“The press was as kind as it knew how to be. It meant well and did all for us it knew how to do. We couldn't ask it to do more than it knew how.” [Laughter] — Susan B. Anthony, 1893
Susan B. Anthony was familiar with the press’ ways. Journalists relentlessly ridiculed the women’s suffrage movement. Fast forward to more than a century later, women in public life still face biased, sexist, and discriminatory media treatment. Research over the past few decades reveals that women in politics continue to be at a disadvantage when it comes to media coverage.
When reporters cover women in politics, they often use terms that emphasize women's traditional roles and focus on their appearance. They perpetuate stereotypes of women politicians as weak, indecisive, and emotional. They sometimes even hold women politicians accountable for their children’s or husbands’ actions, though they rarely hold men politicians to the same standards.
A study by the Inter-parliamentary Union on violence against women parliamentarians reports that the media can perpetuate rumors and misogynistic behavior. The study’s survey revealed that 27.3% of the participating women MPs said that traditional media had shared highly contemptuous or sexually charged images or comments about them. The percentage rose to 41.8% when they were asked about photos or comments disseminated through social media.
Globally, women in politics, particularly women of color, experience overwhelming levels of abuse and gendered disinformation campaigns, which traditional and social media often fuel and perpetuate. With the purpose of discrediting, delegitimizing, and silencing women in politics, studies have shown that women are often discouraged and dissuaded from getting involved in politics because of gendered media reporting.
Indeed, sexist media coverage contributes to the under-representation of women in politics. A worldwide study found that while women’s position has generally progressed, it is slower in media representation and politics. Further, it concluded that the more there is sexism in the media, the less women candidates there are. The media has a powerful influence on voters and gender differences in media coverage can have real electoral consequences. Not only can it dissuade women from engaging in politics, but it also discourages political parties and political elites from selecting women as candidates.
This e-Discussion seeks to raise awareness and collect experiences and knowledge on gender differences in political media coverage, its impact on women’s political participation and representation, as well as gather good practices and recommendations on ways to counter the negative impact of media portrayals of women in politics with fair and unbiased coverage.
Journalists, producers and editors, media monitoring institutions, electoral management bodies, women and men in politics, political party leaders and members, civil society and women’s rights activists, practitioners, and researchers are invited to join this e-Discussion from 07 to 30 September 2022 by answering the below questions. The submissions will contribute to a report that will augment the knowledge base available on the topic.
- Are women politicians less visible or covered differently than men in political news coverage in your country? Please share data, if available.
- What can lawmakers, governments, and civil society do to ensure media outlets/journalists deliver fair and balanced media coverage of women and men in public life?
- With sexist traditional media coverage disseminated on social media, women in politics are exposed to vicious online attacks and abuse by often anonymous perpetrators. What can social media companies, media outlets, governments, lawmakers, and other decision-makers do to put an end to the crisis of online violence against women in politics?
- Use the comments section below; or
- Send your contribution to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can post below on your behalf.
 Maria Braden, Women Politicians and the Media. (University Press of Kentucky, 1996), 1.
 Loes Aaldering and Daphne Joanna Van Der Pas, Political leadership in the media: Gender bias in leader stereotypes during campaign and routine times. British Journal of Political Science 50: 911–31. 2018.
 Amanda Haraldsson and Lena Wängnerud, The effect of media sexism on women’s political ambition: Evidence from a worldwide study. Feminist Media Studies 19: 525–41. 2019.
