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Commentary: News stories under-represent women

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A UMNS photo by Ginny Underwood

Glory E. Dharmaraj, with the Women's Division, says the Global Media Monitoring survey shows a lack of female perspectives in news stories.
March 28, 2006

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 making.

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

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.

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A UMNS photo from GBGM

Students at Augusta (Ga.) State University examine newspapers as part of the Global Media Monitoring project.
It is equally important to show how women themselves are engaged in addressing such issues on behalf of women.

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 policy advocacy.

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

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