Saudi women given right to vote, run in future elections

News organizations and social networks were buzzing Sunday morning after Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud announced that women would be given the right to vote and to run in future local elections as well as join the advisory Shura council as full members.

This marks a significant shift for the conservative Muslim country where activists have been calling for further rights for women.

“Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama [clerics] and others … to involve women in the Shura council as members, starting from the next term” (King Abdullah said in his speech, according to The Guardian)

Saudi writer Nimah Ismail Nawwab, in talking to the BBC, said activists have been campaigning on this issue and others related to women’s rights in the country for 20 years. In this report by Al Jazeera, Hatoon Al Fassi, a professor of women’s history at Saud University, comments on the decision and the long-term efforts for further women’s rights in the country:

Women in Saudi Arabia currently must have written approval from a male to work, leave the country or for certain medial procedures, and public segregation of the sexes is the norm. Women are also still not allowed to drive, though there is no specific law against it. This became the most recent hot-button issue as over the summer women protested by defying the ban and driving. Some women were arrested as a result. This issue was not addressed in the announcement.

The White House offered praise of the decision Sunday morning, with National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor saying the move recognizes the “significant contributions” that women make in Saudi Arabia, according to the AP.

Some commentators have suggested that the elections are meaningless and these elected positions don’t hold real power, as noted in this Christian Science Monitor story. But many are still acknowledging the symbolic importance of involving women.

This changes will go into effect after Thursday’s election. The next municipal elections will be in 2015.

Here’s a roundup of some of the initial coverage:

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

CNN documentary to feature women of 9/11

Countless special reports related to 9/11 have been released thus far leading up to Sunday’s 10-year anniversary, including The New York Times’ “The Reckoning.” One project, however, places special emphasis on the women – “Beyond Bravery: The Women of 9/11“by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien.

In the Reporter’s Notebook for the piece, O’Brien states that the documentary aims to address the question of a little boy during a visit of a female firefighter from 9/11 to his classroom: He asked her “how she could be a ‘fireman’ if she was a girl.” The documentary aims to tell the stories of 9/11’s women and give voice to their heroism and their challenges.

The project includes a look at the book “Women At Ground Zero” written by Susan Hagen and Mary Carouba. Here’s a sample segment from the documentary:

The documentary is set to air at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Sept. 11. More sample segments can be viewed along with the reporter’s notebook and a link to an educator and parent guide here.

In addition to this documentary on CNN, a number of other news outlets have provided stories about women’s experiences including the following:

Did you find other 9/11 coverage of women? Share your findings in the comment section below.

In other news

The New York Times‘ first female executive editor, Jill Abramson, stepped into the position on Tuesday. Several posts related to the beginning of her tenure as editor circled the web, including a memo announcing her leadership team.

Abramson herself sent out a tweet Tuesday regarding her new role:

The announcement that Abramson would succeed Bill Keller came in June, making her the first woman to hold that title in the paper’s 160-year history. Read our post following that announcement here.

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

Violence abroad hits Mexican journalists, Peace Corps

Image from streaming AP video at http://www.washingtonpost.com.

Around the world this week, women were facing violent obstacles to their roles in their communities, including Americans abroad in the Peace Corps as well as two native Mexican female reporters.

Mexican Journalists

This week, two female journalists became the latest victims of increasing violence in Mexico over the past year. The two women were found slain (possibly strangled), naked and bound behind a cemetery in Mexico City, an area previously believed to be a “relatively safe harbor” as reported by the LA Times. It was still unconfirmed if the women had been sexually assaulted.

Ana Marcela Yarce Viveros, a veteran reporter, helped found the news magazine Contralinea and was most recently working in advertising sales for them. The other,  Rocio Gonzalez Trapaga, was a former reporter for Mexico’s dominant TV broadcaster, Televisa and most recently working as a freelance reporter. According to the Associated Press, the women were longtime friends. Although no direct motive was being released, Contralinea has sharply criticized the government in the past. Authorities did not believe the crimes were related to the women’s work as journalists. Mexico City law requires prosecutors to investigate such crimes involving women as gender-related.

Since 2006, more than 60 journalists have been killed in Mexico, mostly in the northern states. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Mexico as one of the most dangerous country for reporters due to violence from drug cartels and local governments.

Peace Corps

More than 30 current and former Peace Corps volunteers, mostly women, testified before a Congressional investigation this week about their experience with violence and sexual assault during their time abroad.

The statements said the international volunteer organization failed to take reports of sexual assault seriously, or discouraged volunteers from pursuing justice in the local jurisdictions.

A previous hearing was held in May, when women reported similar stories of discarded complaints. The Huffington Post reported that between 2000 and 2009, an average of 22 women in the organization each year report being victims of rape or attempted rape. An ABC “20/20”  investigation from January found more than 1,000 of the 44,000 who have served in the past decade have reported rape or sexual abuse while volunteering for the organization abroad. The agency acknowledges that the ratio of reports to actual counts of violence is quite skewed.