 Daphne Joanna Van der Pas and Loes Aaldering, “Gender Differences in Political Media Coverage: A Meta-Analysis” Journal of Communication, Volume 70, Issue 1 (February 2020): 114-143. doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqz046
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Women in Politics and the Media
1. Are women politicians less visible or covered differently than men in political news coverage in your country? Please share data, if available
While there is no available statistically verified data for how women in politics are covered in Uganda, there is evidence daily that women politicians attract media attention differently. This week the media has found fodder in Uganda 'exposing' the disagreement between The Speaker of Parliament- a female and The Prime Minister - also a female over their perspectives on whether nyege-nyege, a public even should be allowed to go on or not. The core of the public debate is on the morality of the event. The debate in the public realm is based on the argument that the nyege nyege event promotes immorality and should be banned, and this is the idea espoused by the Speaker and other MPs. On the other hand, the Prime Minister thinks that the even promotes Tourism and was convinced by the organisers to allow the event to go on. The morality versus immorality debate descended from the focus on the event, to the individual characteristics and personalities of the two women and they have been attacked and ridiculed on social media over this matter. The male supporters of either sides of the debate are not being attacked in the same way. In this way, we can see that the media is still very petty and focuses on stereotypes of gender when it comes to discussing issues of public interest such as this. Uganda Media Women's Association did a research on Ugandan women politicians after the 2016 elections and found that such stereotypes of women were many. May women candidates were judged more as women first, than as public, political leaders.
2.What can lawmakers, governments, and civil society do to ensure media outlets/journalists deliver fair and balanced media coverage of women and men in public life?
There is need to sensitise journalists to be conscious of the effects of their gender stereotypical representations, words, attitude and perspectives on the public. The public also needs to be constantly reminded of the negative effects of gender stereotyping and how it sniffles women's ability to discuss matters of public importance. This is because, the more women are ridiculed, the more they withdraw from public debate and the marginalisation of views that promote equality go on.
3.With sexist traditional media coverage disseminated on social media, women in politics are exposed to vicious online attacks and abuse by often anonymous perpetrators. What can social media companies, media outlets, governments, lawmakers, and other decision-makers do to put an end to the crisis of online violence against women in politics?
media companies should sensitive their journalists especially the news editors to be gender aware so that negative stereotypes are not allowed on radio, newspapers and Television. Governments nd law makers should make laws and enforce punishments for those who are known to perpetually ridicule and marginalise women on media. While laws that protect women's and men's rights to freedom of expression exist in Uganda, there is limited enforcement of the laws when they are violated. If Police can be empowered o cause arrests and the courts of laws can punish such offenders, then people will begin to see such violations as bad and punishable. Otherwise for now, people think on-line violence is flimsy and worth ignoring and yet the emotional toll it has on victims is enormous.
In a recent study we did with Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), we found that Online Gender Based Vilence (OGBV) tends to be normalised and taken as 'light' and yet some victims are really adversely affected. Some women politicians lost in elections because they spoke up when they were violated. A case in point is Hon. Rwabogo who was violated by a young male stalker. Not only was her case dismissed by the courts of law. In the public court of political voting, she was made to lose elections and one of the reasons flaunted by the public was that, she took young man to court over a flimsy issue. Talk of the vicim being victimised. Rwabogo lost in the elections.
Visibility of Women Politicians
1. In Pakistan there is no discrimination regarding visibility in the media if a woman acquires the status that generally belong to male politicians. For example, Maryam Nawaz, Vice President of Pakistan MuslimLeague N gets the same amount of time and attention as Imran Khan, Chairman, Pakistan Tehrik Insaf. The challenge is in raising women to that high position in the party or the government where she is involved in decision making.
2. Amendments should be made in the political parties Act to bind the Parties to give equal status to women and ensure that more women reach decision making positions.
By Dr Santosh Kumar Mishra, India
Contribution posted on behalf of Dr Santosh Kumar Mishra, Independent Researcher (retired), S. N. D. T. Women's University, Mumbai, India. Click here to read the contribution
Media, gender and politics
I believe that the media has a critical role to play when it comes to making our politics more gender-representative and gender-sensitive, and yet it often fails to meet that goal. I am afraid I haven't yet come across any study about how the media covers women politicians in India, but from my own work tracking this intersection, I can say there exists quite a gap.
