Commentary: News stories under-represent women
March 28, 2006
|A UMNS photo by Ginny Underwood
E. Dharmaraj, with the Women's Division, says the Global Media
Monitoring survey shows a lack of female perspectives in news stories.
A UMNS Commentary
By Glory E. Dharmaraj*
Got a story? That should be good enough.
Then why bother to probe a news story with a set of questions such as “who
speaks?” “Who listens?” “Who is left out?” and “Who profits?” These questions
themselves form story lines of their own.
A story line of advocacy brought together women worldwide last year, as
volunteers monitored the role, image and representation of women in newspapers,
television and radio. The data they collected is now available.
Sponsored by the World Association for Christian Communication, the purpose of
the event was advocacy on behalf of women. For the United Methodist Women
members, monitoring the image and role of women in media is a faith-based
advocacy effort in which they have participated ever since 1976.
Identifying the gender deficit in news coverage and advocating for gender
balance were the twin goals for the 76 countries participating in the Global
Media Monitoring event, held Feb. 16, 2005. The women worked on media monitoring
alongside students of the Department of Language, Literature and Communication
at Augusta (Ga.) State University.
In the United States, 84 participants monitored 58 newspapers, 16 television
stations and six radio stations across the country. In total, they monitored
1,678 people in the news, 396 reporters and 195 news presenters.
Similar monitoring was done by the United Methodist Women in 1995 and 2000.
The surveys in 1995, 2000 and 2005 show that, while women are physically
visible, there is a lack of female perspectives in news stories.
The worldwide spot-check and the local data concur that women are
underrepresented and their portrayals are often stereotyped. The global and
local findings confirm the lack of gender balance in news coverage and news
The 2005 results
Women constitute 52 percent of the world’s population, but they make up only 21
percent of people featured in the news. In the United States, women make 27
percent of people featured in news.
Men’s voices dominate in hard news about topics such as government and politics.
Women are more likely to be found in “soft” stories, dealing with such topics as
celebrity and the arts, where they make up 28 percent of news subjects, and they
are least likely to be found in “hard” news stories about politics and
governments (14 percent) and the economy (20 percent).
In the United States, 82 percent of government officials and politicians are
male; 85 percent in science and technology are male. Women are in the majority
as newsmakers in the area of office/services (80 percent), as students (58
percent) and as homemakers (81 percent).
Men dominate as spokespersons and experts. Eighty-six percent of all people
featured in news stories as spokespeople are men, who also make up 83 percent of
all experts. Women are mostly represented as expressing their personal
experience (31 percent) or popular opinion (34 percent).
News is still mainly reported and presented by men. The only exception is among
the TV presenters, where 57 percent of TV news stories are presented by women.
This imbalance is striking in newspapers where only 29 percent of newspaper
items are written by women reporters. Only 32 percent of stories on politics and
governments are reported on by female journalists, compared to 40 percent of
stories on social issues such as education or family relations.
In the United States, there are almost four times as many women presenters as
men in television (122 to 31). However, in radio, there are twice as many men as
women (20 to 9).
Women are very unlikely to be the central focus of a story. Only 10 percent of
news stories surveyed worldwide have women as their central focus. News stories
are more likely to reinforce than challenge gender stereotypes — 96 percent of
news stories worldwide do not highlight issues of gender equality or inequality.
In the United States, the stories that highlight equality or inequality make up
only 6 percent of the total news stories.
Further, women are most likely to be identified as “the wife of” or “daughter
of” someone. In the United States, women are identified this way in 18 percent
of stories, while males are identified as “husband of” or “son of” in 7 percent
of the stories.
A fuller report is available at www.whomakesthenews.org
Gender balance needed
In times such as this, when those most adversely affected by the impact of
poverty, migration, illiteracy, domestic violence, war and even natural
disasters predominantly have a female face, it is imperative to provide a gender
angle to the news coverage.
It is equally important to show how women themselves are engaged in addressing
such issues on behalf of women.
|A UMNS photo from GBGM
Students at Augusta (Ga.) State University examine newspapers as part of the Global Media Monitoring project.
Mere inclusion of women on committees and boards does not necessarily ensure
gender balance. That can only come about through men and women intentionally
using the gender lens in issues addressing poverty, security and justice.
The Global Media Monitoring effort offers hard data for advocacy efforts.
The trick for women, media professionals or otherwise, is not to be co-opted
into patriarchy. Women’s mere physical presence is not adequate. Mainstreaming
women’s perspectives is needed.
How and why media professionals position themselves to tell the story — the
“history” as well as the “herstory” — remains an issue for informed inquiry and
The glaring gender deficit in the stories analyzed by the Global Media
Monitoring event is a call for restoring women to their rightful place and role
in human interactions.
*Dharmaraj is executive secretary for justice education for the Women’s
Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or