Skip to main content

Focus on gender equality in the media

The Nordic media industry – how gender equal is it and where are the good examples? These questions are addressed in the project Nordic Gender and Media Forum.
‘We should ask ourselves what kinds of problems media give attention to and who they present as heroes,’ says project leader Maria Edström.


Almost 20 years ago, the U.N. made an important contribution in the area of gender equality by adopting the Beijing Platform for Action, which supplements the Convention for the Elimination of all Discrimination against Women. The platform urged media to increase women’s opportunities in the industry and promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women. Maria Edström, journalist and media researcher, says it is hard to say what has happened since then:
‘Gendered statistics are difficult to come by and without a proper assessment, we have nothing to work with.’

Gender equality work gets results

One important task of the Nordic Gender and Media Forum is to gather the available statistics and make them accessible. Several seminars focusing of various aspects of the media industry will be arranged this year. The next seminar will be held on 6 March in Sweden in connection with the Media Days, which is an event targeting media, organisations, businesses and universities. The seminar will focus on news media and initiatives to increase gender equality in news reporting.   ‘Both the EU and the European Council are acknowledging the role of media in the gender equality work, so this is definitely the right time to address these issues,’ says Edström.

A lot of work remains, but Edström can already see that the newsrooms are discussing gender equality issues in a different way than 20 years ago.
‘Back then, you could say that the sport pages only show men because men obviously run faster than women. That line of reasoning just doesn’t work today,’ she says.
She has noticed an increased understanding of how the choice of interviewee is connected to the news valuation.
‘It’s about which stories we choose to focus on,’ she explains and adds that this understanding is important outside the gender equality perspective as well.

‘Different power dimensions determine who are portrayed in media and which journalists are given attention at the media offices,’ she says.

Registration open for media conference

Nordic Gender and Media Forum is funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers and managed by Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg. The project will serve as a platform for discussion and sharing of experiences between activists, researchers and people who work with media.

On 7 May, the project is arranging a Nordic conference on gender equality in media, in connection with Media Days. The registration has just opened and the attendees can look forward to a full day with a special focus on successful gender equality initiatives in the media industry. Edström mentions Danish Kvinfo’s expert database and Swedish Equalisters as positive examples. They want to see broader representation in media and help connect journalists with experts in underrepresented groups.

Active legislation – a way forward

Some governments have actively pressured the media industry to improve the unbalanced representation. For example, since 2011, the Icelandic media law requires media offices to report the gender proportions of people portrayed.

Edström believes that legislation for keeping statistics on whose voices are heard in the media can be an effective tool to achieve change, although it may be controversial:
‘It may be perceived as a violation of the freedom of expression.’
If the industry wants to avoid legislation, she thinks it is about time to stand up and act responsibly.
‘Whether we work with film, news, advertising or computer games, we need to ask ourselves which picture we give of society,’ she says.

Updated 6 October 2020