In September, two former Peace Corps volunteer sued the organization to release annual survey data  on safety and security, staffing, training and the effectiveness of programs broken down by country. Peace Corps volunteers currently work in 77 countries around the world. The group’s 2010 survey data showed 87 percent of respondents reported feeling usually safe or very safe where they live, with 91 percent reporting the same where they work.

Peace Corps statements released said the organization’s top priority is the health and safety of its volunteers: “We are implementing numerous reforms to better protect [them] and provide effective and compassionate support to victims.” The agency has acknowledged that under-reporting is high and that its statistics are incomplete. Legislation pending in Congress would require better staff training, protection for whistleblowers and more complete crime statistics.This year mark’s the organization’s 50th anniversary.

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

Commentary: Six lessons from The Gender Report

Editor’s note: Six months ago, we set out to look at how women are represented in online news both as sources and as authors. To mark our progress, this week we’re reviewing our findings as well as unveiling new statistics based on what we’ve uncovered thus far in a series of posts. View other six-month coverage here.

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When we started this venture six months ago, the idea sprouted from a general curiosity: What did online journalism mean for women in the media? We’d both worked in various print media, and seen the struggle women faced in newsroom representation, visual images, biased coverage and with other obstacles. We also saw print media as a whole quickly becoming a dwindling force in the overall media market and influence. So we combined these two ideas, asking what would happen to women as the conversations shifted from the front page to the home screen.

Yesterday, we published a roundup of all of our statistical findings up to this point, but we also wanted to look at our work in a different way. Here are six observations we’ve made so far:

1. Niche markets have more influence in the mainstream: In the past, a “women’s issues” publication had little hope of breaking into the mainstream conversation. Now, through the help of social media and constant re-reporting of news, a story first covered by one of these publications can easily shape or make its way into the mainstream coverage. We saw this just this week when a World Pulse story on breast ironing inspired CNN to follow suit and it became CNN’s No. 1 story that evening.

2. The next six months can be a turning point: We’ve already included two Week in Review posts about the presidential primaries’ coverage of female candidates and the role women will play in this election. Presidential elections are the Christmas of the media in terms of commentary and dueling opinions. We can hope that it will not involve repeating some of the same mistakes as the 2008 race.

3. Stereotypes are not what they used to be: When we asked friends and followers what region they thought would have the least representation of women, almost everyone quickly answered “well the South of course.” In fact, this proved to be the opposite, with the sites we monitor in the Northeast posting the fewest female bylines and sources (at least thus far).

4. Stereotypes are still exactly what they used to be: Whether it was coverage of sexual assault cases, abortion, women in politics or health care, the fair portrayal of women has not seemed to improve with the shift to online journalism. And while coverage of certain topics, like female athletes or some fresh faces to politics has brought some balance, we still see rape victims’ clothing described, feminism deemed a dirty word, or health care for women portrayed in any way but healthy.

5. The media still reflects cultural realities: In the majority of our Weeks in Review, it was not necessarily the media’s coverage of topics that was newsworthy, it was the comments made about the topics themselves that gave them top billing in the news cycle. While it was true in some cases the media’s interpretation of newsworthiness or the angle of a story gave us pause, in far more cases we were interested in the nature of the story itself. This is especially true in our look at the disappointingly minimal number of female sources used.

We don’t think journalists are looking at a list of potential sources and intentionally and consciously excluding women; in some cases, women have to hold positions of authority to make this list in the first place (This issue of women as expert sources as well as non-expert sources will be one we’ll be looking at more in the future). We need more female politicians, and lawyers, and stock brokers, and government watchdogs, and business executives, if we expect them to ever be represented equally as sources for these top stories.

6. Slowly but surely, progress is ahead: Despite the still dominant male bylines that have transferred over to online outlets, stories by online-only news sites did include a slightly higher percentage of women as sources. And as more bloggers and grassroots sites take hold, we can expect (we hope) to see more women contributing to the narrative, and hopefully both men and women shifting the type of coverage stories involving women receive.

We follow several national and international groups that are working tirelessly on behalf of women and girls, including on media representation, and the power of the Internet is giving them more of a voice than they could have accessed in just traditional print media. Groups like the Girl Effect, The Women’s Media Project, the OpEd Project, the Women’s Media Center and countless others have similar missions to ours, and are doing marvelous work. (We featured one such group, Global Girl Media, during our first six months and hope to do the same with others in the future.)

We’ve also seen online petitions and campaigns promoted by these organizations and/or started by individual women draw attention and make a difference in challenging advertising approaches and media coverage of subjects like rape. And now with a women at the helm of our newspaper of record, we can only expect both traditional newsrooms and online platforms to follow suit and include more women in their staffs.

Let’s keep the momentum going.

Coming soon: Next week we’ll be starting a discussion on what issues you’d like to see us tackle in the future as well as what you solutions you think there are to women’s representation in the news media. Watch for it and speak up to share your thoughts and opinions.

