A recent report released by the EJS Center has highlighted the chronic underreporting of women candidates in the run-up to the general and presidential elections held in Zambia in 2021. The report analyzed 1,344 articles across 8 Zambian news outlets and found that only 18.15% mentioned women candidates. The report also uncovered the use of toxic and derogatory language targeted at women candidates.
Given the critical role that the media plays in shaping voters’ perceptions of candidates, the gender bias revealed in the report raises concerns about whether women can compete on a level playing field with their male counterparts. Women make up only 12.9% of the members of parliament elected in 2021 in Zambia. It is clear that more work must be done to uncover and overcome entrenched barriers to equal representation.
The report, entitled ‘The Voices Forgotten by The Fourth Estate—A Report on Gender Bias in the Media Ahead of Zambia’s 2021 Elections,’ identified a significant lack of coverage of women candidates during the election period. This chronic underreporting is just one key area of concern related to gender bias in the media that was unveiled by the EJS Center through media monitoring and interviews with women candidates and journalists.
One woman candidate interviewed by the Center highlighted lack of access to resources as a barrier to securing coverage, noting:
“If you have no access to media to explain yourself and defend yourself, and also to bring out your true character, then your potential is killed. Just like that.”
Two additional key areas of concern were also identified: the biased—at times toxic—coverage of women candidates, and the underrepresentation of women in the newsroom. An established woman candidate shared her concerns over toxic media coverage:
It’s very tough… Every day they are calling you names. Using very vulgar language toward you. [In] Zambian politics people go to the extent of even branding you a prostitute.”
The report shed light on actions that could be taken to address these concerns and create a more gender-responsive media landscape. Concluding the report, EJS Center Founder and former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf noted:
“We cannot underestimate the importance of media’s role in shaping our world view, and specifically how we view women. They have a responsibility to ensure free, fair, and unbiased reporting in order to level the playing field and allow women to reach their full potential—as political candidates, community leaders, or valued members of society. It is also the responsibility of institutions like the EJS Center to help the media along on this journey and work with them to create an equal media landscape for all.”
The report was the result of extensive work conducted by the EJS Center and partners in Zambia to track and analyze media coverage ahead of, during, and after the 2021 elections. While the report is not exhaustive, it is hoped that it will spark further discussion on the issue of gender bias and its impact within the media industry in Zambia and across the African continent and serve as a gateway to nurturing a fair and equal media environment in Africa.https://thenewdawnliberia.com/ejs-center-stands-in-solidarity-with-victims-of-gbv-in-liberia/