Thought leaders, journalists, bloggers, and members of the international media community convened in Washington D.C. this week to celebrate World Press Freedom Day.
A free press ultimately means providing an unhindered platform for increased access to information that will spur human dialogue and awareness.
I was delighted when I first learned of the theme of this year’s celebration—21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers. I was also pleased to see that many of the conversations at the events in D.C. and around the world went beyond the obvious and deeply considered the root of media barriers in the 21st century, which go far beyond government censorship and corporate media ethics.
Among the least discussed barriers to media freedom on a global scale are the lack of education and access to technology for women. These barriers limit knowledge, dialogue and leadership.
In the case of my international nonprofit journalism organization, the Global Press Institute (GPI), I’m often asked “Why women?”
The decision to focus GPI’s journalism training and employment opportunities on women reflects two things: 1) the commitment to coverage of social justice issues not traversable by foreign correspondents and 2) an approach that views journalism as a development tool.
Training women increases the ability to provide unique source access; it’s also a practical business decision that increases the overall return on investment, retention rates, and long-term organizational success indicators—from increased content production to poverty alleviation for participants.
Time and again, international development agencies have demonstrated that investing in women means investing in families, communities, and progress. Educated, employed and economically productive women are more likely to use health care systems, have fewer children, and become leaders in their communities, committed to problem solving and social change (UN Population Fund, 2009).
By educating and employing women as journalists, you also increase access to information and putting the power of new media technologies into the hands of the people most likely to use it to foster real change.
But while the Internet is a vital tool that allows GPI to publish news for an audience in 160 countries, just 10 percent of our reporters can access the Internet in their homes. More than half of all GPI reporters do not speak English—the primary language of the Internet—which means computer-assisted reporting is often impossible. Unreliable access to electricity, our most common technological challenge, makes communications choppy and expensive. And our goal of increasing access to information on social issues is a constant struggle because we know that there are 540 million illiterate women in the world that cannot benefit from online content.
But media outlets do not have to fight for press freedoms alone. As millions of social entrepreneurs work to create new social businesses that seek to drive access to information and education for women, the impact on our global media landscape will be powerful. When more women in the world’s most repressive media environments receive the tools of basic literacy and then access to technology, we will see repressive norms challenged, once-censored dialogues pursued, and new ideas about freedom and expression transformed into action.
As global leaders wrap up their conversations about barriers to media freedom this week, I hope many also begin to consider a stronger relationship with local social enterprises. Together, we can work to overcome the disproportionate access women have to media, and the cultural, political, and economic barriers that continue to silence their voices.