Mind the gap: Newsrooms take on gender inequality

That gender disparity remains an urgent concern in India is no secret. It’s a large problem that needs various shifts in mentality and society, and the media needs to work inventively to address forms of sexism and discrimination that are, unfortunately, accepted as the norm. The wide spectrum of India’s gender inequality issue encompasses all components of gender discriminating practices from around the world.

Picture from the Editors Lab that was held in Mumbai, March 2017

Editors Lab hackathons held respectively in March 2017 in Mumbai and a month later, in April in Bengaluru took on the challenge. These hackathons were organised with support from the New Venture Fund, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), Hacks/Hackers India and hosted by The Indian Express (Mumbai) and Deccan Herald (Bengaluru).

While Mumbai’s champions WTD News, sought to fix the gender gap in financial literacy, Bengaluru winners FactorDaily took on the deep-rooted sexism that exists in popular humour.

Mumbai and Bengaluru are both hotspots for media startups, and both WTD News and FactorDaily are part of a recent influx of entrepreneurial publications in India, aiming to cover the news differently, and mainly targeting millennials. Mumbai’s WTD News’ mission is to make news easy to understand and fun to follow, mixing memes, and pop culture with current affairs and information. FactorDaily in Bengaluru focuses on everything technology, with stories, breaking news, insights and commentary, on how it is shaping the future of India.

Team WTD News — Natasha Kewalramani, Rhea Kewalramani and Yash Kadakia — found that in India, economic and financial news is heavily skewed towards male readers; particularly financial media where 70% to 80% of the reader base is male. Newsrooms are doing little to attract the female reader. According to the team, this worsens the already severe problem of female financial dependency and illiteracy.

For the hackathon, the team built an app called MissManage—modelled on a period tracker app, an interface most women are familiar with—which would push need-based financial news depending on the reader’s profile. MissManage was available publicly four months after the Editors Lab hackathon in March, and has evolved since.

For one, the team decided to launch the platform as a website, not an app. However, its ethos remains — to make financial news less intimidating, more interactive, and easy for women to grapple with. Natasha Kewalramani, the journalist on the team said:

“Considering that women in India are not really encouraged to think about money, expecting them to engage with a money app would have been unrealistic. Besides, apps are expensive to set up and maintain. Women in India browse the Internet and spend a lot of time on social apps. So our strategy is to focus on quality content and distribution first.”
The team from WTD News at the Mumbai Editors Lab

The website is currently in the soft launch phase, and will take off officially in October. “At the moment, we’re implementing the idea slowly but steadily — scoping out the space to see what women in India need to become financially literate, and what the best way is to be of their service,” adds Kewalramani. “The MissManage team is currently only one-person strong , so we’re also on the hunt for talent.”

The journey from hackathon to reality has been exciting for the team, punctuated with various learning curves. Kewalramani says:

“Through MissManage we’re targeting a group of women who know that a problem exists, but lack the confidence and the sense of urgency to address it. In order to genuinely transform that mindset, MissManage had to be more than just a product or service — we had to create a persona that would be approachable, yet knowledgable. Striking the right editorial tone, identifying the best channels and building a community of ‘girls helping girls get smart about money’ — all of this had to be carefully thought through to convert our skittish audience into an empowered one.”

Changing mindsets is what Team FactorDaily — Shrabonti Bagchi, Nikhil Raj and Animesh Saraswat — set out to do too, with their interactive quiz, UncleJi Meter.

It’s common to receive jokes via Whatsapp or other social media where women are demeaned, or stereotyped. These are especially popular with ‘unclejis’, a broad demographic of elderly men who actively use social media to exchange jokes. According to the team, UncleJi can also be a euphemism for anyone, male or female, who thinks casual sexism is okay.

The FactorDaily team at the Bengaluru Editors Lab

One of UncleJi Meter’s examples is: ‘If women aren’t supposed to be in the kitchen, then why do they have milk and eggs inside them?!’ Another: ‘Why to not trust women? It’s simple, how can you trust something that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die?’

The tool uses 10 such jokes told in a visual, pop-culture style, and with each joke, asks users whether they think it is sexist, whether they would forward that joke to their contact lists, whether they think it’s harmless, and so on.

Depending on your answers, UncleJi Meter will present their analysis of your perception of women, and equate you to a Bollywood movie character. The tone is deliberately casual. Shrabonti Bagchi, the journalist on the team:

“Most people found it useful to start a conversation about sexism, without being hostile or aggressive. They also liked the humorous touch of the tool itself.”