While there has been much discussion about gender equality and women’s rights worldwide, there are still enormous problems with representation both through and of women, especially in media. Antonina Andriichuk and Lilian Sekkai researched on gender-based discrimination in Ukraine and Germany.
Men dominated Media Leadership
Various surveys in Ukraine as well as Germany show that there is a lack of women working in media, especially in leading positions, as most of the female employees are editors. The situation of female journalists in both countries discloses some instances of sexism and harassment for women working in media, while there are certain ways in which female journalists and organisations are operating in order to improve the situation for women in media in both countries.
No fairness in pay
The pay gap between women and men in Ukrainian media is about 20%, according to the „Повага“ campaign requested by the State Statistics Service of Ukraine in 2018. On average, men receive 15,714 hryvnias (471.47 Euros) per month, while women receive 12,556 hryvnias (376.74 Euros). This clearly shows that there is a place for gender inequality in the media sphere in Ukraine.
Journalist Mariia Smyk remembers how she wrote texts for one project. The load was heavy, so later her employer hired another man. Smyk had to edit his texts for several hours and did not get any additional payment for it.
„It simply came to our notice then that he was getting a few thousand more than I was. He did not know this either and started talking about it with the management and saying that he was ready to have his salary reduced. The project was soon completed, and fairness in payment never began“, said Smyk.
There are more girls in journalism faculties than boys. However, at the same time, mostly men become leaders in the media. In the Ukrainian media, the glass ceiling concept is still relevant. It is harder for women than for men to break through the career ladder, both because of stereotypes and direct discrimination.
Harassment and Sexism in Ukrainian Media : „I felt like a doll“
In addition, female journalists often suffer from sexism in the workplace. For example, they are asked to apply makeup or dress in a certain way. The regional representative of the Institute of Mass Media in the Volyn region, Maya Golub, says that special attention is paid to female journalists in Ukrainian society. According to her, sometimes people publicly assess who is wearing what and stereotypically ask: „did she earn it herself?“. This was the situation in Lutsk, when entrepreneurs shouted unpleasant words to the editor of the video news channel „Konkurent“, Oleksandra Kurteeva, who was taking photos at the Central Market. They persistently asked her where she got her fur coat from.
Journalist Smyk was 17 when she started working remotely as a freelance copywriter. At first everything was fine. Her 30-year-old boss praised her and gave the young journalist useful professional advice. But then he started calling after 10 p.m. He called her an „enviable girl.“ He said that they would suit each other. Smyk replied that she did not like such conversations. But the boss behaved like he did not hear anything. She was afraid to resign because she needed money. It all lasted about a year and a half. „I fell into depression and felt like a doll, unable to stop it. When he offered to come to me with champagne, that was the last straw. I resigned on my birthday and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever given myself“, said Smyk.
Women’s rights and body positivity
On the positive side, women journalists have recently become more active in defending their rights. They unite and fight together. More than a year ago, journalist Elizaveta Kuzmenko founded the „Women in the Media“ organization. Previously, no such organizations specifically for women existed.
In this organization, journalists can share their problems and experiences. The first initiative of the organization is a group for psychological help. The psychologist gave recommendations, advice and conducted trainings for journalists. The organization has launched the „This Egg“ („Це яйце“) anti-award, which is presented for sexist statements among politicians and sexist materials in the media.
According to Viktoriya Yermolaeva, deputy head of Women in the Media, it is easier to fight gender equality in independent media, where everything is transparent. She advises women journalists working in oligarchic media to unite and assert their rights. An example of this is the StarLight media group, which includes seven TV channels, like „New Channel“ and „ICTV“. This media company belongs to one of the Ukrainian oligarchs. Journalists in this media implemented a program on gender equality, and they conduct trainings with their employees.
„This is cool. This suggests that large media corporations are also making changes in this regard. Times change and it becomes unfashionable to be sexist. Public condemnation is also needed. The main argument when I talk to the editors of sexist shows is that it’s ratings are good and people like it. When women understand that there is body-positivity and that you cannot consider yourself as something wrong, just because there are only slender women on TV, it will change. But it must be comprehensive“, said Yermolaieva.
Maya Golub, a regional representative of the Volyn Oblast Institute of Mass Media, emphasizes that women journalists should speak publicly about violations of their rights. It is important that journalists turn to the police if their rights are violated. Publicity often protects women journalists. „One should not remain silent if rights have been violated. Publicity attracts the attention of other media outlets, which can support those whose rights have been violated“, said Golub.
Meanwhile in Germany
According to the latest ProQuote survey examining the „proportion of women with journalistic power in Germany, 2018-2019“, there are huge differences in the representation of women in media, especially in leading positions. There may be some differences regarding various media associations, but women are generally represented as almost half of the total workforce in most media companies. This shows an almost equal representation of women, despite the fact that managing positions lack female delegation.
No executive equality
The poor representation of women in leading positions in media can be found in regional newspapers where only 10,2% of executive journalists, such as editors in chief, are women. Magazines show at 48,9% the best delegation of women in leading positions, while even here the representation of men is slightly superior. Even online media and governmental broadcasting host only 30% to 40% women in leadership. There are huge differences comparing different media sources. Regarding the representation of women working executive positions in print media in June 2020, the German news magazine Focus shows the lowest proportion with only 15,2%, while the news magazine Der Spiegel employs 52% of women in leadership, and is therefore the only media source led by more women than men.
In addition, there is a gender pay gap of 24%, according to the women’s survey by the German Cultural Council of June 2016. Women do not earn as much as men, while also being underrepresented in leading positions.