News media is either gender blind, and on other occasions falls into the patriarchal trap and reports on politics in a way that is deeply insensitive. While politics is widely covered, it is rarely covered from a gender lens. There is a disproportionate focus on the personal lives of women, on their looks, on their clothes, more than on their work. When interviewing women politicians, journalists often end up asking/saying very gendered questions/comments.
But this is not a problem limited to India alone. In my work covering women in politics, I have come across several examples of how the press - instead of calling out sexism in politics - perpetuates it itself.
See some examples below:
- Ireland: https://womenlead.substack.com/p/in-ireland-nasty-newspaper-article
- Fiji: https://womenlead.substack.com/p/in-fiji-newspaper-makes-scandalous
- UK: https://womenlead.substack.com/p/uk-politics-faces-moment-of-truth
- USA: https://womenlead.substack.com/p/how-a-us-lawmaker-lost-her-job-then
In India, things are getting better with the growth of civil society actors who are working to consistently highlight the gender gap in politics. News outlets are increasingly reporting on women's representation, at least around elections. However, this is not uniform across outlets and more needs to be done.
A study by UN Women (I was part of the research team) has shown how Indian media continues to be dominated by men. So it's not just politics - but our entire news ecosystem too needs to become gender-representative and gender-sensitive so that it can be better equipped to highlight such gaps in other fields.
Not sure what the government can do - but as citizens and civil society, we need to remain vigilante both of our politics, and of our media. I started my publication #WomenLead with this vision - to write about politics from a gender lens consistently and not sporadically. It gives me immense satisfaction when I see other writers and reporters cover a particular incident after it gets covered in #WomenLead. (https://womenlead.substack.com)
We need more work at the civil society level. We need to call out sexist coverage in the media. And we need to amplify reportage that is sensitive and meaningful.
Women in politics and the media
While there is still much to be done to achieve non bias in reporting and equitable representation of women, there have been improvements since Susan B. Anthony's quote from 1893. There are more women in politics and in the media at various levels. Harassment leads to threats and threats lead to violence when gone unchecked. And it is apparent, that when there is a threat against 1 woman politician, that it doesn't stop with just the 1. Threats against elected officials, including women politicians and government workers, are a threat against democracy and should be reported to law enforcement. The media's role should be to cover how law enforcement is responding to the threats. With the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, we in civil society should recognize that we are jeopardizing our own freedoms by electing officials that either enable or participate in actions which are undermining us all. Civil society needs to speak out regarding the threats against women in politics as well as vote for those candidates that promote our democracy, not undermine it.
By Antonetta Lovejoy Hamandishe, Zimbabwe
Contribution posted on behalf of Antonetta Lovejoy Hamandishe, Programme Officer at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, Zimbabwe
1. Are women politicians less visible or covered differently than men in political news coverage in your country? Please share data, if available.
Media attention is an invaluable electoral benefit and, structurally speaking, reduced media interest in female candidates and politicians may harm women's representation and participation. While there is limited data to gauge the amount of coverage for male and female politicians in most countries, evidence exists to show that a gender gap still exists in terms of women politicians’ visibility and coverage in the media, Armstrong & Gao (2011). According to analysts, various media stereotypes have been used to undermine women’s ability to participate in politics, Van der Pas & Aaldering (2020).
According to Media Monitors, during the Zimbabwe 2018 elections, a look at individual political actors’ coverage highlighted the concern that space for female political representatives is very limited, only 17 women appeared in the newspapers. Comparatively, in the electronic media monitored, women political actors were exceptionally under-represented, they made up 12% of the 21,250 seconds that were dedicated to individual political actors, Media Monitors Report (2018).
Female politicians appear to have to work very hard to be considered worthy of publication, as all female politicians who have received print media coverage held leadership positions in their parties or the government, for example, 20% of the 64 political figures reported on during the study period were female. and the first lady accounted for 42 %of the total time spent on the 13 women, Media Monitors Report (2018). These low figures support the findings of the Global Media Monitoring Project report, 2015, which note that women make up only 24% of the content in the media.
