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Media’s Gender Equality Work Has Stagnated

The Swedish network Allt är möjligt, which is Swedish for ‘everything is possible’, brings together Nordic actors for discussion on the responsibilities of media in the gender equality work. Sexist advertising, media activism and challenges in journalism are some of the topics that will be addressed by the network at the Nordic Forum in Malmö.

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Almost 20 years ago, the UN made a major contribution to the global gender equality work by presenting the so-called Beijing Platform. The document encourages media to increase the opportunities for women in the industry. It also discourages stereotypical portrayals of women in media. Since the publishing of the platform, the share of female journalists has increased. However, men remain heavily overrepresented in the media content.
‘Here in the Nordic countries, we like to think we’re world leading and that the mission has been accomplished. This is probably why the development has stagnated,’ says journalist Jenny Rönngren, who is on the board of Allt är möjligt and managing editor of the Swedish online journal Feministiskt Perspektiv.

Why is Nordic cooperation on gender equality in media important?
‘We need to exchange ideas about how we can achieve change. Feministiskt Perspektiv is one such strategy. It is an attempt to formulate a different type of journalism. Half of all Swedish journalists are women, but when it comes to media content, the development seems to have stalled. For example, only 30 per cent of the people interviewed in media are women. And this hasn’t changed since the Global Media Monitoring Project’s first assessment in 2000.’

What’s the reason for this lack of development?
‘I think it has to do with our self-image in the Nordic region and in Nordic journalism. There’s a notion that our journalism is pro-gender equality, while the truth is that it only serves to cement the existing norms. It is a problem that the media consider gender equality a special interest, or a political agenda. In contrast, many large organisations in the rest of the world think of gender equality as a fundamental aspect of their operations.’

At the Nordic Forum in Malmö, you will talk about the Nordic media activism and the work against sexist advertising. Are there any differences in how the Nordic countries are handling this issue?
‘Yes. For example, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland have laws against discriminatory advertising, whereas Sweden only has an advertising ombudsman to which complaints can be made. The Allt är möjligt network is encouraging Sweden to follow the example of its Nordic neighbours. The Swedish ombudsman has no means of imposing sanctions, so their reprimands are not always effective.

Jenny Rönngren
 Jenny Rönngren. Photo: private

What can media-critical activism look like in the Nordic countries?
‘Social media has become an important tool and can set off an explosion. Protests by single individuals can spread almost instantly to hundreds of thousands of people, and the attention this can spark is important. There’s also a point in catching the criticism and giving it a longer life. In Sweden we’re trying to do this with the webpage Reklamera, which is run by Allt är möjligt and the Swedish Women’s Lobby. Activists can use the page to post observations and feedback, and there is a working group that can help proceed with reported cases.’

What are the biggest challenges for Nordic media in the near future?
‘The economic crisis has made many organisations pressured for resources and time. Since gender equality work is often perceived as something external to regular operations, it is often the first thing to go in tough times. This is a major problem and I think the whole thing is backwards. As I see it, gender equality work is a way for an organisation to invest in sustainability and future relevance.’


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

Updated 11 February 2021