Pro-male social norms muting women’s perspectives in news

Just 48 per cent of Kenyan women reported feeling safe in their community.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

In my research for articles and a forthcoming book, I often speak with women who have endured violence from men, usually ones they knew. The consequences are always devastating — destroyed self-worth, demolished lives, anguish that reverberates through generations.

Worryingly, violence against women and girls is “the most pervasive human rights violation”, UN Women states.

So how much attention does the news coverage in Kenya pay to this structural problem? Globally, is news part of the solution or part of the problem?

A recent UNODC and UN Women joint study reported that 81,000 gender-related killings of women and girls (also known as femicides) occurred in 2021.

The same year, the World Health Organization reported that 736 million women globally had been victims of violence, whether caused by an intimate partner or another.

Dispiritingly, both these statistics have remained flat in the last decade. Behind every number is a suffering woman or a girl.

Intimate partner violence

As regards Kenya, the WHO database indicates that 23 percent of women had reported intimate partner violence, a higher proportion than in five other countries — India, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK and the US — examined in my recent report, From Outrage to Opportunity.

Just 48 per cent of Kenyan women reported feeling safe in their community. Although better than in South Africa (33 percent) and Nigeria (42 percent), this nonetheless signifies more than half of Kenyan women feeling unsafe.

The report uncovers seven structural gender gaps that put women at a societal disadvantage compared to men: gaps in pay, power, confidence, authority, health, ageism and safety. Together, these are the focus of a meagre 0.02 per cent of global news coverage.

Our research found that Kenya has no women political editors, while one in five editors-in-chief (19 percent) and less than one in three business/economics editors (31 percent) are women. The proportion of women in top management has almost halved since 2011 (35 percent).

This results in stories relevant to women often being deemed ‘non-stories’.

Pro-male social norms are a fundamental factor in underpinning gender-based violence and muting or omitting women’s perspectives in news. But they are rarely, if ever, the focus of news coverage.

Additionally, approximately three quarters of Kenyan women and men believe that media portrays both sexes in stereotypical roles i.e. men solely as providers and women solely as caregivers.

However, amid all these challenges there is a thin silver lining. Kenyan news is carving out more space for reporting news related to violence against women (including gender-based or domestic violence, honour killings, intimate partner violence, rape or sexual assault).

However, there is still a lot more work to do. A fact that is undoubtedly the case for the news industry across the globe.

Ms Kassova is co-founder and director at AKAS. @LubaKassova