#BreakTheBias – Women’s voices matter in the media


By Kemisola Agbaoye

News is meant to be a representation of the world, which means that the voices of men and women should be captured equally in the news. Greater equality between men’s and women’s voices in the media leads to better journalism, increased public trust and increased revenue. In 2015, women made up only 24% of news sources, with news sources where women are most visible garnering the least coverage. Of that 24%, only 19% are expert sources, with the remaining 5% being popular opinion sources, eyewitnesses or women sharing their personal experiences. This means that the perspectives of women in news coverage are not taken into account, which increases their marginalization.

Why is there such an under-representation of women in the media? Is it because women are reluctant to appear as experts in the news, due to societal conditioning to think their voice doesn’t matter? Or is it because they are asked far less often to make the headlines as expert sources? Experts say it’s the latter. Whatever the reason, the most important question is: what can be done to improve the representation of women in the media? A more deliberate and concerted effort is needed to improve the representation of women in the media. It is the responsibility of all parties – the newsrooms, the journalists and the women experts themselves.

Newsrooms around the world are already taking steps to increase the representation of women in the media. Since 2017, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has been implementing 50:50 The Equality Project, a collective action to increase the representation of women at the BBC. What started with one program and one team has grown to see 70% of BBC content with 50% female contributors and include 125 organizations in 26 countries, including the ABC. The 50:50 Project was implemented with the core principles of measuring what you control, sharing data and committing to change, encouraged by intentionally inviting (not forcing) people to join the challenge. Bloomberg’s New Voices initiative, launched in 2018, includes a global roster of women experts in finance and business, and funding for media training for senior female executives and experts, with more than 300 executives trained since his creation. There are also non-newsroom media organizations that are changing the representation of women in the media narrative, such as Quotethiswoman+, a South Africa-based organization that maintains a database of women+ experts for journalists/newsrooms and offers them media training.

This is not necessarily the case in Nigeria, where women have historically been poorly represented, with their roles relegated to domestic activities and caregiving. In Nigeria, the volume of articles written about women in major daily newspapers like Vanguard, Punch, The Guardian and ThisDay has been found to be low, with most articles written on odd issues as opposed to expert articles. The portrayal of women in Nigerian media has also been shown to reinforce misguided stereotypes of weakness and vulnerability, further propagating patriarchal perceptions. This further underscores the need for media and journalists to intentionally portray women as successful and to amplify women’s voices as experts and professionals.

In November 2021, Nigeria Health Watch organized the 6th Futures of Health Conference tagged #BreakingGlassCeilings, where stakeholders discussed gender equality for sustainable development and made recommendations to increase the representation of women in the media. Speaking at the conference, Chris Ubosi, Founder and Managing Director of Megalectrics, said: “Women should be encouraged to seek opportunities in the media. There should be training among journalists to discourage current stereotypes and patriarchal ways. Professional societies should be encouraged to propose female members as resource persons”.

Thus, it is clear and urgent that newsrooms and media organizations put in place systems and processes that will increase the representation of women in their content, change the way women are portrayed, and provide training to their journalists on how they can integrate gender into content. production process. Journalists should more intentionally seek input from female experts – this does not reduce the quality of content, but improves it and drives reader engagement – ​​and communicates clearly with female experts when contacting them for interviews so they know what to expect. Women experts should read and respond to media correspondence in a timely manner, as well as lend their expert voice to salient issues as they are discussed, so the next generation of women will know how important their voice is. relevant.

Dr Agbaoye is Director of Programs at Nigeria Health Watch


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