WMC News & Features

How immigration coverage excludes women’s voices

6 21 18 Siege Aviva Migration Women
A girl rides her bicycle near the U.S.-Mexico border. Coverage at the border has focused more on women and girls than most migration coverage, a new study finds. (Nathan Gibbs)

In recent weeks, U.S. news outlets have dedicated significant coverage to what’s happening at our southern border. But according to a recent study, the gendered lens of the media’s current focus—on how families are being torn apart as a result of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy—is far from representative when it comes to coverage of immigration. The study, conducted by the Fuller Project for International Reporting, found that reporting on migration tends to focus on border security, conflict, and crisis, while excluding women’s issues and voices from the narrative.

“The problem is not only that women’s stories are missing from the dominant security-centered narrative,” write Chair of the Fuller Project Sara O’Hagan and Fuller Project contributing editor Rikha Sharma Rani in the Columbia Journalism Review. “It’s that immigration is almost exclusively covered against the backdrop of national security, despite its relevance in other policy domains.” The Fuller Project for International Profiting is a non-profit committed to bringing women’s voice into the news.

To conduct their study, Fuller Project researchers randomly selected three weeks from the first four months of 2018, and then examined the media coverage of immigration published during that time. Shockingly, in the sample studied by O’Hagan and Rani, only two out of 100 stories specifically addressed women’s issues, such as reproductive health or domestic violence. Only one story focused on the accomplishments of immigrant women entrepreneurs. Male government or law enforcement officials were three times more likely to be quoted than females in equivalent positions. Men were twice as likely as women to be cited as experts, and twice as likely to appear in accompanying photographs.

The study corroborates trends that have long been identified by reporters. In 2015, director of WMC Women Under Siege, Lauren Wolfe, traveled to Italy to find out why women’s voices and stories were so often excluded from coverage of the refugee crisis. Almost all the migrant women she encountered had been raped on their journey or in their home countries, or knew someone else who had been—trauma that made the women very reluctant to speak to journalists about their experiences. Wolfe struggled to gain entry into the detention centers where women were staying, which posed additional obstacles to the reporting process.

“In every place, the women were hard to reach—whether physically or emotionally—but slowly I began to get a picture of their lives,” Wolfe explains in her reporting. “Their journeys by sea, while physically painful, are only the most obvious part of their experience.”

Changing narratives around immigration, according to O’Hagan and Rani, isn’t just about including more women’s voices or ensuring that women’s issues are more frequently addressed – it’s also about challenging what kinds of stories seem worthy of coverage in the first place.

“How might our debate on immigration be different if more stories showed immigrants building flourishing businesses, working in public service, and contributing in myriad ways to the betterment of their communities?” they ask. “Such stories are less sensational than immigrants’ often fraught paths to safety, but they represent a crucial gap in the narrative around immigration right now.”

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