Women in Media: An IMS reading list for March 8 – the International Women’s Day

Recent IMS publications highlights challenges facing female media workers in Somalia, Pakistan, Myanmar and Afghanistan. The daunting lists of obstacles underscores the importance of IMS’s  continued focus on ensuring equal rights for men and women working in media

To remain reliable and relevant, media content has to portray all sections of society in an accurate, fair and impartial manner – regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion etc. This recent research, makes it possible to identify and highlight the nature and prevalence of harassment and discrimination experienced by media workers in their workplaces and to take appropriate measures and change attitudes and behavior.

Most recently a baseline study on the working conditions for female journalists in Somalia has been published. The study was initiated by the Somali Women Journalists (SWJ) Association in collaboration with IMS-Fojo in Somalia and finds that women journalists are significantly underrepresented in Somali media companies with only 23 per cent of the journalistic staff being female.

In the Somali media industry in general there is an overwhelming majority of 88 per cent who finds that women can and should be involved in the media profession.

A similar pattern of under-representation can be seen in Pakistan where less than five per cent of all journalists are women. Furthermore, working conditions for women in the media are far from ideal. In a book of testimonies published in November 2017, fifty female Pakistani journalists relay their experiences revealing challenges such as harassment from colleagues, threats,  social and cultural constraints. Add to that that Pakistan is one of the deadliest countries in the world to practice journalism.

Under-representation of women in media is also an issue. A landmark study from Myanmar analyzing 2500 stories from 42 news outlets shows that only 16 per cent of all sources in news media are female. Editors, media workers and outlets have a responsibility to counter gender stereotypes and to enhance equality by insisting on interviewing female sources and experts in a representative fashion, said Ellie Swindon, Gender advisor International Media Support-Fojo, when the study was published in November 2017: “Chief editors and media house owners should encourage guidelines that help to ensure that men and women’s voices are given equal space in media.”

Lastly, in Afghanistan, one of the most challenging environments globally to practice journalism, female journalists face two ills simultaneously. A 2016-report from AJSC, Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, shows that – apart from the general security challenges – female journalists have to overcome social and cultural restrictions which limits their mobility and increase their vulnerability in the workplace. The latter is evident through pay discrimination, harassment, violence and threats.

Against what is sometimes staggering odds female journalists continue their work in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the fight for equality and women’s rights.