Several reports and studies on gender and the media in the Western Balkans emphasize “a strong link between the status of women in and through media and the way society treats women”. One of the barriers to better gender representation in the media in the Balkans is most certainly continuous gender inequality demonstrated in a wider aspect of every society of the region. “For example, the persistence of gender inequality and traditional patriarchy throughout the region influences how the media operates and in turn is reflected in the media. In addition, political influence, and control over the media, discussed as a barrier to effective media, can be considered problematic for gender issues, given that the dominant ethno-political narrative in the region supports patriarchy.” – it’s written in the report Gender and the media in the Western Balkan.
However, the analysis of the content produced by the BMAP Forward media partners show many successful attempts and projects dedicated to the goal of having and promoting gender equality and balanced gender representation in the partners’ media products and outputs. Authors of the study notice an attempt to counter and oppose the prevailing patriarchal narratives and gender-based stereotypes. We find many stories featuring women and those providing female voices. We find sections and subcategories specifically dedicated to women’s rights and other issues considering women and female journalists. We find interviews and reports celebrating women and their work. We find specially dedicated sections to female entrepreneurship and women-run businesses in the region. Some examples of fair and responsible representation of women amongst the BMAP Forward media partners content include:
- Two women featured as Personalities of the Year 2022 on a partner’s website frontpage.
- A series of articles named “Women’s rights – Theory and Practice” featuring women such as a young female journalist, a policewoman working on cases of domestic violence, a street popcorn seller, etc.
- A series of articles on violence against women, about women in decision making positions and the reasons for the lack of them, articles about women in rural areas, etc.
- Opinion exchange between female journalists tackling sensitive topics
- Interviews and portraits of the prominent female politicians and public figures
- Investigative stories on a partner’s frontpage being authored by female journalists only (and one story being co-authored)
- Stories on femicide and gender-based violence including statistical data, information on CSOs working on these issues as well as female experts’ opinions
- A project focusing on stories from women and about women, under women empowering hashtags celebrating businesswomen, housewives and every other category a woman can fall into
What we also notice is that sometimes stories about women are not as promoted as others, tags sometimes are not searchable and female centered content is scattered all over the partners’ websites. This type of content is in many cases published in subcategories or away from the main sections. Such segregation and separation of the gender-oriented content, or stories dedicated to women’s rights, lives and voices is not the best way to achieve gender equality in the media. 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. 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 admit that this is the area where major steps toward gender equality and better representation must be taken.
For instance, it is a common practice among the media outlets in the Western Balkans including the BMAP Forward key media partners, to host all-male panels and talk shows, to conduct all-male speakers interviews or to feature several male guests subsequently. Another evident and visible sign of gender underrepresentation is the use of images and illustrations. A closer look at some of the partners’ online platforms frontpages turned the following results:
- 2 images of women and 18 images of men (out of 25 in total)
- 7 interviews with male experts and contributors, and 1 interview with a female one
- 4 men and 1 woman featured under ‘news and current affairs’ website section
- under the category ‘Fashion and Beauty’ all images featured were those of women and girls
Our observations and results of the content analysis are supported by other studies and conclusions. For instance, a study on gender representation in newspapers in Kosovo finds that women are also less present on front pages with a media tendency that when women are sources of information within the text, only one woman is quoted or interviewed, stated Abazi in the report Gender and the media in the Western Balkan. A monitoring of the various media in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2012 demonstrated that men were also the overwhelming dominant subject of media reports, comprising 75 percent of the stories on TV, 81 percent on radio and 76 percent in the newspapers, says Turčilo and Masnica in mentioned report.
The underrepresentation of women on air and on frontpages as experts, news sources, pundits and contributors falsely imply that men are the cultural standard and women are unimportant or less valuable, states Joana Kosho. Recognizing that female politicians are also given less access to the media, we should note that lack of gender equality in the media content in the region is often followed or combined with a notable underrepresentation of LGBTQ population and issues in all forms of media, which has the effect of making the existence of these identities appear insignificant to society, said Srbinovska in the report Gender and the media in the Western Balkan.
