In the past year, women have been disproportionately affected by the covid-19 pandemic, and even though they have borne the brunt of the social, economic and political impacts of the virus, coverage of the disease has been dominated by male voices. There’s been a surfeit of news reports, opinion pieces and research papers on covid-19, but a new study has found that women’s voices continue to be underrepresented in the global news media, even while covering the pandemic.
Women constituted 19% of experts compared to 77% men in the 175 most highly ranked covid-19 articles across the six countries, identified via Google’s news search. In India, women are three times less likely than men to feature in news reports. In political news coverage, men’s share of voice is up to 7 times higher than that of women, according to the report, The Missing Perspectives of Women in News.
“Every individual woman’s voice in the news on covid-19 is drowned out by the voices of at least three [to] five men. The women who are given a platform in the coronavirus story are rarely portrayed as authoritative experts or as empowered individuals but more frequently as sources of personal opinion or as victims/ people affected by the disease,” the report notes.
The study, commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, covered six countries—India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, UK and US—examining more than 11,000 publications and 1.9 million stories between 1 March and 15 April 2020.
The Missing Perspectives of Women in News finds that women’s representation in the news has plateaued, if not reversed, in the past decade. It is not only that women remain underrepresented in newsroom leadership, but also that gender equality stories are untold, and men remain the vast majority of quoted experts and sources, the report observes. “In 2019 the coverage of gender equality issues constituted less than half a percent of all news coverage in India, UK, US and Nigeria and less than 1% in South Africa and Kenya,” it says.
In India, data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy and other sources has shown that incomes have fallen post the lockdown in India, and women have been disproportionately affected by the loss of wages. The sectors that have been worst affected by the pandemic, and are likely to be among the slowest to recover, include education, healthcare and hospitality, which employ a large number of women. In its Covid Livelihoods Survey, Azim Premji University researchers found that the number of women who had been previously employed but exited the labour market during the pandemic stood at 52%.
The absence of women’s perspectives in any news coverage, and particularly pandemic-related coverage, means that the issues women face do not get highlighted and, as a consequence, they have limited influence over policy and decision-making. “As a result, women are at ever greater risk of being further marginalized within different societies amid the most significant global health crisis of our lifetimes,” the report says.