Fighting Gender Stereotypes in the Media … and Winning!

A dedicated journalist in Ukraine launches a Gender Media School to address issues of discrimination and increase gender sensitivity in the media

As president of Volyn Press Club, Bogdana Stelmakh works with media in Volyn, a region in western Ukraine where gender stereotypes persist, and are reflected in the media. Such stereotypes are bolstered by religious traditions where local church leaders teach that women must be humble and take care of their families. Bogdana has been interested in gender equality issues since she was a student. Starting early in her career, she has continuously advocated against all forms of discrimination against women in media and for eliminating stereotypical portrayals of women.

Bogdana invited journalists to participate in conferences and forums where gender issues were discussed, but she faced resistance and decided she needed to address the problem in a more systemic way.

Media cafes facilitate discussion of the issues over coffee

In 2013, the Press Club, with support from Internews, began a gender monitoring project of Volyn media and a series of trainings and media cafes for regional journalists. The first media cafes took place in Lutsk and focused on promoting equality through fiscal policy, combatting sexism in advertising and media, and talking about the social problems caused by gender-based violence and trafficking of women.

The experience of the media cafe format – informal discussions over coffee with experts – proved popular with local journalists and by 2017, they were extended to all regions of Ukraine under the Internews-supported project “Gender Balance in Journalism.” Forty gender media cafes were conducted by the Press Club reaching close to 800 journalists, activists, and journalism teachers. They also conducted evaluations of regional media, including examining the gender component of media policies.

According to data collected by the Volyn Press Club from 430 Ukrainian media outlets, around 40% had editorial policies, however only 3% addressed non-discrimination on the grounds of gender. The Press Club has the aim of getting this number to 100% of all newsrooms with gender-sensitive editorial policies in Ukraine.

Bogdana and her colleagues began to develop gender policies for media and introduce them to editorial offices. Bogdana found they would listen, but not necessarily agree to adopt or incorporate the policies. But Bogdana persisted and came up with idea of Gender Media School – a three-day event where media professionals learned the principles of gender equality policies and approaches to gender-sensitive journalism. Since 2019, five Gender Media Schools have been conducted, along with the continuance of the media cafes, other trainings, and mentoring.

Success: Media outlets across Ukraine embrace gender-sensitive policies

At the end of 2020, the first 14 newsrooms adopted the principles of non-discrimination and gender equality proposed by Bogdana and the Press Club. Local editorial offices started catching up and by June 2021, 30 more print and online publications in different regions of Ukraine incorporated gender policies into their official work policies.

“We decided to participate in the Volyn Press Club project because we consider issues of gender equality very important and relevant.”

Editorial board of the newspaper Gorodnyanshchyna, located in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine.

Journalists from the Mezhivsky Meridian news outlet in Dnipropetrovsk region were initially skeptical about the benefits of attending the Gender Media School. However the Mezhivsky Meridian team reported that they got a lot of valuable information from the school that helped them improve the quality of their coverage, as proven by gender media monitoring conducted in 2020, when the outlet was designated the most gender-sensitive publication in Dnipropetrovsk.

Internews’ work with gender issues in Ukraine is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).