Policy Briefing #13

Caroline Sugg
Publication Date
October 1, 2014

BBC Media Action

"The interplay between media and gender norms has long been recognised and a substantial literature explores how media affects girls in the Global North. But against a backdrop of rapidly changing media landscapes - characterised by increasing competition form audiences, sensationalism and expanding access to new technologies - the role that media plays in girls’ lives in the Global South demands further examination."

This BBC Media Action policy briefing draws on expert interviews and insights from a literature review to discuss the influence of media in the lives of girls in the Global South. The paper is organised as follows:

  • "Part 1 documents the high level of attention now paid to girls in international development circles.
  • Part 2 notes the limited consideration given to the role of media within that discourse, especially when compared with similar discussions in the Global North.
  • Part 3 explores the potentially positive ways in which media can shape girls' prospects in the Global South.
  • Part 4 highlights some of the systemic barriers that, unless addressed, may limit media’s ability to improve girls’ lives.
  • Part 5 concludes by suggesting ways in which media projects could better fulfil their developmental potential for girls." (Footnotes have been removed by the editor.)

Part one comments on the recognition of the importance of and advocacy for the role of adolescent girls in the developing world as a potential force to end poverty for themselves, their families, their communities, and beyond. "...[D]ata supports the idea that investment in adolescent girls can have a wider, positive impact on things like economic growth and social development..." through receiving education, delaying marriage and pregnancy, increasing income, focusing that income on their families, and increasing the gross domestic product (GDP).

Part two notes the dearth of programming for those between childhood and adulthood. It describes the problematic nature of media images of girls and women in broadcasting from the Global North, including violence and sexualisation. "Media is also seen to undermine girls’ self-esteem and limit their perceptions of their own potential in the Global North." This brief presents media's impact on girls in the Global South "to start reconsidering how best to employ media in girls’ development. It will argue that today - perhaps more than ever - media offers a host of opportunities to affect girls’ lives favourably in the developing world, provided that it is managed with care and sensitivity."

Youth interviewed during research for this briefing felt that:

  • media can lead to dangerous stereotypes about girls.
  • media actively disempowers girls by presenting them as lacking agency.
  • media in the Global South has a narrow representation of girls.
  • there is the lack of media space devoted to girls’ voices and addressing their needs in the developing world.

Part three reviews an emerging body of practice and evidence about the powerful role that media can play in supporting girls and influencing their actions by providing information, impacting attitudes, and shaping social norms, e.g., radio on girls' right to education and choosing to marry later in life. It can inform parent decisions as well. "The Overseas Development Institute (ODI)’s recent review of the impact evaluations of 61 communication programmes, including mass media programmes, found 'strong evidence... that communication programmes are an effective way to challenge gender-discriminatory attitudes' that affect adolescent girls." This evidence review found that characters and "role models" in radio and TV dramas can influence real-life behaviour. An evaluation of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)’s Meena Communication Initiative (see Related Summaries below) in South India found that its animated character inspired girls to break gender barriers. Media can also serve to amplify girls' voices, as was seen for Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. BBC Media Action's debate programmes, e.g., Sajha Sawal (Common Questions) in Nepal, have the format to give girls a say in government. In Cambodia, the Loy9 project (See Related summaries for more on both of these) evaluation found that, among 15-19 year olds reached, "95% agreed that the project made, young people … more confident to participate in their community'". Projects like GirlHub show that girls' envisioned futures can broaden as a result of real-life testimonies, or stories of fictional characters aspiring to different futures.

Part four examines constraints including access and literacy. Parental attitudes can constrain girls' viewing and listening, though public screenings and listening groups can give broader exposure. The Puntos de Encuentro producers provided DVD players for community groups, resulting in a multiplier effect, expanding girls’ access to Puntos de Encuentro’s TV programmes (see Related Summaries) in Nicaragua. Strategies need to ensure that programming for girls also appeals to parents and/or educates parents about the benefits of allowing girls to engage with certain media outputs. Data is needed on media consumption patterns of and media access for girls. Male domination of media organisations can constrain content development that meets girls' needs, job prospects for those who might represent girls, and their skill development in journalism. Women-focused organisations can provide training, and recognised indices can be engaged to measure gender content, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s Gender Sensitive Indicators for Media (see Related Summaries). Approaches that offer the amplification of girls' voices can be extended - as featured contributors in news and other programming, for example.

Commercial media can be sensitised to the power of positive gender modelling, including media in the Global North that are influential and available in the Global South. "The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has worked closely with commercial entertainment organisations in the US to build understanding of the impact of their work on women and girls. Following workshops with the institute, content creators in film and TV have begun shifting their projects to improve gender balance, reduce stereotypes and create a wider variety of female characters." Advertising is an area that can also focus on girls’ empowerment. In Latin America, "ANDI [Agencia de Noticias dos Direitos da Infancia - see Related Summaries] and its partners have worked with newsrooms across Latin America to improve coverage of social issues, including children’s rights. Strategies employed by ANDI include emailing journalists with daily news story suggestions, developing partnerships with universities to integrate children’s issues into media and communication courses and conducting regular reviews of how media covers children’s rights issues." Broad-based movements lobbying for better programming include Colombia's constitutional mandate to produce quality content for children. "According to Adelaida Trujillo, co-founder of Citurna Producciones/Imaginario [see Related Summaries], this initiative paid dividends in terms of yielding quality public service broadcasting for children: 'You can see the results in terms of the level of funding allocated and the amount of programming being produced with a rights-based approach.'"

Part five gives guidance for donor strategies and a girl agenda to frame the kind of interventions funded and how these fold into broader empowerment programmes including:

  • critically examine whether programmes purporting to influence girls are actually prioritising them as an audience.
  • focus on generating a stronger body of evidence around how media affects girls’ lives in the Global South.
  • broaden the scope of the girl-focused media programmes beyond issues of sexual and reproductive health, teenage pregnancy, and, increasingly, child marriage to address issues such as education, economic empowerment, financial literacy, or social and civic participation.
  • link with other girls’ development and empowerment programmes for greater impact, for example: "Citurna Producciones in Colombia similarly combines media work with strengthening the capacity of youth groups 'to act as a watchdog' over local public centres providing health services for youth and adolescents. In addition, this organisation supports and trains adolescent girl 'Youtubers', who have a strong following in the country, to facilitate online hangouts. These girls also establish peer-to-peer conversations with children during visits to schools to tackle difficult conversations about sexual and reproductive health."
  • integrate media interventions for girls with other, broader development and empowerment programmes. For example, the Colombian Ministry of Education developed a public school programme to complement Citurna's Revela2 (Revealed - see Related Summaries) "edutainment" platform focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights. "The intervention is now integrated into the work of the government’s Intersectoral Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and Teen Pregnancy Prevention programme and has 'become a central tool for the Commission'."
  • address systemic issues as well as programme production.

In summary:

  • "Media can influence healthy behaviours by girls, open the door to their greater participation in society and ensure that girls’ issues move higher up on the public agenda
  • Challenges around media access and control, and the extent to which media organisations value girls as part of their audience, need to be addressed head on in order to ensure that media plays this positive role
  • Media interventions seeking to enhance girls' well-being need to be better targeted, broadened beyond health, and more firmly embedded in national policy initiatives so as to ensure sustainability"

BBC Media Action website, November 19 2014. Image credit/caption: BBC Media Action "A young woman in Nepal takes part in the BBC Media Action TV and radio discussion programme Safa Sawal (Common Questions)."