„One of the main reasons, apart from many others is that there is still no adequate childcare available in Germany. Therefore „the big divide“ starts as soon as women become pregnant,“ Hilde Weeg, freelance journalist, communications trainer and Deputy Chair(wo)man of the jb League of Women Journalists (Journalistinnenbund e.V., jb) said.
No female point of view
Missing female representation does impact the daily life of female journalists as well as the gender-based biases released in German media. This in fact leads to some major problems in forming women’s identity.
„If there are no women in managing positions and if there are relatively few women for example talking in radio stations or news programs, especially young women might think this is not possible,“ said Laura Meyer. The young journalist has been working in radio and print media programs. „I’ve never worked in leading positions, mostly participating in progressive media projects“, said the 20- year old. She never had any discriminating experiences being a young woman in media. „I’ve seen many really successful women, even in local newspapers, while the editors in chief have been men“, she said. This description undermines the fact of low representation of women in media while showing that there can be growing chances for women at the same time.
„I felt uncomfortable“
Samira El Hattab has been actively working in journalism for about 4 years. She has not only experienced discrimination due to her female gender, but also because of her surname. The young journalist experienced that especially the qualitative media companies she has been in contact with have recently been focusing on employing women in managing positions. Although, she added: „I think the problem is if you’re looking at a higher level, not only editors in chiefs, but positions like directors who run the programs, they are mostly men.“ The 22-year old has been experiencing gender-based discrimination herself. „During an internship, male editors have been constantly commenting on my clothes for example, if I was wearing jeans with punctures, which made me feel really uncomfortable.“
She also mentioned that looks and tones may change when male interview partners or colleagues talk to female journalists like her. Spokesmen who distribute their business cards may confront females with unpleasant allusions. This fact is a problem leading to the circumstances of women feeling uncomfortable or being unreasonable sexualised.
Liberté, Egalité, Plurality
„My name [El Hattab] is sometimes closing doors for my research, when, for example, a politically right-oriented interviewee doesn’t want to talk to me.“ The experience of discrimination may seem shocking, but on the other hand the journalist said, „My name can also open doors. We need diversity in media, and therefore my name can help me to get in contact with a wider plurality than some of my colleagues.“
She further mentions the importance of diversity in media in order to represent all of society. „I stand up for more diversity which includes gender plurality and equality in general. I specifically support people who should be more represented in media,“ said El Hattab.
She wants everybody to be heard in the media. Similar to Meyer, El Hattab has been surrounded and influenced by strong and successful women. Her experiences show again that there is change coming, as there are many young and progressive women working in media. The issues of missing representation of women and attempts of harassment, which might be defined differently by male workers, has to be discussed publicly for there to be a chance to reach actual parity in German media, and in particular, in leading positions.
Women for Women
The jb League of Women Journalists was founded in 1987. „We are a network for female professionals working all over Germany in all branches of the media […] One of our main objectives is to achieve equal opportunities, equal representation and equal payment for female journalists, and to promote the use of genderimpartial language within the media,“ said Hilde Weeg.
Especially due to the Covid-19 pandemic many professional women – including female journalists – „suffered from a renaissance of old role-models when they were expected to take care of their children, plus work out of the home-office, while their husbands did not share the extra-workload,“ she said.
The journalist said: „Networking among women organizations like Pro Quote, Neue Deutsche Medienmacher*innen, Freischreiber, Deutscher Frauenrat, ver.di, DJV helps.“ In 2017, a cooperation of 17 organizations including ProQuote and the Journalistinnenbund issued the „Berliner Erklärung“, which addressed the outcome of political engagement for gender equality and postulates further actions to be taken. In 2019, the interim results proved „not very promising“, as they indicate for media, culture, medicine and science that there is more effort needed.
It is a problem that, in fact, there are no governmental surveys after 2016 analysing the current situation. Thanks to non-profit associations such as Pro Quote, there are more recent studies on the representation of women in German media. The work of these organisations and various journalists show that individual and collective commitment can make a difference, while there is still a huge need for conversations and fight for this topic.
Weeg, who started working as a freelance journalist in the 1990s, mentioned that not only regarding the payment, but also in terms of career-opportunities, there are disadvantages for women. A famous example is the still ongoing lawsuit of freelance female journalist Birte Meier against her employer ZDF, a German governmental broadcasting company. Birte Meier found out that she has been paid less money than her male colleagues for exactly the same work.
Supporting parity: What can we do?
„Experience shows: it needs a critical number of women in key-positions, to change the mind-set of an organization. It needs a gender-mix and more diversity in a broader sense to make teams work more productively, more respectfully, and more creatively“, Weeg said.
She also suggests: „use genderimpartial language, think twice about the pictures and photographs you choose to illustrate articles with female protagonists, speak up when you witness disrespectful or discriminating behaviour, and do not accept it if your male colleague gets more money for the same work. Apply for a mentoring programme or organize private tutoring with more experienced colleagues if possible. And join a network like the journalistinnenbund!“
Women on the rise
The representation of women in media is a major issue, especially regarding female identity development. In Ukraine as well as in Germany there are problems regarding the representation of women in leading media positions.
In Ukraine, women are unequally represented in media management positions. There are cases when they suffer from sexism and harassment. Additionally, there is a gender pay gap in the media. But women in Ukrainian media have recently become more active in defending their rights and interests.
In Germany, non-governmental associations and a young progressive generation of female journalists may be able to change these issues. The only question remaining is: how long and hard is this mission going to be? Societal debates could open up new chances on the fight of gender equality regarding media in both countries.