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Gender imbalance in Nordic news reporting

Only 18% of the people featured in the Icelandic news media are women. A similar gender imbalance can be found in all Nordic countries, and the latest study on the topic shows that the discrepancies are actually growing. A new project will explore how the trend can be turned around.

Finlands ordförandeskap 2016

The Nordic countries have come a long way when it comes to priorities and legislation in the area of gender equality. But this is not reflected in the gender balance in the reporting of news. The latest study on the matter, conducted within the framework of GMMP, the Global Media Monitoring Project, shows that Nordic countries are being surpassed by for example USA, Romania, Peru and Pakistan.

Last week, the Nordic Council of Ministers arranged a side event during the World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki. Representatives from the Nordic project Nordic Perspectives on Gender in News Media were there to bring attention to the issue of gender imbalances in the news media.

What’s the background and purpose of the project?

‘Twenty years have passed since the UN’s member states agreed to increase women’s access to the media and work against stereotypical portrayals. It’s time to try to understand why the Nordic countries, which have been pioneers in the area of gender equality, still display such strong male dominance in the reporting of news,’ says Maria Edström, media researcher at the University of Gothenburg and in charge of the Swedish part of the project.

The participants in the project will closely study the current state of gender equality in the Nordic news media. The plan is to develop a joint Nordic report that among other things will include examples of best practice.

‘There are in fact a number of good examples from Nordic newsrooms despite an overall decrease in female representation in news reporting,’ says Edström.

In Sweden, Västerbottens-Kuriren is one of the newspapers that have worked actively to increase the representation of women in the news. Its efforts have been successful, as the female representation in the newspaper’s reporting of news has climbed to almost 50 %. This rate is much higher than both the Swedish and the global average. The latest GMMP study from 2015 indicates that, on average, only 24 % of all news subjects worldwide are women.

What female representation rates can be found in the Nordic countries?

Maria Edström Gothenburg University
 Maria Edström Gothenburg University

‘The Nordic rates are only marginally better, although they vary a lot across the region,’ says Edström.

Sweden tops the Nordic list at 31 % female participation in the news. Iceland has the lowest rate at 18 %. The other Nordic countries place somewhere in between these numbers, with rates that are slightly higher than the global average.

The international GMMP study is carried out every five years and sheds light on how women and men are portrayed in the news media in a certain day. The latest version of the study shows that the average female representation in Nordic news media has fallen since the previous study in 2010.

What needs to change in order to increase the representation of women?

‘Overall, there’s a need for increased knowledge about these issues. But it’s equally important that the newsrooms develop strategies to keep track of the news content and of who they choose to feature in their reporting. In a nutshell, the people in news media need to become more aware of the whole thing.’


This is an article about one of the projects granted funding through the Nordic Gender Equality Fund.

Updated 2 October 2020