Advancing women’s equality through the media

Advancing women’s equality through the media

Globally, women only make up 24% of news sources. And unfortunately there hasn’t been much change in the past 25 years, with the number of female news sources and subjects only slightly increasing. The imbalance in sources reflects and contributes to the everyday reality that many issues which primarily affect women receive little to no coverage, particularly in countries with low levels of development.

On International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting the great work of some of our clients – independent media companies in countries where access to free media is under threat – whose coverage of issues that disproportionately affect women has contributed to positive change.

Some of these media companies are specifically gender-focused, like Quote this Woman+, which works on getting more women’s voices heard in South African media by maintaining and promoting a curated database of experts. Others are general news outlets whose work highlighting women’s issues raises awareness across society and gives women a platform from which to be heard. From publishing stories of sexual violence to creating projects to promote women’s rights, they are helping to promote equality and challenging pervasive attitudes in their communities.

Overcoming efforts to conceal rape by influential official

In Indonesia, Project Multatuli produces data-based, deeply researched news stories to serve underreported communities and hold power accountable. Multatuli’s October 2021 article about the rape of three young children by their father, an influential local government official in South Sulawesi, and the police’s refusal to process a case against him, had dramatic impact after being amplified by collaboration with other media. Its publication was followed by a DDoS attack which is widely regarded as having been linked to the local police and intended to silence the media. Instead, the reverse happened. In an impressive example of media collaboration, multiple media including two leading national media that are also MDIF clients, Tempo and Suara, republished Multatuli’s article, at its request, to ensure that the story was not buried. A hashtag regarding the story also went viral on social media. The intense publicity surrounding the case resulted in the police committing to reopen the case and a call from the chief of police for local forces to improve their public services. The original Multatuli article isn’t available in English, but Coconuts media published a summary of how the attempt to silence the media backfired.

Celebrating women’s achievements

Another example of media putting women at the centre of their work is Puma Podcast in the Philippines. Aside from 70% of their team being women, they also produce several shows that highlight the struggles and more importantly the successes of women in various spaces. One such show is Go Hard Girls, the only podcast dedicated to Filipina athletes. In an industry that is so male dominated, the Puma Podcast team have chosen instead to amplify the voices of women, like Bianca Bustamante, the first Filipino to race in the all-female W Series with her eyes set on F1 one day, and the coaches of three women’s basketball teams who are working to ensure their players achieve success and achieve their full potential. The show creates space for women to share their experiences and uplift young women who may be new to sports. This show has been very well-received and has even seen brands like Nike and Under Armour come on as sponsors for select episodes.

Another podcast from Puma Podcast is Conservative Ako, a no-holds-barred podcast about sex and female pleasure, hosted by licensed psychologist and sex and relationships therapist Rica Cruz. The podcast, another first of its kind in the Philippines, talks about all aspects of women’s health, including sexual pleasure, religious guilt and sex education.

Exposing sexual abuse

In 2019, Ecuadorean news site GK published an investigation that uncovered repeated sexual abuse by an instructor at a gym. GK’s investigation revealed the stories of five women, detailing frequent sexual abuse by an instructor when they were children, with some being as young as eight years old. When the victims told their stories, the abuser was still working in the same gym two decades after some of the girls had been abused.

After the investigation was published, the Board for Rights Protection ordered the closure of the gym until girls’ safety was guaranteed. Twelve more women came forward to denounce the same instructor and one of the victims pressed charges. As of January 2023, the investigation was ongoing and the gym remained closed.

Free sanitary pads for disadvantaged women and girls

Many women in South Africa cannot afford sanitary products and are forced to use rags, leaves, toilet paper or newspaper instead of disposable pads. Each month, millions of girls miss school because of menstruation. Mail & Guardian has been very vocal in the debate on menstrual health, an issue that is often overlooked by policymakers.

Health reporter Pontsho Pilane triggered an online petition calling on the government to issue free sanitary towels to disadvantaged women and girls, which collected thousands of signatures, and presented a policy proposal to parliament. Within months, the KwaZulu Natal education department launched a project to provide free sanitary pads to students in 2,000 schools in deprived areas.

Mistakes and misconduct in prosecution

In Poland, a man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for repeated rapes and cruelty towards his wife and two daughters. The daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza gained unprecedented access to the abused wife, who shared her story on condition of anonymity. In addition to describing her ordeal, the article exposed serious mistakes by the prosecutor’s office, which had dismissed the case twice.

With rape victims often disbelieved and their evidence dismissed, the article highlighted how the Polish justice system is ill-equipped to handle sexual abuse and protect women. After publication, the District Attorney reviewed the case for potential involvement of other individuals in the abuse and filed a criminal investigation into alleged misconduct by the prosecutors tasked with the case. Moved by the article, many of Wyborcza’s readers sent donations to a foundation that supports the victim and her daughters, with the collected money spent on further therapy.

Tackling abuse in child marriages

KBR, Indonesia’s largest radio network and a former MDIF client, ran a six-episode podcast series examining the problem of child marriage in Indonesia. While the law bans the marriage of minors below the age of 19, there is a legal exception whereby the government can grant permission to allow underage girls to marry in certain circumstances. However, this loophole is routinely exploited: in 2020, the government accepted 33,000 out of 34,000 applications for child marriage.

KBR decided not to focus on the policy debate. Instead, it used the story of individual victims like Rasminah, who was 13 at the time of her first marriage, and Ida, who experienced domestic violence after being married at 14. The producers created moving portraits of child marriage, putting a human face on a topic often only portrayed through numbers.

The series – produced with assistance from GIJN’s advisory services program – drew public acclaim and sparked a national debate on child marriage in the country. The content to date has reached more than half a million people.

Providing motivational content for women

Indian media platform Josh Talks launched the Aasha channel, a YouTube channel aimed at promoting good quality motivational content for women, something there is a severe shortage of. Aasha’s focus is to improve the personal and professional lives of millions of women across small towns in South Asia by focusing on topics such as careers, relationships and women’s personal and social images. The channel currently has more than 300k subscribers and more than 53 million views.

These examples highlight only a small part of the work done by our clients and other equality-supporting media as they seek to make sure that issues affecting more than half of humanity are not ignored. Media may not be the sole answer to the problem of gender inequality, but as these examples demonstrate, they can be part of the solution.