A recent report released by the EJS Center has highlighted the chronic underreporting of women candidates in the run-up to the Zambian 2021 general and presidential elections, with only 18.15% of 1,344 articles across 8 Zambian news outlets mentioning 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. With women making up only 12.9% of the members of parliament elected in 2021, 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.
Commenting on the report, 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.”
Echoing those beliefs, a woman candidate interviewed in the report said:
“Centers like yours, working with some of us, can provide the leadership in trying to work with the media houses… to create a better perception of women… to mobilize those women that can be mentors to the young people that want to participate in politics.”
The report was also an opportunity to shed light on the positive way forward for the media industry through recommended actions for improving the media landscape both in Zambia and further afield.
The full report is available here.