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Women as a community

“Our environment in Raskrinkavanje is excellent and healthy. The only thing that bothers me a little is the negativity I encounter every day as I analyze the texts, but that’s part of the job. I don’t really see a difference in the way men and women are treated,” explains Amina Celikovic. What is less clear is whether there is a growing awareness of gender equity gaps and gender-based violence, or if the attention and visible response to these issues is necessarily increasing, given the reliance on women’s work and feminisation of the newsrooms34. 

In some newsrooms, managers and editors may not be motivated by gender equity, but still seem to be more aware of various obstacles women face in the profession. The Serbian regional broadcaster in Novi Pazar has implemented new measures in response to safety threats, including giving additional time off to targets of harassment and violence. Katarina Radovic, an editor and journalist at the broadcaster, thinks the changes reflect a shift in leadership’s understanding of women’s contributions: “The director is aware that we carry most of the programmatic work, and of the stress we work under, and how much he demands of us.” The expanding number of women at the broadcaster seems to have also played a role in increasing women’s agency there. Women can increasingly choose topics they want to cover, and their growing number gives them opportunities to organize differently. “Sometimes it’s hard, but we are all more or less in solidarity and we help each other” Radovic said.  

For Marina Kostova, feminisation of the workplace means a change of climate, enabling women who face professional obstacles to speak up. “They [women] are getting louder. It takes a lot of courage, but it is important to keep this issue alive. Because the climate will change, and if this issue is resolved, it will help the whole profession.”

For women targeted with online abuse – like many of the fact-checkers from Raskinkavanje – solidarity looks like women sharing their experiences with each other, normalizing collective processing of trauma, and providing a system of support for one another. Celikovic told us how she perceived this type of solidarity in the workplace: “There are other people who work in Raskinkavanje that have been doing this job for a very long time. Their experiences provide a different dynamic. They know how to react and live with constant messages in their inboxes with messages like ‘Burn in the gas chamber.’ If we didn’t have such people in the office, the dynamics would be different.”

Feminisation of the workspace has also disrupted traditional journalistic patterns and expanded participation and representation in areas like political journalism35 – a space previously reserved for men. Much of current politically focused news programming is anchored by women, but, given deeply ingrained patriarchal structures and excessive political influence over editorial policies and media independence, these new opportunities for participation do not always serve to empower women. This is especially true when comparing women’s participation with representation: an increase in participation is not necessarily reflected in expanding the types or amount of women’s representation36. Entenela Ndrevataj provided an example of this trend in her country. “In Albanian mainstream media – on prime-time TV, for instance – although many of the journalists are women, at least one of them almost never invites women expert guests to contribute, only men. The same goes for other prime-time shows. They invite mostly men. When they do invite women, it’s not as experts but as contributors to ‘soft’ topics: lifestyle, being a mother, etc.” 

This trend does not, thankfully, hold true across the board. Many of the women interviewed identified some benefits that come with womanhood, and that expand the reach of women’s work and their unique ability to access new and historically marginalised narratives. Tanja Vujisic believes that when interviewing sources who have experienced tragedy and trauma – referencing an interview during a rape investigation – people were more willing to provide information and open to sharing vulnerability because she is a woman. Katarina Radovic agreed that being a woman has given her a number of advantages. ”I feel that because I am a woman I know how to get a person to ‘open up’, and to do good interviews. I have a better approach to people, and because of that, people prefer to talk to me. Working in the local community, I do get some benefits like crossing certain lines or getting paperwork done more quickly, for example.”

But, as always seems to be the case with progress, strides forward are often accompanied by some type of backlash. These thoughts and actions that seek to oppose and make invisible the achievements made and rights won by women – generally termed “antifeminism” – are further aggravated by public distrust in and anger towards the media in general throughout the region. Narratives that scapegoat women for societal problems intersect with women’s lack of agency to further degrade public trust in and value women and their contributions37.

This trend manifests in many ways for women working in the media in the region. Ndrevataj, who identifies as a feminist, shared some of backlash she has experienced, “I am very outspoken about feminism and consider it to be my biggest pride, but I am sometimes mocked by people around me. I am very loud about feminist topics in Albania so very often I am getting this [attitude] and it’s been disturbing. It mostly comes from men who think that we are pretending and that women are not victims.”

Women’s expansion into some fields of journalism (politics) has triggered a backlash, often initiated by male newsroom owners or management, to push women back towards “traditional” topics. “In some media outlets, there is still a deeply rooted preconceived notion that women anchors are better suited for covering social topics, health and education, and not topics like infrastructure, budget, strategic issues and the armed services,” Marina Ridjic explained. This backlash can be even more flagrant, as Valbona Sulce pointed out. “The concentration model of media has created a situation of ‘solidarity’ among channel owners, where they agree not to take on board ‘problematic’ journalists. In this way they can dictate journalists’ employment, which impacts the entire media market. Journalists end up trapped within this system.”38

Even in women-dominated news spaces, women are overworked, have irregular working hours with numerous professional and community responsibilities, and do not have the time to consistently push the necessary changes required to fully benefit from feminization of the media space. Erisa Kreyziu and her colleagues attempted to establish a safety network of women journalists in Albania, but the women involved didn’t have time to invest in issues outside of daily work, even when this meant foregoing potential improvements to safety and working conditions. 

What works: a compilation of findings, insights and advice 

Womanhood comes with advantages: Women act as a bottleneck for new and marginalised perspectives and build community inside the newsroom and out;

Feminist content: Journalists and newsrooms that do ‘unpack’ gender inequality are by necessity feminist, since this ideology serves to bolster general empowerment and awareness;

Women-helmed newsrooms: Women’s leadership and agency create an enabling environment for greater participation and work satisfaction for other women.  

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