Media for Justice and Rights

Technology, Innovation, and Combating Sexism

None of us can move forward if half of us are held back: A case study exploring how technological innovation can help combat sexism.

STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM -- Over the past decade, the Internet has become an increasingly important and effective platform for people to share their thoughts and beliefs, especially with the widespread use of social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. These social network corporations allow people from different cultural backgrounds to pool their ideas for constructive discussions and coverage of overlooked issues, which other mainstream media may have failed to sufficiently cover.

In one way or another, many individuals and groups have been given a voice to speak out against the oppression they had been enduring. However, even with recent media innovations, more participation is required on the part of civic societies in order to raise awareness of such problems that exist in every community. In addition, the apparent ignorance of mainstream media outlets on tribulations in our global society and their faulty coverage in other cases has contributed to the state of ‘ignorance’ we are in (McDonald and Charlesworth, 2012).


[The above] is partly due to the fact that online media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are considered to be of little credibility so many people tend to use them more for purposes other than getting informed of current social and political conflicts. To add to this problem, mainstream media do not consider online networks to be newsworthy and often choose to overlook the news they try to spread. However, increased engagement in society is one of the positive outcomes that has emerged out of institutional innovation in the media. A recent survey conducted last year showed that 25% of social networking site users were involved in some kind of socio-political cause. This really shows how the Internet can serve as a new information channel through which awareness can be spread concerning some very serious issues in our communities. This is why many social campaigns launched nowadays are targeted at an online audience, which can then serve as a catalyst for changes in a world that needs change. In this lesson plan we explore the role of digital social networks and the Internet in changing the portrayal of sexism in mainstream media and how this can shape public opinion.


The problem… 

Sexism is defined as prejudice or discimination based on sex and especially agaisnt women. It is prolific in many countries around the world but mainstream media seem to dismiss it and do not consider it to be a social phenomenon worthy of news coverage. It seems increasingly difficult to talk about the issue of women’s rights in the media as there exists a growing belief that female equality has been achieved. However, sexism affects a large number of women, many of whom have never had a platform to speak out about their experiences. But, with the innovation of social media, victims now have a space to express what has happened to them and to show each other that they are not alone and this is not an isolated issue. 

One of the most prolific innovations in the 21st century has been the micro blogging site, Twitter, which allows its users to express their views in 140 characters whilst connecting with people who may or may not think the same. In 2012, a journalist used Twitter to create an account where women could share their experience of not only sexism, but sexual harassment and sexual assault. The Everyday Sexism Project aims to take a step towards gender equality and provoke responses so numerous and wide ranging that the problem becomes impossible to ignore. It has received over 50,000 stories since the launch, and its influence has gone global, with the project's website now reaching out to 16 countries and refugee women from around the world. 

dasa, jess, majd


The introduction of this new media has given a wide variety of women a platform to share their stories. It has given a voice to those who have been silenced through fear of speaking out and is transforming the way that mainstream media is portraying this issue. New media is now becoming a more valuable commodity in changing the public’s attitude to sexism than traditional news outlets. 

But with the innovation of social media there also comes the ability for everyone to have a voice and share their own point of view with a wide audience, even when that view is morally offensive or threatening. A recent example of this were the threats made on Twitter against the feminist Caroline Criado Perez after she succeeded in her bid to get Jane Austin on a British bank note. This case received mainstream media coverage around the world, but it was mainly focused on the man who was arrested for his actions, not what he actually tweeted. Because of the incident, however, a petition was created urging Twitter to allow quick reporting of threatening behavior. This clearly shows that citizens are engaging in the issue. 

Around the world not all women have the same luxury of access to technologies which is inhibiting the ability for media innovation to be used to combat sexism- related issues,especially in Africa which is mostly offline. When protests started in Egypt in 2011, there was a sharp rise in sexism abuse cases against women with at least 80 incidents a day. A website called HarassMap was set up to enable women to report abuse (via SMS, email or Twitter) and these reports are mapped around Egypt so women could be aware what was going on in their area. However there have only been just over 1,000 responses from a female population of around 41 million. One of these attacks involved a young Dutch journalist who was gang raped by five men and ended up in hospital. This incident was covered globally but many of the attacks involving Egyptians are still largely unreported. There may be a number of reasons for the lack of responses, with the most probable being the lack of access to media and the lack of education on how to use this new technology. 

dasa, jess, majd  

Background and Context...

Gang rape, the dark side of Egypt's protests: - Having an opinion shows that a person is engaged in their community or on a specific issue and this is no different for the media. This opinion piece by Nina Burleigh argues that it is not only Western journalists being attacked but also Egyptian women. It conveys a sense of responsible reporting with statics to back up the argument and a specific case study. However it does not offer a course of action for women to tackle the problem, which would be the next step in trying to get this issue sorted and it portrays that mainstream news agencies are failing on fully reporting the issue. 

Protesting risk:mapping sexual assaults in Egypt: - Data journalism is one of the ways that the media can portray information efficiently through the use of figures. This report assesses how technology in Egypt is enabling women to report acts of sexual abuse. It offers an explanation of how it works which shows the positive aspects of this new technology and shows how it is leading the way in depicting this issue using new media. But it also depicts the limitations of the programme and what can be done to improve it. The only component missing from this article is that there is no human story to depict how a specific woman used the software. 

Man arrested over abuse sent to feminist campaigner: - Twitter has enabled anyone with access to the site to add their opinion and argument and add their voices. However there are instances when this can turn into abuse and this article depicts one of these stories. It focuses mainly on the arrest of the man who abused Caroline Criado Perez rather then the incident itself. The most important part of this article though is that it gives Perez a platform to speak for change in relation to reporting abuse on Twitter and turns the attention away from her, to talking about how this could affect every woman. 

Women talk of sex harassment on Tube, trains and buses: - Vox pops are one of the most widely used ways to gauge public opinion on a specific issue. This report from the BBC looks at Londoners’ views on sexual harassment on public transport following the prevalence of the Everyday Sexism Project. It includes stories from women who have been harassed and asks men if they have done anything to stop it. But it does not go far enough to really challenge the issue and confront men about their behaviour towards women. 

Today's young women think they're victims...Do stop whining, sisters. We've WON the sex war.: - Everyone is entitled to freedom of expression but this piece is inappropriate as it dismisses the fact that sexism and sexual harassment is a problem, suggesting that the ‘war’ was won years ago. It creates arguments that insinuate that female complaints are more of a joke and shouldn’t be taken seriously. The author argues that feminism has taken a backwards step but surely discrediting any voices which say sexism is still happening doesn’t help the female cause either.