Around the world, women’s participation in the media is unequal. Women continue to be underrepresented and very often misrepresented in the global media, including those in the Balkans. According to the latest available data, the world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030, one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The COVID-19 pandemic and the backlash against women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are further diminishing the outlook for gender equality. Violence against women remains high, while women journalists experience online violence to such a degree that a major study conducted by the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) and supported by UNESCO is calling it a “crisis”.
The case for diversity and inclusion is a strong one. International media development organizations that implement different programs in the region, almost universally aim strengthen gender equality and inclusion. But as USAID’s BMAP Forward has learned through the process of writing a study, “Gender Equality in Western Balkan Media,” local and regional media would benefit not only from the big international media organizations’ programs dedicated to gender equality, but also from their own initiatives and a tailor-made approach.
At the same time, as part of the wider USAID initiative for gender equality and women’s empowerment, media development projects can benefit from some recommendations outlined in the 2023 USAID Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy. For example, one of the requirements in the USAID Policy document is Gender Analysis. A context-specific gender analysis prior to or during the design of all country strategies, projects, and activities, has to be conducted. The goal of such analysis is to determine and identify steps to address gender inequalities and thereby improve the lives of women and girls, men and boys, and gender-diverse individuals.
Gender equality cannot be seen only as an imperative for the media and media freedom around the world, but for thriving democracies in general. Gender equality and women’s rights to participate in public life are being undermined by the same forces that are pushing back on democracy. For instance, gendered disinformation and online abuse against women in politics are increasingly used to erode the gains on gender equality, women’s empowerment, and democracy.
As noted by Huma Haider, media throughout the Western Balkans tend to underrepresent women in political and economic sectors, while over-representing them in entertainment and lifestyle sectors. This is in terms of the topics that women and men cover in news reporting and talk show discussions, and in terms of their representation in stereotypical jobs. This is also true in terms of representation of female voices in interviews. The lack of female experts and contributors in broadcasting in the region is evident. If we take into an account that most of the audience in the Western Balkans consume information via television, one can conclude that this is an area where major steps towards gender equality and better representation must be taken.
Project Oasis launched a report in April 2023, with insights about trends, opportunities and challenges in the European independent digital media ecosystem. We're highlighting two of the key findings from the report:
- More than 58% of the media founders featured in this report are women. They are highly collaborative, and most have two or more co-founders
- Media founded by teams that include both men and women reported the highest revenues, with an average of €509,740 per year
In one of the Digital News reports by the prominent Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the Oxford University, the researchers asked the survey respondents whether they think the news media covered people like them fairly or unfairly. In most markets, both men and women tend to say that the news media covers people like them fairly. But across all 46 markets included in the Reuters Institute’s Report, there was an eight-point gap between men and women with women less likely to say that the news media covers them fairly.
FEMBASE is an attempt to address the persistent lack of female voices in the media in the Western Balkans. Female experts and commentators are seriously underrepresented in the news in regional media. It is a common practice to host all-male panels and talk shows, or to conduct interviews exclusively with male commentators. Women are less present not only on air, but also on front pages of online portals in the region, while men are overwhelming dominant as the subject of media reports. We want this to be a step toward changing this practice by offering equal and fair representation of expert voices in the media.
FEMBASE will be a reliable and searchable database created to assist journalists, researchers, educators, students and policy makers. It can also serve as a valuable resource to anyone else who is looking for female experts in almost every field from engineering and AI to business, science, defense, social affairs, and many others.
USAID's Balkan Media Assistance Program to Foster Organizational Readiness While Advancing Resilient Development (BMAP Forward) is committed to enhancing the visibility of women in the public discourse. FEMBASE is a tool that supports media in strengthening gender equality in the public sphere.