A group of Albanian journalists, human rights experts, and legal professionals are in the process of lobbying the government to make changes to the law regarding gender equality in media organisations and the way women are portrayed in the media.
Albanian Women in Audiovisual (AWA) have been working on correcting gender inequality in the audiovisual landscape for some time. In 2018, they authored a paper regarding the implementation of the gender equality law in public media and were disappointed to find that the representation of women at Radio Television Shqiptar (the State broadcaster), Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA), and the Albanian National Centre of Cinematography (QKK) was far from fair and equal. In addition to this, they were already aware of the sexism prevalent on Albanian TV screens and a lack of mechanisms to adequately deal with such instances.
They sent various letters and statements to Parliamentary Commissions and the Speaker of Parliament Gramoz Ruci, but their concerns were not addressed.
Valbona Sulce, a journalist and media trainer with 20 years of experience and the author of the first manual for gender-responsive journalism said that the two main issues are a misrepresentation of women in the media and under-representation of women within the media and corporate structures.
“Studies show that women are less present in the talk show panels as professionals, less represented in the decision making levels in the media companies. Also, they are often objectified in the tv programs, especially sports ones, video clips and advertising,” she told Exit.
This, she said means that society perceives them as the “beautiful sex”- without brains or the capability to do things like men do. She continues that women on screen are often shown in the context of soft news, cooking, fashion, family or children.
Valbona adds: “Rarely we see women in positions such as politicians, directors, police officers, lawyers, successful entrepreneurs, and diplomats.”
Democracy and human rights expert Dorela Lazaj adds that for many years there has been an issue with the stereotypical and sexist portrayal of women in the media.
“Lately my concern has grown as this culture is becoming normalised and promoted by the media. We want to see a media that portrays everyone with dignity, provides a balanced portrayal of the social reality, promotes women in leadership and makes Albania a country that embodies gender equality,” she told Exit.
This sexist culture has spread throughout the workplace and through the screen. Although there is a law for gender equality in Albania, it is not implemented within media companies. In addition to this, there are no provisions for sexism in the Law on Audiovisual Media, which is contrary to European Standards.
The initiative is currently subject to review so the specifics of AWA’s proposals cannot be made public as of yet. Dorela said that their proposal is based on the recommendations of the Council of Europe “On Gender Equality in the Media” and other resolutions on preventing sexism.
The CoE states that gender equality is a human right and combating stereotypes and sexism, achieving a balance of men and women in public decisions making, and achieving gender mainstreaming in all policies and measures is integral to upholding this right. The CoE said that the audiovisual sector is well placed to shape and influence society and as such, it can hinder or hasten structural change towards gender equality.
The resolution calls for six actions that the Member States should take. The Albanian government, a member of the CoE has failed to do so.
They hope that the legislation will bring harmonization between EU regulations on gender equality and sexism in the media, and Albanian legislation. Right now, there is a gap in local laws, and the government has “completely bypassed European legislation” and have not recognised any issue in this area
AWA’s work is focussed around three main pillars; equal gender representation of women in all public decision-making bodies including AMA, RTSH, and QKK; Harmonisation of local legislation with CoE standards, namely banning sexism; Proposing a structure within AMA which will address breaches of sexism regulations, conduct monitoring, and take action where breaches are identified.
AWA intends to present their findings and proposals to AMA and lawmakers in due course. Informally, they have been told that AMA is willing to embrace the new changes which will equip them with new powers to better monitor the media in terms of sexist content. UN Women is also working with AMA to provide support in monitoring international standards.
But the real challenge comes when asking the media to implement the new rules. Valbona says that we need to change the culture in media companies which is rooted in the patriarchal mentality of society as a whole- one where women are left to one side.
“We have laws against discrimination in the Labour Code which are not implemented in media companies. These include maternity leave, overtime, protection against a hostile work environment, and policies against sexual harassment,” she said.
So what can journalists themselves do to help improve the situation? Valbona explains that adhering to the highest professional standards when it comes to gender issues is key.
“We must understand the dynamics of gender reporting and not be biased, we should continuously improve our reporting, and remember that we have a say in the reality of women and girls in Albania. We have a choice: to maintain the status quo of inequality by justifying it, or challenge it with concrete examples and rigid monitoring of the content we air.”
Dorela believes that media companies need to rethink their approach to gender equality in order to pass on those changes to society.
“This might be challenging for a country like Albania still in the grip of cultural chaos, but if there is something that we are learning these 30 years, is that our society is very dynamic and open to change.”