Guest post: “We need to re-set the media compass to give equal prominence to women”

October 05, 2016

GlobalGirl Media UK launched on June 30 and aims to give girls the skills to make themselves heard, says Sue Carpenter

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Today we are launching GlobalGirl Media UK. It's part of an international movement - started in the USA - to raise women's profile in the media, both in front of and behind the camera. Through training teenage girls from under-served communities in video-making, reporting and blogging, we aim to empower them to tell stories from their perspectives, to spark community activism and social change.

So much of our understanding of life, and our place in it, is filtered through the eyes of men. They largely control the media and set the agenda. As working women and mothers of girls, we see the stereotyping of girls all around us, and yet we don't always notice the subtler messages, the omissions, that contribute to our valuing ourselves less than we should. By putting more girls behind the cameras and mics, we can change the narrative.

For me, it all started in Nepal, 10 years ago, when I ran a project teaching photography to disadvantaged girls. The results were captivating - as good as many contemporary photographers, yet more intimate, honest and insightful, because they showed the world through their eyes, from images of bizarre school punishments to close-up selfies, before selfies were a thing.

I'm now making a film about one of those girls. She was one of the most passionate, outspoken students at the age of 14, but has consistently been denied her voice by society. She moved away but I finally found her two years ago. At 22, she was married to an abusive husband, with a baby daughter, living in a dank, dark room. Now she's training in documentary filmmaking, with the flash of hope in her eyes again, as she once more takes control of her own story.

So when I heard that GlobalGirl Media was starting up in the UK, I grasped the chance to become a founder trustee. As mother to a 16-year-old daughter who stands up for herself admirably, my perception is that girls in the UK are a pretty powerful force. But when it comes to female representation in the media, the picture is not so rosy.

Less than 30% of key roles in newspapers and television are held by women. Only 23% of reporters on national daily newspapers in the UK are women. Only 24% of news subjects across global news channels are female. 46% of global news content reinforces gender stereotypes, the objectifying, sexualisation and belittling; only 6% of stories challenge such stereotypes.

This matters in so many ways, from developing individual self-esteem and agency, to re-setting the media compass to one that gives equal value and prominence to women, both as employees and subject matter.

Imagine if women, with their tendency to empathise and not gratuitously knock people down, had been running the media show leading up to the referendum. Would the country be in its current state of disarray? Might we have been better informed about the real issues at stake, instead of being subjected to a war of meaningless catch phrases?

We need to encourage girls, many of whom endure this put-down style of interaction at their mixed schools, to speak out about what matters to them. Even my daughter, so apparently sure of herself, is reluctant to speak up in class in case her views are wrong. GlobalGirl Media develops girls' awareness of their place in the world, their equal right to voice their views, whatever they may be.

GGM UK is keen to reach girls from culturally diverse backgrounds, who have the least access to training in media skills. The training is free and our first course runs this summer, at South Thames College in Wandsworth, south London. With the guidance of experienced TV and film professionals, new media mavericks and high-profile bloggers, our GlobalGirls will create and share stories from their point of view.

As the first members of the London GlobalGirl Newsroom, they'll upload reports to our own broadband network, GGMN TV, as well as other wide-reaching platforms, and benefit from the GlobalGirl Media Network worldwide.

The initial response to GGM UK has been warm and inclusive. We've already had all-access passes to the Sundance Film Festival in London, where two early recruits reported on the Diversity panel discussion. We're exploring collaborations with organisations that promote youth and equality, such as the Southbank Centre (where our GlobalGirls will report on the International Day of the Girl on 11 October) and the BFI Film Academy.

We still have spaces on our summer course, so if you know of any teenage girls who are itching to tell their stories, we'd be delighted to hear from them. This is their moment to spark change!

Contact Programme Director Tor Bridges on ggmuk@globalgirlmedia.org for more information.