Empowering Women in Media

A group of prominent U.S. women journalists got together in 1990 and set up the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), a Washington-based organization that is dedicated to strengthening the role of women journalists worldwide. The IWMF empowers women with the tools, knowledge, and confidence to serve as a prominent voice on global issues. The IWMF’s programs provide training, support, and advancement for women journalists worldwide. At the core of the IWMF’s mission is the belief that no press is truly free unless women have an equal voice. It’s Executive Director Elisa Lees Munoz speaks to Teresa Rehman on the role of IWMF in supporting women in the news media around the world.

What do you think has been the role of IWMF in furthering the cause of women journalists?

For more than 20 years, the IWMF has been dedicated to supporting women in the news media around the world.  In the early years, we were the only organization focused on women journalists.  At a time when very few women were in positions of authority in media organizations, the IWMF was advocating for greater opportunities to move up the corporate ladder, enter journalism, and receive equal treatment to their male colleagues. The IWMF believes the news media world-wideare not truly free and representative without the equal voice of women.  We celebrate the courage of women journalists who overcome threats and oppression to speak out on global issues. Our programs empower women journalists with the training, support and network to become leaders in the news industry.

The IWMF Values include the leadership role of women in independent journalism worldwide, the importance if women’s journalistic perspectives to providing high-quality information in the public interest and support for women journalists in contexts of crisis, intimidation, and persecution, equal opportunity and advancement for women journalists. While great strides have been made, the IWMF’s work in advancing these ideals is still needed.

What kind of support system does your organization offer to women reporting from a conflict zone?

The IWMF’s Courage in Journalism Award has brought world-wide attention to women journalists reporting under extremely dangerous circumstances.  This recognition provides a mantle of protection, by letting their oppressors know that the world is watching.  Our winners have told us that the recognition has given them the confidence to continue their work.

Some of our winners have had to flee their countries; whenever possible the IWMF has assisted with legal and sometimes financial assistance.  We have facilitated asylum for some of our winners and scholarships and fellowships for others.

IWMF also offers an award to Women Entrepreneurs in the Digital News Frontier. How do you think the advent of internet and social media changed the way journalism works? Has it changed things for women journalists?

Digital and social media has altered journalism forever and in some ways has given women an entrée into the field that they may not have had otherwise.  Despite its democratization qualities and its potential to serve as an equalizer in the field of journalism, this has not manifested itself in the entrepreneurship arena, where according to the 2008 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, “…men are twice as likely to be involved in early-stage entrepreneurial activity than women.” Women entrepreneurs are up against cultural and social traditions that play a large role in determining who within a society becomes an entrepreneur.1 That may be why, despite 30 percent ownership of all privately owned businesses and 50 percent share in another 18 percent, women receive only 5 percent of all venture capital investment.2

The grants provided by the IWMF have proven instrumental in helping our awardees get their business off the ground and move on to the second phase of development.  The women-led enterprises we have supported have beaten the odds with five of six (83%) women-led startups funded by the IWMF have succeeded, versus the 25% overall success rate of startups.  (The first three IWMF grantees enterprises are still operational after two years.  Of the second cohort of grantees, two are still operational after almost one year).  We are currently reviewing applications for a third cohort of grantees.  Each year, we have received more than 100 applications for only three grant opportunities. 

Women journalists in developing countries still don’t enjoy basic facilities like maternity leave or even separate toilets for them. Do you think IWMF can play a role in this regard?

The IWMF’s Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media touches on these issues.  Information is power, therefore, the more women know about the conditions of their colleagues around the world, the more they will be empowered to demand equal treatment.

What is your vision for the coming year?

In the coming year, the IWMF aspires to move to the forefront of leadership, entrepreneurship and (digital) skills training for women journalists.  We believe that focusing on digital news media entrepreneurship will give women the opportunity to lead in this fast-developing field. We also plan to expand our Courage in Journalism activities by increasing communications and programs around women journalists in danger.

How does IWMF cultivate leadership in the newswoom?

The IWMF cultivates leadership in the newsroom by focusing all of our training programs towards women journalists.  While we also train men, at least half of our training slots are reserved for women. This puts women on an equal footing as their male counterparts participating in the training and elevates them in the eyes of their editors and colleagues by providing the skills they need to become expert reporters in the areas of training.

In addition, the IWMF includes leadership training for women journalists who participate in our training programs.  This training is designed specifically for women working in the media and provides professional development and management training that allows women to move up in their organizations.  We have found that women participating in our training programs markedly advance in their careers.

Do you have any programmes specific to India or South Asia?

We currently have an investigative reporting fellowship program on environmental reporting taking place in the Philippines, but sadly that is the only program we have in South Asia.

Please tell us about the IWMF Leadership Institutes for Women.

IWMF Leadership Institutes empower women in the news media to be successful in their careers. Leadership Institute programs take different forms in different countries. But their goal is to provide the training and the network for women who want to move up the career ladder.

See a brochure about our leadership institutes.

How do you connect with women journalists all over the world? Do you have networks with them?

We build networks around each of our programs. For example, all of the fellows participating in our Philippines program are part of a network of environmental reporting fellows. But, we have found that the best way to build networks is through social media.  We have very active Facebook and Twitter communities that we cultivate daily.

What kind of pathbreaking research has IWMF conducted so far with regard to women journalists?

In March 2011, the IWMF published its first international study of women in the news media. While there was abundant evidence of underrepresentation of women as subjects of coverage, there were no reliable, comprehensive data on which to make a clear determination about where women currently fit into the news-making operation or in the decision-making or ownership structure of their companies.

The IWMF Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media fills this gap by presenting for the f first time sound data on gender positions in news organizations around the world. If news content is the final outcome of a series of steps involving the participation of a number of individuals, what then is the role of women in determining and shaping the news agenda? Who decides how many stories are by women and feature women as pivotal subjects in news operations? Are media companies currently organized to promote gender equity within their organizational structures or to accommodate women’s voices as well as men’s perspectives in coverage?

The findings presented in the report, conducted over a two-year period, offer the most complete picture to date of women’s status globally in news media ownership, publishing, governance, reporting, editing, photojournalism, broadcast production and other media jobs. More than 150 researchers interviewed executives at more than 500 companies in 59 nations using a 12-page questionnaire.

The IWMF Global Report includes detailed information on news operations with respect to men’s and women’s occupational standing, salaries, hiring and promotional policies, and numerous other workplace practices. It also provides information about recruitment, training, policies related to advancement, news assignments, and a range of other issues that affect gender status in news organizations. While not all nations could be included in the study, those selected represent every region of the world, and the media surveyed represent a range of small, medium and large companies. The research takes a sound social science approach whereby the IWMF is able to make observations and draw general conclusions from the data.

The IWMF Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media is a groundbreaking benchmark from which to track and monitor the performance of media companies as it relates to opportunities for female professionals. This blueprint explains the status quo and will serve as a guide to measure the progress towards gender equity in the news industry worldwide.




1 Susanne E. Jalbert, Ph.D., (2000) Women Entrepreneurs in the Global Economy

2 Joan Winn, (2005), Women Entrepreneurs: Can We Remove the Barriers? International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal 1, 381-397.

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