoming)).

     17/ Council of Europe, Proceedings of the Seminar on Human Rights and
Gender:  The Responsibility of the Media, Strasbourg, 29 June-1 July 1994,
p. 25.

     18/ Margaret Gallagher, "Critical perspectives on the responsibility of
the media vis-a`-vis the notion of equality between the sexes", paper
presented at a seminar of the Council of Europe Steering Committee on Mass
Media, entitled Human Rights and Gender:  the Responsibility of the Media,
held at Strasbourg, 29 June-1 July 1994.

     19/ "Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women ..."
(A/CONF.177/20), chap. I, sect. 1.J, para. 245 (a).

     20/ Ibid., para. 245 (b).

     21/ Bettina Peters, "Value and limits of a self-regulatory approach to
gender equality in the media", paper presented at the UNESCO International
Symposium on Women and the Media:  Access to Expression and Decision-Making,
held at Toronto (Canada), 28 February-3 March 1995.

     22/ Vijayalakshmi Balakrishnan, "Indigenous social norms and women in
Asian media", in Women's Tribune Center, Women Empowering Communication,
Margaret Gallagher and Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, eds. (New York, 1994).

     23/ Margaret Gallagher "Women and media, 1985-1994:  a decade of
development?", paper presented at the Preparatory Conference of the member
States of the European Union for the Fourth World Conference on Women, Toledo,
14-16 April 1994.

     24/ Gallagher, An Unfinished Story ..., p. 53.

     25/ Second periodic report of Australia (CEDAW/C/AUL/2).

     26/ National report submitted by the United Kingdom to the Division for
the Advancement of Women in preparation for the Fourth World Conference on
Women, p. 92.

     27/ National report submitted by Belgium to the Division for the
Advancement of Women in preparation for the Fourth World Conference on Women,
p. 19.

     28/ European Commission, Steering Committee for Equal Opportunities in
Broadcasting, "Recommendations for the promotion of equal opportunities, 1986-
1991" (V/1356/94-EN).

     29/ Council of Europe, Recommendation R(90)4:  The elimination of sexism
from language.

     30/ National report submitted by Norway to the Division for the
Advancement of Women in preparation for the Fourth World Conference on Women,
p. 114.

     31/ See "Sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography: 
Note by the Secretary-General" (A/50/456).

     32/ Susan M. Easton, The Problem of Pornography:  Regulation and the
Right to Free Speech (London/New York, Routledge, 1994).

     33/ General Assembly resolution 48/104.

     34/ Margaret Gallagher and Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, eds., Women
Empowering Communication (New York, Women's Tribune Center, 1994).

     35/ Kate Holman, "Analysis of the tension between editorial autonomy and
the promotion of equality between the sexes", in Council of Europe,
Proceedings ...

     36/ Olga Bustos Romero, "Educational models for critical/active
audiences in respect to gender stereotypes portrayed on television",
unpublished paper submitted to the Division for the Advancement of Women,
United Nations Secretariat, 1995.

     37/ Netherland Broadcasting Corporation, "Beautiful or bold:  the NOS
Portrayal Department looks at Dutch drama".  Hilversum, 1994.

     38/ UNESCO, "Impact evaluation of communication activities carried out
for the benefit of women over the last decade (1981-1991 (139/EX/5).

     39/ INSTRAW, Content, Discontent:  Towards a Fair Portrayal of Women in
the Media (Santo Domingo, 1995).

     40/ "Report of the Ninth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of
Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Cairo, 29 April-8 May 1995"



This document has been posted online by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Reproduction and dissemination of the document - in electronic and/or printed format - is encouraged, provided acknowledgement is made of the role of the United Nations in making it available.

Date last updated: 06 December 1999 by DESA/DAW
Copyright © 1999 United Nations