Global Resources

Making waves: media’s potential for girls in the Global South

Author: Caroline Sugg
Publisher: BBC Media Action
Publication Date: Oct 2014

Doubly marginalised by both gender and age, there are an estimated 600 million adolescent girls in the world, many of whom live a bleak existence. For these girls, exclusion from basic public services, lack of autonomy, and vulnerability to violence are real and persistent risks. Yet slowly their voices are becoming heard, with the international development community paying closer attention to their plight over the last two decades. Despite this focus, the role of the media and its interplay with the creation and maintenance of gender roles is still not adequately understood.

Drawing on expert interviews as well as insights from the media and development literature, this policy briefing produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation seeks to fill this knowledge gap. The authors argue that the media is a key influence in girls lives, since it can either be harmful or positive to girls’ interests. Specifically, media can influence girls’ aspirations and behaviours around their health and livelihoods, open the door to greater participation in society and ensure that girls’ issues move higher up the public agenda

The policy brief is comprised of five parts, beginning with an introduction describing the high level of attention now paid to girls in international development circles. Part two discusses the limited consideration given to the role of media within that international development discourse, particularly in the Global South. Part three explores the potential positive ways in which the media can shape girls’ prospects in the Global South, including through the participation and amplification of girls’ voices. Part four then expands on girls representation, access and control over media, including girls media literacy, the issue of male domination in the sector, and the role of media priorities, advertising and regulation in making girls more visible.

Finally, part five of the policy briefing concludes with a number of observations and suggestions for donor strategies and the direction of the girl agenda, before interviews are presented by way of an appendix:

* Focus on girls: When investing in media interventions, donors should carefully examine whether programmes designed to influence girls truly prioritise girls as the intended audience. There is a risk that desires to cater for wider audiences can undermine girls needs.

*Generate more evidence: in addition to funding programmes, effort should be made to gather more evidence on how media affects girls’ lives in the Global South. Recent research by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) highlighted a number of knowledge gaps regarding the impact of different levels of exposure to media programming, and the efficacy of different types of media approaches. Furthermore, few evaluations have directly included girls. 
* Broaden the scope: there is a striking focus in girl-directed media on reproductive rights, teenage pregnancy, and child marriage. While positive in themselves, girls needs are broader than this, and issues such as economic empowerment and civic participation are being neglected.

*Integrate for impact: several case studies suggest that integrating media programmes with community mobilisation work can have greater impact for girls on the ground. Work by the ODi has shown that approaches that stimulate discussion within a peer group are more likely to have positive results than those that do not.

* Shoot for sustainability: integrating media interventions with wider public development and empowerment programmes can help increase the organisational and financial sustainability of media programming for girls. 

* Address structural constraints: While media content is important, it is vital that it is accompanied by efforts to address the constraints outlined above.