Covid-19 and Women in News Coverage

They are at the frontline but almost invisible in the news.

In many countries, lifestyle drastically changed in March after the novel virus expanded over the globe. I remember being at work when I heard the first press conference of the Finnish government about the crisis. Days after, on the 16th of March, they declared a state of emergency. 

Besides talking with relatives and friends who live in different countries about the pandemic, I also followed the media as one of my sources. But it was healthy not to be influenced all day by the news. 

During these months of the crisis, a lot of people are working to give us the services that we need. Many women are among health professionals, public workers, social workers, scientists, and others. However, in many of the reportages, female expert’s voices and women, being the protagonists of the stories have an under-representation in news media. 

Back in April Forbes magazine listed Jacinda Arden,the Primer Minister of New Zealand;  Tsai -Ing -wen, the first female president in Taiwan; Mette Frederiksen, the Danish Prime Minister; Katrí­n Jakobsdóttir, Iceland’s Prime Minister; Sanna Marin, the Prime Minister of Finland; Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany;  and Erna Solberg, Norway´s Prime Minister, as leaders who had the best outperformance in the fight against the virus, in contrast to the male heads of state. This was news for days; it would have been great to have such coverage constantly. 

The study, The Missing Perspectives of Women in COVID-19 newswas conducted in India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK, and the US, by the international audience strategy consultancy, AKAS. In one of the chapters, they analyzed three groups of women coverage in news: as experts, sources of news, and story protagonist.

The first finding of the study is that women expert’s voices were substantially smaller than that of men in all countries. “In the UK, 25% of people quoted in COVID-19/ coronavirus articles were women. This was followed by Kenya and the US, where women were quoted a fifth of the time (20% and 19%, respectively), then by South Africa, Nigeria and India where women’s share of voice in Covid-19/coronavirus stories was 17%, 17% and 16% respectively”.

The second fact is that women were less used as sources of authoritative expertise than men, but they were more likely to be used as a source of subjective personal views. In Akas’s portrayal analysis “half of the people quoted in the news were experts and commentators while only 6% were sources. Women constituted only 19% of all experts but 53% of sources”.

And the third finding is that between the 1st March 2020, and 15th, of April 2020, women had low visibility as the story’s protagonists in the six countries. In the US 14%, South Africa 15%, Nigeria 15%, Kenya 15%, 19% in India, and 26% in the UK. 

Framing the news is very vital to how the audience will be perceived, thus protagonists, expert voices, and sources must be from the people that know about the story to cover. But it’s  also important to write about local stories and the relationships they have with other wider topics. For example, where to get assistance in case of gender-based violence, or by providing tips for parents to entertain their child(ren) during Covid-19. 

Many countries are in the second wave of the pandemic, so less hope this time women can have a higher percentage of lead in the news coverage. 

Do you know a woman in your community who is leading the fight of Covid-19? Share the story with us.