Practice Briefing 02

Josephine Casserly
Publication Date
October 1, 2016

"The media is a prism through which we see those in power. In many cases, media not only reflects inequalities between men and women but also amplifies and entrenches them."

Based on the experience of BBC Media Action’s work in producing factual programmes that deal with politics and governance, this practice briefing sets out what BBC Media Action has learned about how to make media more gender inclusive, thereby encouraging both men and women to hold their leaders to account and empowering them to participate in their own communities. The briefing highlights some of the challenges faced and the solutions found, and examines how effective the programmes have been in reaching and impacting on men and women equally. The paper draws on data from all 2011-2016 factual governance Global Grant projects in nine countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania.

After setting out the global picture for gender and governance, the paper outlines BBC Media Action’s governance programming, as well as their approach to mainstreaming gender in all of its work. This involves: 1) Providing a platform for inclusive discussion where female leaders, experts, and citizens participate alongside their male counterparts; 2) Making programmes that reach and engage both men and women; and 3) Building the political knowledge and discussion of male and female audiences to empower them to participate in their own communities.

The brief unpacks some of the the obstacles faced by BBC Media Action teams in producing TV and radio programmes which are designed to provide a platform for female leaders, experts, and citizens to engage in debate and discussion, alongside men. For example, finding female guests and studio audiences to ensure a representative panel and adequate representation of women in the audience has been challenging. Government departments, ministries, and non-governmental organisations sometimes refuse to provide a female spokesperson, and women often don’t get permission from their fathers or husbands to attend programme recordings as audience members. The briefing shares some of the solutions found by the production teams. For example, instead of just inviting one high-level decision maker, they invited more panelists, which allowed for a broader selection of people, including civil society and other experts, who are more likely to include women. To overcome issues of lack of confidence in audience female members to speak up, production teams would talk to them one-on-one before the recording. As stated in the briefing, “Overall, the results of these efforts have been impressive. On average across the five years, 27% of panellists have been female and 44% of audience members have been women.”

Results from qualitative and quantitative research to evaluate how far BBC Media Action’s governance programmes have reached male and female audiences show that, on average, programmes reached 39% of women and 61% of men. According to BBC Media Action, these results are “disappointing” and show that even huge efforts to engage women do not always translate into audience figures. Nevertheless, the paper identifies the following three key factors, which influence whether BBC Media Action programmes reach female audiences: 1) When and where a programme is broadcast - the timing of broadcast may not suitable for women, and this is sometimes for reasons beyond BBC Media Action’s control. Where they have made an effort to ensure suitable timing, e.g. in Nigeria, the approach paid off, with 45% of audience being female; 2) Type or format of the programme can make a difference - this differs by country, which points to the importance of knowing one’s audience; 3) Political context is important - if people are disillusioned with politics, programmes are likely to lose audiences, and those will often be female audiences first.

In terms of the impact on women’s knowledge, discussion, and political participation, the report highlights the following results:

  • "Across all seven countries, people who watch or listen to BBC Media Action’s governance programmes know more about governance issues, discuss political issues more often and participate more in community and wider politics. This relationship is strong and statistically significant."
  • "In every country, both men and women who watch or listen are much more likely to have higher political knowledge and discussion than those who do not watch or listen."
  • "In Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Tanzania, both men and women who watch or listen are much more likely to participate in politics than those who do not watch or listen."
  • "However, in Bangladesh and Nepal, men who watch or listen are much more likely to participate in politics, whereas women who watch or listen are only slightly more likely to participate in politics. The association between exposure to BBC Media Action governance programmes and political participation is significantly stronger for men than for women."

Based on an analysis of the results, the paper presents the following four key learnings:

1. The importance of meeting female audiences where they are - “From the outset, programme design should treat the need to engage women as a primary concern, using careful analysis of women’s media preferences, habits and access to inform decisions. This means selecting TV channels, radio stations and timeslots most suited to women, as well as sometimes sacrificing overall reach in primetime slots for a higher female audience share.”

2. The importance of designing a project based on analysis of the context - “Findings from Bangladesh and Nepal suggest that where there are substantial discrepancies between men’s and women’s political participation, special attention should be paid to identifying the barriers to women’s participation in public life and devising ways to overcome them.”

3. “Governance projects comprising multiple programmes in different formats may be more effective in reaching and engaging women. Although it can be more difficult to attract female audiences to conventional political debate programmes, it would be counterproductive to abandon them altogether, or decide that debate shows are for men and dramas for women. Combining political debate programmes that have a strong emphasis on gender with other formats could simultaneously challenge the perception that political programming is for men and engage a wider audience”

4. “Notwithstanding successful efforts to provide a platform for women to engage in debate, there is still more that can be done to really hear women’s voices. With every programme we make, we should be asking ourselves: does this programme reinforce or challenge the perception that the political sphere is a male domain?”

The document ends of with a list of recommendations on how to develop effective media and communication projects to empower women and increase their involvement in governance. They are: 1) Tap into media’s potential; 2) Think about gender at every juncture; 3) Get to grips with how different women consume different media; 4) Analyse what stops women from getting involved in politics; 5) Innovate with formats; 6) Don’t just see women, hear them; and 7) Role modelling is powerful.


BBC Media Action website on October 25 2016.