Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Free Press Unlimited celebrates International Women's Day 2016, by publishing its policy on gender equality. The policy outlines our commitment to integrate gender equality in all of our work, not just today, on the 8th of March, but throughout the whole year and into the future.

Each year, on the 8th of March, our Facebook and Twitter feeds are flooded with updates on remarkable women fighting their battle for equal rights and opportunities for men and women. Even though women have come a long way in the last century, gaps and stereotypes in society and in the media still exist.

Download: Gender Equality Policy: Building inclusive societies in and through the media

Safety & power

Like every other sector, the media industry still deals with gender issues on the work floor. Although women are usually not the 'victims' as the media wants us to believe, it does hold true that women more often deal with unsafe situations in the context of their work as media professionals. According to findings of the International News Safety Institute, two thirds of women journalists are harassed and intimidated at their own office, mostly by their male colleagues and bosses.

In relation to decision making, the International Women's Media Foundation found that, overall, men occupy 73 % of the top management jobs, with substantial differences between regions and countries. “It's important that we analyse why women are less represented in decision making positions”, says Free Press Unlimted's director Leon Willems, “and come up with interventions to create equal opportunities for women.”

Paycheck and perceptions

Gender inequalities manifest not only in the way women and men relate on the work floor or by the numbers on their pay checks. There is also still a huge imbalance in how women and men are represented and portrayed in media content. Too often, media content still portrays women as the weaker sex, either as a victim of violence, or as an object of beauty and fashion. Men on the other hand are still believed to be the stronger sex, always in control and responsible for bringing in the money.

Along with political and economical rights, gender balance should also be reflected in our cultural and individual perceptions of what it means to be a man or a woman and how we act accordingly. The media industry plays a unique role in creating more gender balance in society. “Every industry deals with gender equality, but we believe that the media industry has a very specific and profound task in addressing gender issues”, says Leon Willems. “From a very early age on, our thoughts, feelings and behaviour are shaped by media content, leading to deeply rooted stereotypes. When all we see on television are male experts talking about the state of the economy, it's hard for a woman to picture herself in such a role.”

Following this, more women in editorial positions doesn't automatically result in more gender balanced media content. Both men and women reporters use stereotypical gender portrayals although women reporters are more likely to challenge gender stereotypes. Women are four times as likely to be identified by their family status instead of independent active participants with their own opinions. Men are typically characterized as powerful and dominant with little room for alternative ideas of masculinity.

Willems: “Our long term objective is that media and journalists constitute a diverse and professional media landscape, and function as agents of change. We believe gender equality is central to achieving this overall goal.”

Download: Gender Equality Policy: Building inclusive societies in and through the media

Header image by: Al Jazeera