Women are frequently portrayed as having loose morals or as mercenaries for the ruling party or opposition when they are not deemed too weak to lead, Hamandishe (2018) Zimfact (2018). For example, Zimbabwe’s media landscape remains largely patriarchal despite an increasing cognisant of the need to incorporate gender issues into its reporting. All too often, female candidates are sidelined in election coverage, or their policies are reported in a way that reinforces stereotypes of women rather than analyzing their political and economic effectiveness. In some cases, the media has been accused of either ignoring or portraying many political women negatively, ZESN (2015). Some reporters demanded sexual and monetary bribes in exchange for covering female candidates for political office, ZESN (2015).
During the elections that took place in 2018, social media was used inappropriately for smear campaigns and to spread false information to manipulate public opinion. Hate speech directed toward women who are running for office or who are in positions of authority has turned social media into a poisonous platform. The use of social media by female politicians did not serve as an equalizer to advance their participation in politics because these politicians avoided using it. There is a lot of sexism and comments that expose women as sex objects which have forced many to stay away from the political arena, Hamandishe (2018).
2. What can lawmakers, governments, and civil society do to ensure media outlets/journalists deliver fair and balanced media coverage of women and men in public life?
#CSOs and development partners should support #media capacity building and gender equality and balance reporting awareness campaigns. This will increase the media's use of diverse images of #women and men in various roles, thereby challenging stereotypes.
To increase the visibility and widen the coverage of women in the mainstream media and effectively deal with negative stereotypes and responses on social media, women candidates need to be trained in dealing with the media. This will be part of their capacity building and preparation to stand out as social leaders.
Advocating for improved, balanced and accurate media coverage of women issues and women candidates pe, during and post-election period.
The media fraternity should be encouraged to make content that changes the way people think about gender and to create self-regulating equality policies, such as making sure everyone has equal access to positions of power.
Near real-time monitoring of media reporting of women candidates by CSOs, media monitoring bodies, and EMBs to raise awareness and offer recommendations for redress.
Supporting training on gender for election and political reporters and other media personalities.
Development partners and governments need to invest in policies and resources dedicated to combating gendered misinformation.
Armstrong CL, Gao F (2011) Gender, Twitter and news content. Journalism Studies 12(4): 490–505.
ZESN, 2015 Policy Brief: Challenges in attaining gender balance in elections in Zimbabwe
https://www.radiovop.com/women-politicians-urged-to-use-media-effectively-during-elections/ Accessed, 29 September 2022
https://mg.co.za/africa/2022-01-08-zimbabwe-violent-politics-deters-women-from-standing-as-candidates-in-elections/ Accessed, 29 September 2022
Daphne Joanna Van der Pas, Loes Aaldering, Gender Differences in Political Media Coverage: A Meta-Analysis, Journal of Communication, Volume 70, Issue 1, February 2020, Pages 114–143, https://doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqz046
Media Monitors, 2018, Baseline Study on Election reporting in Zimbabwe’s mainstream Media.
Hamandishe, A., 2018. Rethinking women's political participation in Zimbabwe's elections, Africa Portal. Retrieved from https://policycommons.net/artifacts/1443742/rethinking-womens-political-participation-in-zimbabwes-elections/2075477/ on 29 Sep 2022. CID: 20.500.12592/6f17vg.
Contribution by Akua Sena Dansua, Ghana
Contribution posted on behalf of Akua Sena Dansua, former Ambassador of Ghana to Germany, Former Minister for Tourism, Former Minister for Youth and Sports, Former Minister for Gender and Children’s Affairs, Former Member of Parliament, Ghana.
