A film by Ahmed Chikhi, Fabienne Fleischer, Julia Nathansohn, Karla Belser, Rasha Manasra, Sherif Rashwan
Gender and migration – in the media, these do not necessarily sound like two topics that have anything to do with each other. But in fact, they are very closely connected. In large parts of the world, the representation of migrants in the media is characterized by stereotyping and segregation. The topic is dominated by the reporting on men on the run. But what about female migrants? Are they talked about in the media? At first glance, they seem to be less represented while comprising half of the world’s migrants. According to the GLOBAL TRENDS Report by The UN Refugee Agency, in 2020 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide. 47% of them were women and girls. In the next few minutes, we want to take a deeper look at how female migrants are shown in the media by comparing tv representation from Germany, Tunisia and Egypt. Where are parallels and differences on how women are represented in the context of migration? Let’s find out.
Here’s a quick disclaimer: In this film, we will concentrate on the perspective of women, while we know there’s much more to look at when talking about gender and it is not our intention to exclude other genders or sexualities from this topic.
Let’s start with a first look at German news programs. Empirical studies show that people with a migration background are strongly underrepresented in German news reporting. Terms associated with migration are often depicted in a negative and conflictual context, for example with crime and lack of integration. These narratives lead to migrants being seen as a threat and rarely as a social or economic opportunity for the society. Most of the topics are related to men. One example is New Year’s Eve in Cologne 2015. The big celebration was overshadowed by a flood of reports of female victims who shared similar accounts of sexual assaults they endured during the night. News outlets covered the event as a problem caused by male refugees, as most of the perpetrators appeared to be foreign. Especially men from North Africa were depicted as offenders. Subsequently, public debates occurred that framed sexism and misogyny as issues from Arab countries. The use of stereotypes and stigmatization in the media solidifies the separation of “one’s self” from “the other” or “us vs. them” within society. In Contrast to men, female migrants are rarely playing a role in news debates. And if they are covered by media, they are usually framed as being oppressed or victimized by their own culture. A prominent example is the frame of Arab women wearing a hijab. It’s a symbol of oppression and being without free will. Whenever a woman is portrayed as liberated, she does not veil her hair, thus expressing a Western value system. Stereotypes created by the media describe female migrants to be of lower class and therefore contribute to their exclusion of acquiring a job in institutions. Mostly they are shown in the private sphere with their children at home and not as a part of society. The brief insight into German media representation has shown that the intersection of gender and migration puts those who are affected at a disadvantage and does little or nothing to represent the diversity of migrant women’s circumstances. There is a lack of diversity and migrant women themselves are hardly heard in the media.
After looking at Germany as a country of immigration, let’s take a look at two countries where there is both immigration and emigration. How are women portrayed in the context of migration in Tunisia? The Tunisian government always claims that economic and social changes have taken place between men and women, but there are groups of women like men who decide to give up everything and land in an unknown destination and future. The percentage of migration remains notable among women, and this is proven by the statistics and figures presented by the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights in its annual report on the migratory movement from Tunisia in 2019. Women’s participation in illegal migration campaigns after 2011 rose to 2% in 2018 with 149 women migrating to Italy in early August 2021, according to the same source. Tunisia has always been a country that has given privileges to women. Going back in history, the first president of the country Habib Bourguiba contributed to this fact through the integration of the personal status code in 1956 which reinforced the role of women in society, these decisions led Tunisia to be considered a leading Arab country in terms of gender equality. But what is observed by watching the Tunisian media and listening to the discourses circulating on women is different from the legislative part. Does the Tunisian media grant women their status or has it kept their promises to enshrine the principles of equality. Academic and researcher Somaya Berajab from the Institute of Press and Information Sciences shares with us studies and facts on the media landscape in Tunisia and its relationship to women, in particular how Tunisian media represents women in migration issues. Here’s the first question. Is there any media representation in Tunisia about women and migration? Are women included in these questions?
Soumaya Berjab Researcher in media sciences and professor at the Institute of Press and Information Sciences in Tunisia:
“Well as a researcher in media studies and gender issues, I can say that Tunisian media have focused especially this last year on the questions of gender in the Tunisian society especially when we watch some social talk shows and some tv programs that are treating some questions about the role of men and women in the society and how the different classes in the society treat this kind of questions. The first Tv channel Al-Watania Al-Oula ha produced serie called Al-Harka which discuss the clandestine immigration and focused on some questions and some problematics about role of media in this kind of dangerous adventure, and it discuss different point of views about women and their tendency to quit the country and live this dangerous experience.”
The situation of women in Tunisia is different from their situation in other Arab countries, to what extent can this be true?
“Well, we can’t deny that the situation of Tunisian women is qualified as the best situation of women in the Arab world because of different reasons ; the first is the text of law that guarantee the rights of women to work and to be free and to express their rights and to express their opinions and to be equal to men in different environments and in different cases Tunisian women escaped from th stereotypes of the Arab women that qualified as an offended, and oppressed and weak women during this forty years ago.”
Tunisia is a departure and transit country that has welcomed local an foreign women migrants. The main reasons are mostly economic factors while in Egypt the case can be very different.
Let’s find out about these differences in the next part and take deeper look into what the media shares about gender and migration in the Middle east. What reasons do women specifically have to migrate to or from Egypt? A study from 2020 by Abdelwahed et al. found out that young women have a decreased likelihood to migrate at some point in their lives. If the intention arises, they report a desire to migrate to another country due topolitical and security concerns. In comparison to 94% of men who earning money as one of the main reasons for migration, only 44% of women desired to mainly gain working experience, just as higher salaries. Summarized, the main factors why Egyptians consider migrating are the increased unemployment rate, educational purposes and – most importantly – remittance. According to Statista, Egypt is recognized as the 5th country to receive remittance globally by 29.6 billion US Dollars in 2020. 5.3 percent of the gross domestic product were represented by migrant remittances in 2008. That indicates the importance of how Egyptian families rely on their migrant relatives to support them. Coming to media representation, you can see various media production who reflect on the topic of migration. One famous example is the new TV series “Newton’s Game”. It is about a young married couple from Egypt. They make the plan to give birth to their unborn child in the U.S, so the newborn will be considered as an American citizen. To do so, the pregnant wife first travels to the U.S. alone, only to be reunited with her husband as a family after t e birth. This is not a typical case of remittance but shows how young Egyptian families try to create better economic and social conditions for their future and how media in Egypt is portraying the life of young female migrants.
The short insights have reflected on the diverse perspectives on the topic of gender and migration in the three countries, as they are affected in such different ways. While there is an increasing knowledge in society about the reality of migrant women, some media systems still treat migration as a topic associated with men and others are only addressing the topic subsequently. What’s important in the future? Media formats such as news debates or fictional formats should…generally, focus more on women’s perspectives, but also try to show the reality of migrant women’s circumstances. Therefore, it’s important that media editors collect more knowledge of gender-related topics and the living conditions of migrants…and use the voice of migrant women to make them visible in society and media.
Thank you all for watching this video. We hope that we could provide some impulses for a more diverse look on the topic of gender and migration.
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