GL@10: Gender links across the oceans

Date: March 25, 2011
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The research and advocacy work of Gender Links came to my attention about seven or eight years ago when the group published its early studies on women’s employment in news companies in Southern Africa. What impressed me was the clear-headedness with which the work seemed to be carried out. The research asked basic, pointed questions about women’s and men’s level employment in the industry and how companies dealt with gender in their policies. More important, the group had a strategy to really change gender relations in the news.

The organisation was clearly coordinated by those with a depth of knowledge about the news industry, and who possessed a strong sensibility of gender equality.

I was happy to see Gender Links emerge for so many reasons. Data on women and media had not yet emerged to any degree from Africa. So, Gender Links immediately increased what was known about women’s relationship to media in 15 countries of that continent. The work I saw posted online was clear and professional. It was always contextualised within national cultures and traditions in reporting. The organisation of Gender Links was multi-racial, multi-national, and involving both women and men. It was just wonderful to see this happening.

Nor was I alone – Gender Links’ research grabbed the attention of feminist media activists and researchers everywhere. Fortunately, Gender Links’ staff have never been shy about putting their work onto the world stage, and the internet has allowed that to happen fairly easily. But the group has also had sufficient revenues to enable publications to flow out to many publics. I have been the greedy recipient of many publications, and today, my own Gender Links library occupies a sizable space on topics as diverse as Glass Ceilings, gender in sports reporting, and the reporting of HIV and AIDS, among other things.

In 2005 when Karen Ross and I embarked on the international study of women’s media activism, we pursued a number of women with Gender Links’ affiliations to serve as informants. That study, published in our book Women and Media: A Critical Introduction, included the work of Gender Links in what we called the Third Path of our Model of Women’s Media Action. Women who take the Third Path assume the role of advocate change agents who seek to open women’s access to the media in one way or another.

By contrast, those whose media advocacy work fell into the First Path are feminist activists who learned to “use” some kind of media to tell women’s stories or otherwise increase women’s political voice. Women in the Second Path are women media professionals who use their insider status within the industry to increase content about women from a feminist perspective. Women in the Fourth path are media entrepreneurs – feminists who establish book publishing, newspapers, news organisations and other businesses to give women complete control over their own communications.

I wanted to bring Gender Links’ work to the attention of feminist media scholars in a more substantial way. In 2006, I invited Colleen Lowe Morna to be one of several keynoters at a day-long symposium on women’s research on news in Dresden, Germany. The Symposium, part of the International Communication Association conference, brought together nearly 40 university-based feminist researchers from 16 countries. A very tired Colleen came and pepped herself up with a workout in the hotel fitness centre. She then moved into action with all of her books, audio and video, and other materials to share with participants. Her presentation of the work of Gender Links inspired us all and built new alliances among this community-based advocacy group and academic feminists around the world.

More recently, I’ve been pleased to work with Colleen and Gender Links members on other projects in which we shared an interest. I spoke at a Gender and Media Summit in Johannesburg in 2008 about International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) plans to conduct a major international study of women’s employment status in news companies. I served as the principal researcher for that study, and in that capacity, I worked with Gender Links’ staff in developing a research instrument and, later, IWMF obtained data from Gender Links’ Glass Ceilings study for inclusion in our report, the Global Report on the Status of Women in News Media. That report, which comes out in March 2011, cites Gender Links’ work throughout.

A large, warm thanks to Gender Links for its many pursuits and for its willingness to collaborate with other like-minded souls around the world. May your next decade be as successful.

Carolyn Byerly is a professor in the Department of Journalism at Howard University in Washington DC. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service series celebrating GL’s tenth anniversary.



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