The scarcity of female experts that journalists can readily rely on for objective, accurate information for reporting on an international news story couldn’t be clearer: 81 percent of experts interviewed for global news stories were men, according to a 2015 study by the Global Gender Monitoring Project, which promotes gender equality in the news media.
Now, a new database, launched by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, wants to increase the number of female experts who are interviewed and quoted in news stories on conflict and security, to better balance reporting by journalists.
The venture, called InterviewHer, consists of a large free database of female experts globally. Journalists can browse by region and expertise and send interview requests through the database.
“The numbers are startling — it’s clear women’s voices are excluded from experts’ narratives,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, a media associate with the Nobel Women’s Initiative, an organization based in Ottawa, Canada, and founded in 2006 by six female Nobel laureates. It was set up “to magnify the power and visibility of women working in countries around the world for peace, justice and equality,” according to the mission statement.
The experts who are listed so far in the database come from various fields, spanning civil society and academia. They include women’s rights advocates, human-rights lawyers, heads of nonprofit groups, Nobel Peace Prize winners and even journalists. Already, the database contains experts across Africa and the Middle East, as well as a handful in Asia and Central America. At the time of publishing, 49 experts were publicly listed.
There’s Beth Woroniuk, for example, a Canadian specializing in the women, peace and security agenda, which stems from the landmark United Nations Security Resolution requiring women’s equal participation in peace negotiations. And Leymah Gbowee, the Nobelist who pushed her country, with some of her fellow Liberians, to end the civil war there. Nela Pamukovic is a Croatian activist who is expert on rape as a weapon in war and other human-rights matters.
The initiative coincides with another new women-oriented project, called NewsMavens, which aggregates news articles published in Europe, selected and focused only on women. The goal, the website said, is to “find, choose, and explain the news to bring you the perspective of women journalists on the latest stories in Europe,” calling it “womansplaining.” The project is partly financed by the European Commission.
As for InterviewHer, Nivyabandi said the idea arose when the Nobel Women’s Initiative looked at statistics on women who were interviewed in international news media and found that they are often interviewed as witnesses and storytellers and not experts — although there are plenty of female scholars and activists available to talk to the media.
“Our intention is to work beyond the database by facilitating more conversations about this,” Nivyabandi said. “I don’t think many newsrooms are aware of that shocking statistic, because there are very few outlets tracking this in their work.”
To be included in the database, organizations or experts can submit a nomination. The Nobel initiative relied on its own networks to populate the database for the launch and is continuously accepting nominations.
“We are trying for a diversity of local sources, not just experts who are based in the United States or elsewhere,” Nivyabandi said. “We want sources who are on the ground, because their expertise is incredible and not currently reflected in most coverage.”
The problem is so widespread that some journalists have written candidly about their struggle to achieve gender parity in quoting sources for their reporting. The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a nonprofit entity, has even published a guide on how to avoid the “marticle,” or “man-article.”
Once the InterviewHer expert is accepted by the Nobel initiative, she agrees to have her photo and a short biography placed on the public database. Interested journalists can send an interview request through the expert’s page, which goes to her email. From there, the expert decides whether to provide more contact information.
The process is meant to protect the experts’ safety, Nivyabandi said. “If the political situation changes in a country, and they are now vulnerable, we would of course remove them.”
Some experts whose situations are too precarious right now do not have public profiles listed. In some cases, journalists can contact InterviewHer directly to speak with these experts for on-background information.
While the project may be new, Nivyabandi said it had received a positive reception.
“We’ve had a great response so far from male journalists,” she said. “One said he’s really trying for a 50-50 balance and this is a great resource for him.”
“We don’t want to criticize the media but work with them and give them the tool to be able to do their work accurately,” she added.
Know any female experts not in the list? Nominate them here.
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Kacie Candela is an assistant editor for PassBlue and a news anchor and reporter with WFUV, a public radio station in the Bronx, N.Y., where she covers the UN and other beats. Her work has won various awards from the New York State Associated Press Association, New York State Broadcasters Association, PRNDI, and the Alliance for Women in Media.