WanaData Africa
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WanaData Africa

How the representation of women in the Nigerian media and online spaces reinforce gender bias

By Anibe Idajili

Photo Credit: unspalsh.com/Daniel Adesina

To comprehend women’s representation in Nigerian media and online spaces, one must first appreciate the country’s cultural dynamics. The values that characterize the country’s social, political, and economic systems make it easier for men to decide how women are represented. As a result, the choice of words and way of depiction, among other factors influence media and online portrayals of women.

Despite the fact that women’s involvement in education, politics, business, sports, medicine, law, and journalism is improving, their representation in these fields remains unchanged. In Nigeria, the media and internet not only portray gender bias but also influence the construction of gender roles in the country.

Notwithstanding the country’s religious and cultural diversity, media and online stereotypes about Nigerian women have remained consistent across the country. Among other stereotypes, women are depicted as victims, meek, dependent, suffering mothers, wife materials, housewives, homemakers, sex objects, and runs girls (prostitutes).

For example, the late Osinachi Nwachukwu, a Nigerian female gospel singer, was said to have been the victim of domestic violence. A colleague of hers, Frank Edwards, claimed that the late singer’s spouse assaulted her and prevented her from working with other singers. Interestingly, Tonte Briggs, a Twitter user, was perplexed as to why Frank Edwards, a “recording artiste,” would want to collaborate with “someone’s wife” without first obtaining her husband’s permission.

Despite her vocal accomplishments, Osinachi’s male colleague was referred to as “a recording artiste,” while she was described as “someone’s wife.” Women become desensitized to domestic abuse as a result of these kinds of representations.

Although many women and men expressed their displeasure with Tonte’s remarks, he is far from alone in this belief. Nigerian women who have earned professional positions report that many people disregard these credentials, or even criticize women’s claims to them, in a variety of disciplines.

In a news headline in 2021, Professor Maimuna Waziri, Vice-Chancellor of Federal University Gashua, was simply referred to as “Female Professor,” with no mention of her name. It didn’t matter that she was up against 47 other professors for the Vice-Chancellorship. The patronizing tone of the headline instilled a sense of inferiority in women.

Regardless of their accomplishments, women’s positions in society are typically depicted as that of housewives who lack intellect. It is the same reason that keeping a house clean and caring for children is not deemed a “real job.”

The media’s presentation of women in conventional roles online and in the media has been effective in shaping public perceptions about gender roles. It is apparent that exposure to biased content has a significant impact on perception.

A lady recently stated on Twitter that she had not shed a tear for her abusive father, who died many years ago. In response to her tweet, a Nigerian Instagram blog ran with the headline — “Feminist reveals why she has not cried since her dad passed.” While she may or may not be a feminist, the headline reinforces the assumption that feminism is promoted by bitter and angry women.

The traditional gender norms in Nigeria are clearly reinforced through online and media representations of women. However, it is necessary that Nigeria’s media and online environments improve their representation of women in ways that counteract the country’s current patriarchal and stereotypical framework. Nigerian media and internet users should highlight Nigerian women’s accomplishments and show their support for gender equality.

This story was supported by Code for Africa’s WanaData initiative and the World Association for Christian Communication

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WanaData is a Pan-African network of female journalists, data scientists and techies working on changing the digital media landscape by producing and promoting data-driven news while applying digital technologies in their storytelling.

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