From Bachmann’s migraines to Summer’s Eve: A roundup of six women-related news stories

In honor of The Gender Report marking six months of our monitoring projects this week, we’ve turned this Week in Review post into a recap of six of the women-related news items, in no particular order, that were receiving attention in the media over the past week:

(1) Report recommends full coverage for birth control

In a move that’s being seen as a win for women, a report released Tuesday by the Institute of Medicine recommended that health insurance plans should fully cover the costs of all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives (i.e. without a copay). The report was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to determine gaps in women’s health care coverage as part of the health care reform law. The department is now reviewing the report and will make its decision soon.

Though birth control was getting the headlines (and under debate by certain opponents), it wasn’t the only women’s health service the panel recommended that should be offered at no cost sharing. Other services included annual “well-woman” preventative visits, services for pregnant women including screening for gestational diabetes and lactation counseling, screening for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and counseling and screening for domestic violence.

(2) Creators of “Got Milk?” pull PMS-related campaign

One of several posters as part of the Got Milk? PMS campaign

A campaign by those who brought us “Got Milk?” that aimed at PMS was pulled this week after it came under heavy fire for sexism (including through petitions like this one).

The California Milk Processor Board and its advertising agency had launched a campaign around the idea that milk can help reduce symptoms of PMS with posters and a website —  everythingidoiswrong.org — that were targeted at men as a “home for PMS management.”

Posters which pictured men cowering behind offered milk cartons included sayings such as “I’m sorry for the things I did or didn’t do.”

The site now redirects to www.gotdiscussion.org to provide a place for further dialogue about the campaign.

(3) Congresswoman “not a lady”

In response to her criticism of his support of a budget plan that would cut Medicare, Rep. Allen West sent an email calling Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz “vile, unprofessional and despicable” and included a line that read, “You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!”

Several House Democrat women in response called for an apology and for GOP leadership to condemn the email and rebuke West. The women said this was indicative of the problem of gender discrimination in the workplace.

“We see this as a historic and systemic way that women have been subjected to sexism particularly in this venue, in this political environment,” Rep. Gwen Moore said. “Just once again, we have been told that in order to be a ‘lady,’ we need to just stay in our places.”

(4) Michele Bachmann has migraines

A story first “broke” by The Daily Caller this week set off a firestorm of coverage over whether GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s migraines matter and would affect her ability to govern. This led to a debate whether coverage of this issue was sexist or not, as migraines affect millions of people, mostly women, and are often linked to menstruation and menopause. As Clara Jeffery of Mother Jones tweeted: “2 to 1 that Bachmann’s pill popping = advil and estrogen. It’s called menopause, people. Survived by powerful women all over the world.”

Additionally, it’s been debated whether her migraines merit attention at all as a deciding factor of whether she should be president. Many commentaries have used the line or something similar to, “I can think of many reasons Michele Bachmann shouldn’t be president, but migraines aren’t one of them…” But others have also noted that it’s natural to scrutinize a presidential candidate’s health She has since released a statement and a doctor’s note on her conditions.

(5) News Corp. women get media attention

With gobs of media attention on the phone-hacking scandal this week, at least one commentary asked the question of whether the women of News Corp. are getting fair coverage or being played off as stereotypes. Judith Timson of the Globe and Mail looks at portrayals of Rebekah Brooks, who recently resigned as CEO of News International,  as well as Wendi Deng Murdoch, wife of Rupert Murdoch who received much media attention this week after giving a hard hit to an attacker of her husband during the parliamentary hearing. Read Timson’s take here.

(6) Summer’s Eve campaign gets flack

Summer’s Eve’s new campaign “Hail to the V” (which its marketing director says is “all about empowerment“) is getting called out for using racist stereotypes as well as taking heat from those who point out its feminine washing product is unhealthy.

The ads in the campaign (some of which apparently appeared before “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” of all things) feature the talking hands of a white, black or Latina woman (meant to represent vaginas) with voice narratives that have been described as “racially stereotyping.” As Jessica Valenti said (as quoted by Christie Thompson for Ms.): “White vaginas hit the gym, vagazzle and say BFF a lot. Black vaginas care about their hair, hitting the club and do neck rolls. Latina vaginas say ‘aye aye aye,’ ‘boo,’ and are concerned about tacky leopard thongs. Did I miss anything?” Watch one of the ads to judge for yourself below:

The advertised items are Summer’s Eve douching products, and as several commentaries pointed out, many doctors and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) do not recommend the use of such products (though Summer’s Eve isn’t mentioned specifically) because they can upset the normal balance in a health vagina and can lead to yeast and bacterial infections as well as pushing the bacterial infections up into the other female reproductive organs.

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

Editor’s note: Six months ago, we set out to look at how women are represented in online news both as sources and as authors. To mark our progress, this week we’re reviewing our findings as well as unveiling new statistics based on what we’ve uncovered thus far in a series of posts. View other six-month coverage here.