1. Gendered media reportage is a reality confirmed by research and my personal experiences several years ago as a Journalist, Deputy Features Editor of a popular weekly and as a an MP in Ghana. At editorial meetings I literally had to fight male colleagues to have space devoted to gender and development issues including those on women on politics. Ordinarily, most male colleagues preferred dry, mundane and uninspiring features on men. As a female Politician, some of the negative media attacks I suffered were instigated by men who were interested in positions I held with the worst one during my tenure as the first female Minister for Youth and Sports in 2010 ( the only one to date ) under whose leadership Ghana’s Black Stars distinguished themselves as Quarter Finalist in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa). Some of the perpetrators were simply jealous of this monumental achievement under a woman’s leadership. My years as Member of Parliament for 12 years, were equally traumatic. The negative media attacks were meant to break me and truncate my political career but ended up strengthening me because I had prepared and psyched myself up before going into politics, knowing fully well that, politics has always been a minefield for women. As the literature indicates, gendered media reportage was and still is underpinned by cultural, traditional, religious and business interests and sexism including male chauvinism. Some studies have been done in Ghana on gendered reportage two of which are, “ Media Representation of Women Politicians: The case of Ghana and Nigeria by one Sally Osei- Appiah, 2019, University Of Leeds ( PhD Thesis) and the other, “ Media Coverage of Female Parliamentary Candidates in Ghana. An Analysis of The Daily Graphic And The Ghanaian Times Newspapers” August 2016, by Samuel Akapule and Paul Achonge confirming gendered reportage .
2. There are several ways to tackling gendered reportage depending on who the stakeholders are. The starting point however is for Journalists, their managers and media organisations to accept the reality that there is no going back on women taking their rightful places in society and in politics where major decisions that affect humanity including women, are made. The world must accept the reality that women constitute over 50 percent of the world’s population and are also being better educated and so deserve their rightful places in society. Against this background, the stick and carrot approaches must be applied in addressed gendered reportage. The stick approach includes promulgation of laws and policies with punishment clauses to prosecute offenders in specially established courts on all violence against women including gendered reporting. Additionally, governments and appropriate media training institutions should constantly train and build the capacity of journalists, investigators, prosecutors and legal officers on how to handle their remit. Governments, Governance Institutions, Donors, Multilateral and Regional institutions such as the UN, ECOWAS, and CSOs must continue to build the capacity of women and women politicians especially to enable them deal with challenges in leadership positions. These stakeholders must also constantly sensitise the media on the negative impact of some of their actions on women whilst advocating for defaulting Journalists, networks and their owners and managers to be punished even if that means sometimes initiating prosecution on behalf of victims.
3. Social media networks including Facebook, LinkedIn, Tik Tok, Telegram, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, compared to the traditional media, have very high followership with evolving software and applications that may have very devastating effect on women victims if not regulated. With this reality, women who are among the highest patrons of social media platforms especially in developed countries (with better accessibility), must occasionally boycott them in protest against sexist content. This way, the patronage and earnings of the platforms will dip, a situation the owners or manager would not be happy about and therefore will be compelled to sanitize their content and ensure women are not intentionally victimised or violated in their spaces. Also women victims should be encouraged and supported to institute legal action against media networks which violate women and when successful will be duly compensated as have recently reported on global media platforms. Another rather very revolutionary solution will be for women to boycott political activities when parties, supported by their media accomplices are unfriendly to women. Such boycotts will negatively impact the fortunes of political parties especially as research points to women being their main backbone and whose votes count significantly in elections . In conclusion whether men like it or not, women are poised to take their rightful and deserving places in high decision-making positions including the board rooms, political parties, Parliaments, Senates, Multilateral and Regional institutions and in district assembles as a matter of right and also as the 50 percent leg that the world is balanced on. A frequently quoted local adage in Ghana, literally translates, “ once you are at the table, you can partake in the meal”. This adage should propel women to continue to demand their rightful places around all tables at which sustainable development meals are served. Above all, while seeking ways for perpetrators of gendered reportage to mend their ways, women who seek and aspire to leadership positions should prepare themselves with the mindset that appreciates politics as a minefield and not a bed of roses that women will lay on cosily.