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Women, Politics and Media Framing (WPMF) in the UK and in Israel – Tackling Western Democracies' Gender Inequality in Politics

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WPMF (Women, Politics and Media Framing (WPMF) in the UK and in Israel – Tackling Western Democracies' Gender Inequality in Politics)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2020-09-30

The goal of this project was to systematically analyse gender inequality in political discourse in comparative perspective, both across countries (UK and Israel) and across time periods as portrayed in the mainstream press, and develop guidance to reduce such inequality. This corresponds to H2020 Work Programme for 2016-2017 of reversing inequalities in Europe, and more specifically to the EU Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019. Applying the theoretical framework of developmental theory, this study examined whether changes occurring in the status of women in the UK and in Israel, as part of the structural and cultural transformations that this theory points to, seep into the political discourse surrounding women and politics over time. Relevant media frames on women and politics were analysed between 1969-2019 using the print media in the UK and in Israel (where women were realistic candidates/elected for premiership). In addition, a quantitative content analysis of news and commentary was performed to locate interpretive references to women and politics. A sub-set of articles was used for an in-depth qualitative analysis, in order to draw out the key themes surround the framing of women and politics.
The results of the quantitative analysis regarding the extent of permeation of feminist ideas into mainstream discourse suggested that the trends and patterns of visibility for different newspapers were broadly similar. It appeared that they followed the same type of stories whether they were left or right-leaning newspapers, tabloids or broadsheets, British or Israeli national dailies. Moreover, in both countries, whilst the keyword “feminism” was very prominent throughout most of the research period covered, other keywords (“gender” and “violence against women”) became more popular in the discourse in recent years.
The preliminary results for the quantitative and qualitative analysis of news stories about women Prime Ministerial candidates indicate that traditional, gender-normative frames are still prominent in the discourse compared to progressive ones. This suggests that there is still a long way to go until women will be perceived as equally competent candidates to their male counterparts and even be viewed as possessing added value for political leadership. Thus, by offering pathways to substantive change in media coverage of women politicians (such as the use of gender-neutral language in reporting and avoidance of mentioning irrelevant personal characteristics), this study’s conclusions and recommendations could encourage more women to enter the political arena and make a significant change in the status of women in Europe and worldwide and related long-term policies.
The work on the project included identifying a suitable sample of national daily newspapers for analysis according to their format (broadsheet/tabloid), political orientation (left/right) and the extent of compatibility with the Israeli newspaper’s format. This while taking into account availability issues. The newspapers that were selected for this research were the Daily Mail, the Mirror, the Telegraph and the Guardian (for the British case study) and Yedioth Ahronoth (for the Israeli case study). The reason for focusing on one newspaper only for the Israeli case was that in Israel, unlike in Britain, there are very few dailies covering the entire research period. Yedioth Ahronoth was selected as it is the most popular newspaper in Israel for most of the research period, and it is also the only national daily that has been digitized for the entire research period.
The data collection process involved visiting physical archives, such as the British Library in London, the National Library in Jerusalem and Yedioth Ahronoth’s newspaper archive, and using various newspaper digital archives through platforms such as LexisNexis, Gale and ProQuest.
The analysis included: 1) quantitative analysis of news and commentary articles about feminism and the status of women during election years between 1969-2019 in the Israeli and British daily newspapers selected; 2) quantitative and qualitative content analysis of articles focused on women Prime Ministerial candidates (two British candidates – Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May and two Israeli candidates – Golda Meir and Tzipi Livni).
Preliminary findings from the work were presented at the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) conference in Madrid in July 2019. The paper, entitled: “Cherchez la Femme: Finding Feminism in Newspapers’ Digital Archives – the Cases of UK and Israel”, focused on the challenges concerning the data collection process for this project. Based on the findings presented at the conference, a methodological paper, which critically engaged with the challenges of archival research methodology, was submitted to a peer-reviewed journal in the field of communication.
A draft of a second paper, which focuses on the media representation of the four female candidates for the premiership in the UK and in Israel, is under preparation. In addition, this research project was presented in a meeting of the Network of Interdisciplinary Media and Communication Research (NIMCR) group. Moreover, a commentary article was published (16th September 2019) in The Conversation, focused on the September 2019 Israeli election and the gender gap in voting, entitled: “Israel elections: who women vote for and how it’s shifting”.
For the research community, this study offers significant theoretical and empirical contributions to the literature on developmental theory, descriptive and substantive representation of women in politics, media coverage of politicians and discourses of feminism, specifically in relation to both comparative elements, that is, comparing countries and comparing time periods. In addition, it offers a methodological contribution in raising awareness of the key challenges of working with newspaper digital archives, suggesting tailored workarounds for each challenge, and offering pathways for forming more systematic solutions to benefit the research community. Thus, it is relevant for researchers from diverse research fields who use qualitative, quantitative or mixed-method approach to analyse news articles sources from digital archives.
For policy makers, journalists, media managers, media unions and NGOs, the project’s findings can serve as the basis for recommendations on changes which could be implemented in the media coverage of women politicians and feminist concerns. The likely impact of the project’s results on promoting gender equality lies in raising social, political and media awareness of the status of women and women’s issues; enhancing the salience of women’s voices in the decision-making process and helping feminist organisations to fight backlashes to political gender equality in Europe and Western democracies more broadly. Thereby it will help to fulfil the EU Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019 in terms of promoting gender equality in decision-making in the EU and beyond.