Despite women’s increasing representation as journalists and media workers, editorial and decision-making positions are still held by men, a situation that many women see as limiting for editorial independence and media participation. According to Elida Zylbeari, “women are seen as a workforce, but we also need to see them as decision-makers. Everyone can become a journalist, but not every woman can become an editor-in-chief, and make hard decisions and structural plans.”26
For Tanja Vujisic, from Radio Belgrade, increasing radio content dedicated to feminism and women rights is one result of a growing number of women journalists. “This is a good thing”, she told us, “but still not enough. We need women journalists in high-level positions, but working as journalists seems to be as far [up the hierarchy] as they can get. They need to take the places and positions of power that, for now, have been reserved for men.”
The lack of women’s representation in these roles is compounded by the perception that the men who do hold these positions often fail to take on the accompanying responsibilities or share of the workload, though regularly receiving recognition for work shouldered by women. “Everything that needs to be done manually and requires running around in the field, is done by women, but the decisions are made by men[…] Male journalists can ask questions, they can achieve higher positions, and politicians treat them with respect” Zylbeari told us.
Entenela Ndrevataj, a journalist from online outlet Citizen Channel in Albania, agrees: “We girls do all the work, but when it comes to meeting with donors, very often, we’re not invited at all. They only talk with the director, and have meetings with him, although we helped create the project. In the beginning, I didn’t know that this is how it works. Sometimes it hurts when you have given so much effort and made a real contribution, and your name is not even mentioned.”
Those women who do hold managerial positions27, like Maja Mojsovski Rasevic, the only female editor of photography for a Serbian daily, still face an imbalance when it comes to their workload compared to their male colleagues (and/or superiors). During managerial meetings, Mojsovki noted that, “there are usually more women than men, but never in the position of editor-in-chief. I never worked for a female editor-in-chief in the daily press in Serbia. Women are usually second-in-command, but also the ones finishing up most of the work.”
Jelka Jovanovic, as editor of internal affairs, occupies the highest position held by a woman at Danas, an independent media outlet in Belgrade, Serbia. She summarizes the situation succinctly: “It is ‘normal’ for a man to be a manager, even if he doesn’t know how to do the work.”
Being undervalued as a workforce comes at a high price for women journalists, who are also overworked and underpaid28. Labor laws in the region offer normative guarantees29, but with ineffective implementation and little to no oversight or monitoring, in practice, entitlements such as maternity leave, fixed working hours and pay rates are determined by the owner or other newsroom leadership. Almost all the women we spoke with reported working irregular hours and/or excessive overtime. “We don’t have [official] working hours, so it depends on who the desk chief is that day. If it’s my friend, who has a child like me, she will allow me to finish at five. If the desk chief is an editor, or doesn’t have children, they don’t care if I have to stay until 7, 8 or even 11 pm. They always tell you that you are a journalist and have to make yourself available,” explained Zana Dzubur of BHRT. Hours spent working overtime can translate into less time for personal and skill development, and, as Dzubur notes, less time to invest in community, including and especially for women with family and other caregiving responsibilities.
Infographic: BIRN/Igor Vujcic
Erisa Kreyziu, a journalist from Albania’s Citizens Channel, expressed a similar sentiment: “We work all the time. Even if we are not here [in the newsroom], we work from home, because work is project based and we have to monitor these activities, plus publish articles.” Women also report, and data confirm30 that they continue to be paid less than their male counterparts. “I love my work but the problem is the pay gap, low salaries and extended working hours” Kreyziu told us.
Una Hajdari used her experiences to illustrate how pay discrepancies and inequality manifest themselves in different ways. “When an outlet needs someone to cover a story from the field, instead of sending a woman, they’ll send a man. This is how they reward him – with the assignment, but also with more money, since this type of on-site work is more expensive. When I’m sent somewhere, it’s somewhere more local, and comes with less payment. This is still discrimination, but not as explicit as a pay gap.”
For long-term journalists like Jelka Jovanovic from Serbia’s Danas and Novi Magazin, years of experience do not necessarily translate into pay commensurate with male counterparts, “my male colleagues worked less than me and knew less than me, but were better paid from the beginning.”
Women journalists face another significant obstacle to career progression and media participation: a lack of equity in family planning policies and attitudes. Among the women interviewed who have children, almost all have in some way felt pressure to choose between career and family. Valbona Sulce, a journalist and media researcher from Albania, told us about women anchors who have to plan their pregnancies around their work schedules, “Women plan their pregnancy for when they’re off camera during the summer, and are back on screen when the programming returns in September.” Marina Ridjic considers her paid maternity leave a privilege of working in the private sector, since women working in other newsrooms “often get fired if they become pregnant”.
As a workforce, women face many obstacles that prevent their full and meaningful participation and representation in media31. As a resource, they are significantly undervalued, and effectively stifled in their ability to contribute as equal stakeholders and beneficiaries to diverse and pluralistic media. Alice Taylor, when asked to identify some of the main obstacles facing women in newsrooms, slowly listed them off: “The long working hours, and lack of proper contracts […] and the consistent trend of withholding salaries […], not having days off, not having holidays […] for a woman who wants to have a family, this is a very difficult situation.”
In many ways, these discriminatory practices have been exacerbated by the Covid -19 pandemic. Women working from home have fewer boundaries between the workplace and private spaces, and less space generally if they are living with and have family responsibilities. It has become even more difficult for women to manage their working hours along with caregiving roles, and given the previously mentioned problematic contracts used by a number of outlets. The pandemic has rendered the internet the most significant and utilized hybrid-public space, where unregulated platforms spread unprecedented amounts of mis/disinformation. Fact-checkers, like Amina Celikovic from Raskrinkavanje, are regularly overwhelmed – by the sheer volume and nature of content – as they try just to keep up. Marina Ridjic, has seen the pandemic put an indefinite halt to her plans. After returning home from a scholarship program abroad, “I was full of plans, and I had the feeling that I could fly, that I should advance. But the management made clear that I should stay in a position that was needed at that time. Since we are in Covid times, there is no way for me to advance.”
The Western Balkans are no different to any other region in that the pandemic has heightened existing tensions and highlighted harmful policies and practices that place a disproportionate burden on certain communities32. Women journalists, bearing much of the (unpaid) brunt of caregiving responsibilities, as well as community anger and mistrust, while contending with discriminatory practices and patriarchal structures that impede their full participation, are certainly one of them.
What works: a compilation of findings, insights and advice
Rights awareness and access: Media-relevant labor laws have the necessary provisions to protect women journalists. Knowing your rights and recognizing when they have been violated is a resource in and of itself.
Solidarity, (again!): Journalists associations, unions and other platforms for cooperation are essential for increasing media accessibility to and inclusion in policy-making processes, and initiatives for change.
Media ownership: Ownership by and ties to political and business interests are harmful for editorial independence, plurality and true diversity based on equity of leadership and resource allocation, and also increases revenue33.