Bridging the gender gap in COVID-19 media

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Nearly a year and a half into the crisis, COVID-19 has taken as many as 12.7 million lives and cost the world economy trillions of dollars. It is threatening to push 115 million more people into extreme poverty, with women and girls fairing the worst.

In Africa, the aftershocks of the pandemic are particularly profound. Throughout West Africa, the price of staples is up 40% over a five-year average. At one point, Nigeria was spending 99% of its revenues on debt service. And in Kenya, there was a 775% increase in calls to a domestic violence call center after the onset of the pandemic — underscored by reports of increased gender-based violence throughout Eastern and Southern Africa.

At ONE, we’re delivering real-time data and analysis on the pandemic through our Africa COVID-19 Tracker and Aftershocks newsletter. But we know that there are a lot more stories to tell about the impacts of the pandemic, especially from women and girls across Africa. That’s why we teamed up with the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) to launch the ONE + AWJP Aftershocks Data Journalism Fellowship.

Through this fellowship, our incredible cohort of 12 female journalists — from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa — will investigate some of the under-reported gendered dimensions of COVID-19 in Africa. The fellows’ past reporting has explained how the spread of COVID-19 through the open-air markets in Kenya and Nigeria drove up food prices and disrupted cash flows for the predominantly female vendors. Their reporting has also exposed how school closures during the pandemic reduced blood donations and endangered pregnant women in Uganda, and how COVID-19 restrictions prevented Ghanian women from receiving much-needed obstetric surgery. Data-driven pieces like this are key to understanding the complex interplay between COVID-19 and gendered issues on the continent.

The fellowship will advance gender equity in a field historically dominated by men: worldwide, women make up just 24% of the people heard, read about, or seen in newspaper, television, and radio news. This issue is even more acute during COVID-19. A recent report found that across India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK, and the US, there is a substantial bias towards men’s perspectives in both newsgathering and news coverage of the pandemic. The report finds that men’s perspectives outnumber women’s by at least 5 to 1 — exposing both inequalities in the people reporting, and in representation among COVID-19-related experts and decision-makers in the countries analyzed.

Meanwhile, the many dimensions of the crisis have differential impacts on women than men. Women are uniquely impacted by higher rates of job loss, shrinking work hours, and greater care burdens. Overall, the pandemic will delay the realization of most gender-related Sustainable Development Goals, particularly related to maternal health care and gender equality. When women’s perspectives on COVID-19 are limited in news coverage, they have decreased influence in the framing of these profoundly significant issues and less influence over policy decisions. We cannot afford to further marginalize women and girls amid the crisis of our generation.

As Catherine Gicheru, founder of AWJP and an ICFJ Knight fellow, said: “Strengthening this network [of female journalists] is key to our long-term goal. We believe in bridging the gender gap in media and creating a foundation for sustained, high-quality reporting around the pandemic and amplifying the issues that have received little attention.”

We’ll be amplifying the fellows’ stories across our Africa COVID-19 Tracker, Aftershocks newsletter, and @ONEAftershocks Twitter channel. Subscribe and follow us to stay up to speed on the latest data, analysis, and news on the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across Africa.

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Africa Women Journalism Project (AWJP) is dedicated to strengthening the voices of women journalists and driving coverage of under-reported gender, health and development issues that affect marginalized groups. AWJP provides women in African media with the knowledge, skills and support network they require to drive journalism that sheds light on gender, health and development issues impacting women and other marginalized groups.

International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) works at the nexus of journalism and technology, building the expertise and storytelling skills of reporters worldwide. Through our work, journalists are enhancing news coverage and connecting more deeply with their audiences. As a result, we are increasing the flows of reliable, trustworthy news – a cornerstone of healthy democracies. We believe that better journalism leads to better lives.

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