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Jan 5, 2016
Anne Marie Slaughter, a US foreign policy expert, once said that when John Kerry was nominated as US Secretary State in 2013, her son asked her: “mom, how can a man be a Secretary?” For the previous eight years, two women had held the high-profile position. To me, the boy’s astonishment captures the influence of public role models in shaping a child’s perspectives on life and what can be done.
The story also makes me wonder how would my own daughters assess their range of possibilities in life? Outside of our family and community, who are the role models they are hearing or reading about in the media?
US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton notwithstanding, the result is that a shockingly few women leaders or experts are available for them to look up to. In fact, according to a report released recently that monitors media content globally (see link below),
when the world consumes media – online or traditional – only 10% of all stories they see, hear or read feature women.
And for stories covering economics or politics, that percentage plunges to between 5-7%.
It is 2016, the era of Christine Lagarde (Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund) and Angela Merkel (Chancellor of Germany), but media coverage remains a glaring example that profound bias is pervasive. In reality, women leaders are in every field, but they remain largely ignored by the US and global media. While the reasons for this gap are manifold – misogyny, culture, power control and simple lack of intention – the impact is serious and affects us all similarly.
The media has tremendous power to define what and who is given attention in a community and holds a proven ability to shape cultural norms. If women thought-leaders received equal time in news coverage, women would be sought equally as sources in all stories – economic, political and national security. The media would reflect the views of the entire community, not just men in power.
Sadly, there is an increase in violence against women, online and off, when they raise their voices in media. This is a worrisome trend we are seeing everywhere around the world.
In Afghanistan, where women have enjoyed increased power through media, they are also experiencing a backlash – sometimes with horrific violence.
In late September, the Taliban briefly overtook the city of Kunduz in Northern Afghanistan and interestingly, their first concern has been to hunt down and threaten women leaders, from lawyers and activists to those who run shelters. Then, they looted and burned down the six existing radio and television stations in that town.
With several of those media outlets, the Taliban hit two birds with a stone – Radio Television Roshani, Radio Cheragh and Radio Zhurah were women-owned and women-run. These stations served as the voice of the communities in Kunduz and were a rare public space for women, in an incredibly conservative society. These are our partners – two of the radio stations we built, many of the journalists we trained, and they remain crucial ongoing production partners.
These women must get back behind their microphones, so that the women of Kunduz can begin to rebuild their lives.
I am proud to share with you three stories of remarkable women who are taking on one of the most important roles to serve this cause and who are today’s role models for the world’s daughters to see.
See more information here: Global media monitoring