Gender (non)representation in stories about crime and economy
Another issue worth being carefully considered is the lack of gender equality in the stories tackling crime and corruption, as well as in those from the economic and financial sector. This is due to a traditional (and stereotypical) gender-role divide in which the financial sector is male dominated especially when it comes to the senior managerial positions and leadership. Although, women have made significant progress in the labor market over the past few decades, they are still underrepresented in finance. Therefore, it is relevant and necessary to ask how do we get more gender-balanced content produced by the media specifically and exclusively reporting on finance and business?
A similar problem occurs in the investigative stories about crime and corruption. Needless to mention, the image of organized crime is often associated with strong masculine roles and violence. Men are regarded as the primary agents, as they play central roles in society in general, and are seen as the fighters and providers. Although organized crime was already present in many parts of the region before and during the Yugoslav wars, it seems that in the post-conflict climate, organized crime has offered men a new avenue to assert or reassert their masculinity.
As gender is a key determinant of criminality, sometimes ranking above a person’s socio-economic, educational or employment status, it also plays a key role in determining the victims of organized crime. As stated in the GI-TOC’s report, almost every person trafficked for commercial sex work from or to the Western Balkans was female, whereas nearly everyone assassinated as part of the Montenegrin drug war was male.
Including gender perspectives into the media reporting about organized crime and corruption in the Western Balkans therefore would also contribute to giving a voice to the victims or survivors of organized crime. Survivors-based stories and testimonies, as well as the expansion of sources from the CSOs focused on the gender perspective could help. Providing a greater attention to women and girls – survivors of organized crime, expending a list of female contributors in the stories and interviews, as well as focusing on a wider social context and consequences of the crime, could lead to a better gender equality in the media content focusing on the topic in question.
Also, one of the recommendations is to examine how gender plays a key role in strengthening community resilience to organized crime. Across the Western Balkans, women are at the forefront of leading civil society organizations addressing vulnerabilities associated with organized crime and corruption. Incorporating women’s perspectives into community responses is therefore important to further unpack the phenomenon and strengthen resilience. Understanding the drivers of organized crime helps to unpack the various components and enables communities most affected by it to respond appropriately and build resilience. While engagement in organized crime is often attributed to social pressure and expectations based on traditional gender roles, gender is an equally important component in civil society responses addressing vulnerabilities to organized crime. Gender also plays an important role in the leadership of CSOs. Women are at the forefront of many CSOs in the Western Balkans (as in other parts of the world); they are agents of change and sources of resilience in addressing vulnerabilities associated with organized crime and corruption. They work with children and youth to raise awareness about the risks of organized crime, as well as with drug users or victims of human trafficking. They also report from the frontlines about current trends in drug distribution and use.
Investigative journalism media outlets that are among the BMAP Forward key media partners, represent the best of independent journalism in the region. They are at the forefront of professional, responsible, and award-winning reporting, showcasing the most innovative approach to investigative journalism. Strengthening the gender perspective in the investigative reporting on crime and corruption, although it might look difficult and with many barriers occurring on the way, could bring a significant change in reshaping the usually mirrored reality in which masculinity plays the dominant role.
The analysis of the media partners media content proved how different and specific each of them is. But overall impression, as shown by the monitoring exercise, is that all of them are lacking gender balance in their content, and most of them among the staff too. In a few examples we noted perpetuating of stereotyping women and girls, while gender misrepresentation goes along with underrepresentation. Having said that, we are aware of the wider socio-political context of the region in which the female underrepresentation is a normal practice.
The “Gender Equality in the Media” study produced within the Balkan Media Assistance Program to Foster Organizational Readiness While Advancing Resilient Development (BMAP Forward) aims at responding to the needs expressed by the key media partners for the improvement of gender equality and inclusion policies and practices. The authors of this Danica Ilić, Vanda Kučera and Armina Mujanović study analyzed the BMAP Forward key media partners’ requirements, as well as their output, offering some solutions and recommendations for the long-term, substantial improvement in the field of gender equality in the media.
Read previous articles:
Gender Equality in the Media: part one