10 NOVEMBER 2021

Women In The Macedonian Tv Debate Programs During The 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic - The Embodiment Of Gender Inequality

Author: Angela Delevska, North Macedonia

Since the onset of the first case of coronavirus in North Macedonia on February 26, 2020, followed by the declaration of the first state of emergency on March 18, 2020, the media have been regularly reporting on a different aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic which, in addition to escalating into a health crisis, turned also into a socioeconomic and humanitarian crisis with strong negative implications for gender equality and further deepening effect of existing inequalities.

Women face many problems in the crisis that are worth noting by the media. However, the analysis of key debate programs in the country in 2020 during the coronavirus crisis “Off-Air: Gender representation in the Macedonian TV debate shows during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic”, which Elena Danova and I published with Civil Rights Defenders, confirmed that, in line with the previously established practice, the pandemic confirms the long-standing gender representation gap in the media. That issues are rarely considered and conveyed from a gender perspective and the use of women as sources of expertise in discussions on various aspects of the pandemic is very small.

What do the findings show?

To begin with, the analysis notes that women were largely absent both as a category or a group and as specific individuals. Regarding the latter, which was more frequently the case, women were almost always invited to speak in the context of their work as holders of public office and presidents of certain organizations / associations. The former was largely confined to the private sphere, so when women, were part of the topics discussed in the debates, the topics were again focused on the traditional care-giving responsibilities being attributed to women and on women and reproduction.

Although inequalities between men and women in the country are particularly prominent when it comes to economic status and access to financial resources and women are the largest number of medical workers (72,29 %), glaring absences of gender and gender equality-centered debates during the analysed period were mostly noted in debates on the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus and the epidemiological situation and the crisis management on the part of health authorities. Absence оf the gender dimension was also noted on topics discussing restrictive measures taken by the President of the country and the government to suppress the virus, although they brought specific difficulties and threats for women (such as work from and in the home, unpaid care work and increased danger of domestic violence). While women were mentioned as health care workers, textile workers and as informal workers, there was no further discussion about horizontal segregation or any other possible consequences stemming from the gender inequality axis.

Through numbers, our research showed that out of a total of 535 broadcast debate programs, 290 (or 54%) covered coronavirus-related topics where of the 636 guests who participated in these programs, only 136 were women (or 21%). In addition, the gender of the journalist did not make a difference in the numbers, considering the fact that although journalism in North Macedonia is predominantly a female profession and 67% of the debate programs covering coronavirus topics were host by women, still 46% of the programs were ‘manels’ – i.e. all male panels.

Finally, this “gender-blind” or ”gender-insensitive” approach was also noted in the language used. The omission was obscured by the use of an apparently gender-neutral language, which is in fact, a form of discursive exclusion of women and a form of annulment of gender differences. This becomes particularly apparent since the feminine plural form of some nouns, although part of the standardised Macedonian language, was used only in reference to certain professions that follow the horizontal segregation patterns, such as teachers, nurses, hygienists, textile workers.

The way forward

In order not to repeat these findings that have characterized the Macedonian media for years, media workers should increase capacity building efforts, primarily through gender awareness, gender representation and gender-sensitive language trainings for raising journalists and producers. Media self-regulatory acts, such as internal codes of conduct/ethics and internal supervision procedures, should include clear and effective gender representation and gender equality clauses that will also be taken into consideration in program developing, as well as in their administrative and financial planning.  Additionally, they should strictly avoid programs where there is no gender balance representation (such as ‘manels’), and should aim to identify and break their own biases towards and/or practices of seeing women as lesser sources of expertise compared to men. For example, this could be done by developing and regularly updating lists of experts by expanding it with experts that are not cis-men.

Last but not least, all of the above-mentioned recommendations fully apply also in relation to the trans* and non-binary experts and community which are currently almost fully invisible.

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