Study after study shows that how women are depicted in advertising and the media indirectly impacts how women candidates and elected leaders are perceived. Sadly, sexist coverage is commonplace in most countries. The Global Media Monitoring Project finds that women are more likely than men to be featured as victims in news stories (with the exception of domestic and sexual violence, which receives little media coverage) and to be identified according to family status. Women are also far less likely than men to be featured in the world’s news headlines. 

Is it really necessary to make a sexy nurse ad to promote a pharmacy? Recent photo from my last trip to Kyiv, Ukraine.

During elections, the media tends to covers men as thought and opinion leaders over women, preferring to focus on their roles as wives and mothers.

Activists as well as policymakers I work with around the globe will often state, ¨People in our country (insert X country here) are simply unwilling to vote for women, period” First, we need to test that assumption, with real data that examines the role of gender in voting decisions. Second, we also have to consider that if women are less than 20% of candidates in X country (insert the majority of countries around the world here), than women are never going to be equally represented, so let´s not take low representation as an indication of attitudes. Last point, media portrayls impact perceptions about women, period. 

Research shows that sexist news coverage does three really damaging things:

  • Discourages citizens from voting for women candidates
  • Discourages them from contributing to women’s campaigns
  • Dissuades women from entering politics

So, in our toolkit of strategies to increase women´s participation, we have to point our attention to the media environment in which women are running for office and where gender is defined. As activists, we have been reluctant to do so.

What can be done?

Turns out, a lot. I was recently in Ukraine working with journalists to expose them to concepts of gender-balanced reporting. How does appearance-based coverage of female candidates impact the way they are perceived by voters? Who are the sources of stories selected as experts, and is there a fair balance? When writing about policy issues such as pension reform or even environmental disasters, is there a way to ensure gender and its role is examined? These are just some of the topics we addressed.

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