Can Women in Media Challenge Stereotypes and Misrepresentation Online?

Panelists discussing whether online space would allow women in media challenge stereotypes and misrepresentation. Photo credit: Despina Afentouli.

New York City March 21: The ways women can utilize an online presence to question stereotypes and misrepresentation were explored at a panel titled, “Does the Online Space Allow Women in Media to Challenge Stereotypes and Misrepresentation?”  The event was organized by Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), Fondation Hirondelle, Free Press Unlimited (FPU), International Media Support (IMS), Internews, IREX, and the Media Diversity Institute (MDI), and took place during the NGO Committee on the Status of Women in New York (NGO/CSW/NY) at the Church Center for the United Nations.

Laura Zelenko, the Senior Executive Editor for Talent, Diversity, Training, and Standards at Bloomberg news, moderated of the event. She is responsible for newsroom diversity and inclusion, ensuring fairness and balance across all platforms, in all forms of content (Internews). The panelists were women journalists and media professionals, who showcased their experience on their attempts to strengthen their or other women’s online presence.

Professor Heywood: Radio remained a powerful medium in Africa

Professor Emma Heywood, a Lecturer in Journalism, Politics, and Communication at the University of Sheffield in the UK, examined the impact of radio on women’s empowerment in Niger, Africa (Fondation Hirondelle).

Professor Heywood, who also leads the “FemmePowermentNiger” program, said that populations with no access to the internet relied more on traditional media, and women especially relied on radio because they do not have the same literacy as men. She explained that many women get their information from radio, and that African women  radio journalists include women-related issues as their editorial priorities, including discussions about men making decisions about women’s lives. As Professor Heywood highlighted, although social media is important, radio still remains a powerful tool in Africa. She also said that radio is somewhat independent, while online spaces are not trusted.

Tosello: “We have to make women visible”

 Ilaria Tosello from El Salvador, represented the Securing Access to Free Expression program (IREX), a gender equality and social inclusion focal point offering safety training and support to journalists and social communicators. Tosello stated due to violence against women, including harassment and victim blaming, many women self-sensor themselves or give up journalism either temporarily or permanently.

“We have to make women visible” she said. “It is a coin with two faces: more participation, but also misogynistic violence.” She added, “We want to address the problem with a solution…We have to find a collective solution. When women break their silence, they speak about violence… But how can we raise awareness?”

She said that open spaces should be free of violence, emphasizing that they should not be part of the problem but part of the solutions.

Professor Milivojevic: Journalism Became a Feminized Profession

Snjezana Milivojevic is a Professor of Public Opinion and Media Studies at the University of Belgrade, Academic Board Member at the Centre for Gender Studies (Belgrade),  and a founding chair of the Centre for Media Research (MDI).  “I still defend mainstream media,” she said. “In online spaces, we all participate in public global debates,” but she felt that traditional media has not cultivated young audiences. She said that the most powerful women were online and that “journalism has become increasingly a feminized profession as there is less money.”

She examined the social media ownership: “Who are the owners of the social media? Male.” She said that women were heavily exposed to harassment. “Technology is not the solution to our problems,” clarifying that open spaces should be open to all and safe spaces not to be isolated.

Terrab: Feminism became “cool” in Marocco

The Moroccan filmmaker, journalist, and novelist, Sonia Terrab, covers themes including the status of women in Morocco, feminism, and sexuality (IMS). Talking about women’s freedom of speech in Morocco, she said that women, especially young women, are speaking up and feminism has become “cool.”

She explained that for centuries women did not speak up, but when they decided to tell their own story, people were interested. She said that  women in Morocco cannot walk freely in the streets because of sexual harassment. She said, “Each one of us has the responsibility to speak up.”

Arnous: We feature women as fighters

Egyptian publisher Namees Arnous is the founder of a new media production company and has worked on many campaigns aimed at promoting women’s independence and empowerment.

She said situation in the country is bad and that women often self-censor themselves because, “We are afraid of judgment, family, society…” She said, “Women now ask us to tell their stories. We’re framing women as strong because we are strong.” She stressed the need to feature women as fighters who do incredible things, not as victims, to inspire other women.

She said, “People working in old school media don’t feel what’s going on,” and there are not enough women leaders in the media. “Women have to fight for leadership positions and for giving space to women,” she said.

She said that trust is important and “Men are part of society and have to take responsibility for making the lives of women better.”