Locating Gender Perspectives in COVID-19 Reportage in India: An Analysis of Print Media (March - September 2020)
Locating Gender Perspectives in COVID-19 Reportage in India was brought out in March 2021 by the Mumbai-based organisation Population First, the United Nations Population Fund, the Royal Norwegian Embassy in New Delhi, and the Network of Women in the Media, India (a nation-wide collective of women doing work in and related to the media). The publication’s authors are Mumbai-based independent journalist and researcher Sameera Khan, and Dr. Sweta Singh, assistant professor at the University School of Mass Communication in New Delhi’s Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.
The report discusses the representation of women
and marginalised genders in the coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown
in print media. It contains the results of a study of articles from 12
mainstream newspapers published in seven languages: Assamese, Bengali, English,
Hindi, Malayalam, Manipuri and Marathi. The research team monitored these newspapers
on similar dates for seven days each month between March and September 2020.
The study found the concerns and voices of women,
transgender persons and others from marginalised genders, to be missing in the
pandemic coverage across newspaper publications and regions. While the media
acknowledged women as professionals in stories on healthcare and essential
workers, few reports on education and policy included perspectives from
different genders. The report says that “…women and trans people were absent
as protagonists, sources, and experts, sometimes even in stories that directly
The 100-page publication has seven main chapters:
Introduction (chapter 1); Key objective of the Media Study (chapter 2); Scope
and Sample: March - September 2020 (chapter 3); Main Findings of the Media
Study (chapter 4); Month-wise summaries & analyses (chapter 5); Recommendations
(chapter 6) and Acknowledgements (chapter 7). It also contains data tables and appendices.
A comparison between English and Bengali publications showed that the latter carried more Covid-19 and lockdown stories with a focus on women and gender issues. Roughly seven per cent of the 1,149 Bengali stories sampled focused on women and gender issues, while only 2.5 per cent of the 1,652 articles from English-language publications did so.
Indian-language publications showed a stronger understanding of pandemic and lockdown realities in the districts of the states where they were published, while English-language publications had a better grasp of the situation in the urban centres where they were published.
Most Indian-language dailies focused on the plight of people from their region who were stuck in other parts of India or the world. The Guwahati-based newspaper Asomiya Pratidin’s front page story on May 11, 2020, was of an Assamese nurse suffering from Covid-19 at a quarantine centre in Mumbai. Malayalam-language newspapers emphasised stories relating to Malayali nurses working across the country. On April 8, the Kottayam-based newspaper Malayala Manorama carried a story on the bad experiences of a Malayali nurse working at a Delhi hospital.
Most publications sampled quoted fewer women than men in their coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite there being many women experts in the fields of healthcare and epidemiology, only some were regularly quoted as authoritative sources.
Women citizens were quoted as unofficial sources in the print publications under consideration, but in low numbers. Indian-language print publications quoted fewer women citizens in their stories on the pandemic and lockdown as compared to English newspapers.
The voices of trans-persons remained largely absent in the coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. The study found only two articles concerning trans-persons in the samples examined. Both were connected to policy initiatives by the Kerala government and carried by the Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi.
Other groups whose voices remained absent in the pandemic coverage included those of women with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ persons and Dalit and Adivasi women.
Stories on issues faced by women, such as accessing childbirth facilities during the lockdown, were mainly focused on individual narratives. A further probe into maternal or child healthcare as policy issues remained absent.
Media reportage across languages tended to identify and stigmatise women as carriers of the Covid-19 infection. For instance, Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor who disregarded quarantine rules in March 2020 was hounded by the media, while similar actions by male celebrities were not sensationalised in the same manner. In April 2020, Muslim men were similarly stigmatised in the coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat (a Muslim missionary movement) congregation, where many who attended tested positive for Covid-19.
Women’s voices remained missing in the biggest story of the lockdown months, that of the exodus of migrant workers from cities and their difficult journeys home. Most articles on this identified women as family members of male workers, but not as migrant workers themselves.
Although women’s work and livelihoods were heavily impacted by the lockdown in both formal and informal sectors, this was barely covered by the media. The stories on job cuts and wage losses mainly portrayed men as those impacted.
Challenges faced in accessing education digitally featured prominently in the news, but the glaring inequality between boys and girls in accessing online classes remained absent.
Focus and Factoids by Kanak Rajadhyaksha.
Sameera Khan and Dr Sweta Singh
Population First, Mumbai; United Nations Population Fund; the Network of Women in the Media India; and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in New Delhi