Too few women in the news: Significant gender gap is a structural problem

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“Following current trends, bridging the source gender gap would take 75 years,” said Sara Macharia, Programme Manager of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP).

“In 2015 women made up only 24 percent of the persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, radio and television news, exactly as they did in 2010.” In addition, “the needle towards parity has only moved 7 percent in 20 years.”

These are some of the takeaways from the Freedom of Speech and Gender Equality side event of the World Press Freedom Day 2016. The event dug into the findings of the GMMP 2015 report on gender equality in news media.

Among the largest issues regarding gender equality in news media are the lack of women reporting political and economic news and the lack of female representation as experts and spokespeople.

In 2015, only one fifth of economic news was reported by women, and an even more alarming 16 percent of news pertaining to politics and government was reported by women.

In contrast, the smallest gender gap in news reporting by topic was found in science and health news with about one third of news reported by women. Coincidentally, health and science is the major topic of lowest importance on the news agenda, occupying only eight percent of overall news space.

As per the function of women in news stories, only one fifth of experts and spokespeople were women. Female representation by function didn’t near half in any category – those closest were personal experience and popular opinion at just below forty percent.

The imbalance is even dimmer in issues that affect women disproportionately more, for example in peace, conflict and security stories. As Sara Macharia stated, “in countries that are either undergoing conflict or in transition, we found that only 13 percent of the people in those stories are women.”


Women are trapped in beauty cap

The GMMP report found that only 37 percent of stories in newspapers, television and radio newscasts are reported by women. The lowest percentage was in newspapers. Since 2000, the gap has narrowed the most in Latin America and Africa, where women caught up to men 14 and 11 percent respectively.

The sole sector of the news dominated by women is television newscasts, with over half of television newscasts presented by women. Even this finding had a darker side with a gross overrepresentation of younger women as anchors, with a diminishing amount of newscasts presented by women as they get older, an issue coined the “beauty cap”.

There is a slight but statistically significant bias of female journalists choosing women as sources more than men. The gender difference in source selection is even starker in online news.


Good practicesneeded

Professor Anu Koivunen of the University of Stockholm, stated that “the good practices approach feels versatile and promising.”

First and foremost in the good practices approach is “creating and holding onto targets and goals” in bridging the gender gap and fighting sexism in news media, according to Elisabeth Eide of the Oslo University College.

By stating goals to work towards, media houses can better identify what sectors of the said issue they are still lacking in, as well as celebrate the strides that have been made towards achieving their goals instead of perpetuating an attitude of silence.

Structural changes cited to combat gender inequality in news media include increasing awareness through knowledge campaigns directed at media regulators, media houses, civil society, media training institutions, funders and researchers.

The Nordic coordinators also brought up a lack of knowledge of global commitments in fighting sexism and bridging the gender gap in news media, as well a lack of sharing of good practices. They cited disparities between publications nationally as what comes to gender equality, and it was noted that public news services tended to perform better in the representation of women in the media than privatized news.


The GMMP has published its findings every five years since 1995, and is run by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). Data was gathered from 114 countries for the 2015 report.  Visit the GMMP website at to learn more about the report. 


Text: Ari Siliämaa

Photo: Jenni Toivonen


More on theme: What gender equality means to WPFD2016 guests?

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