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Economy & Labor , World

How Immigration Reporting Overlooks Women

by Rikha Sharma RaniSarah O'Hagan June 18, 2018

This article was originally published in Columbia Journalism Review.

Amra Sabic-el-Rayess grew up in Bihac, Yugoslavia, just as nationalist movements across her region unleashed ethnic strife. For years, she suffered as a Muslim whose community was under attack by Serbian forces, all the while working with a local NGO to organize doctors so that children trapped in the siege could be immunized. She survived the conflict and eventually lucked into a place in a girls’ school outside Philadelphia. She landed a scholarship to Brown University and obtained her PhD from the Ivy League institution where she currently teaches. Today, Amra produces research on topics vital to US national security.

Stories like Amra’s are all around us, but they are scarcely found in media coverage of immigration. The Fuller Project for International Reporting, a nonprofit dedicated to giving voice to women in the news, examined media coverage of immigration over three randomly selected weeks in the first four months of 2018. (The coverage was aggregated by Migratory Notes, a popular weekly newsletter that rounds up media on immigration.)

The results? Articles on immigration focused almost exclusively on border security, conflict and crisis. The absence of women’s voices from such coverage is striking, especially since women and girls make up at least half of the immigrant population in the US.

In our sample, male government or law enforcement officials were three times as likely to be quoted as female officials. (The ranks of law enforcement are overwhelmingly male; men make up 95 percent of Customs and Border Patrol agents, for example). Expert sources included in the sample were nearly twice as likely to be men, and men were twice as likely to be featured in photos.

That lack of women’s voices may help explain why stories that uniquely affect women get short shrift. The current volume of reporting on family separation at the US border arguably breaks this mold, but such a breadth of reporting is atypical. In our analysis, only two stories out of 100 covered a topic of particular relevance to women, such as reproductive health or domestic violence. How often do we hear about why Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador—the so-called “iron triangle,” from which a large proportion of migrants to the US originate—are among the most dangerous countries in the world for women? Or that, this year, ICE made it easier to detain pregnant women?

The problem is not only that women’s stories are missing from the dominant security-centered narrative. It’s that immigration is almost exclusively covered against the backdrop of national security, despite its relevance in other policy domains. Fully 90 percent of caregivers or domestic workers in the United States are women, most of whom are foreign-born. In a society in which 60 percent of households don’t have a stay-at-home parent, that connection arguably warrants far more attention than it receives.

Read the full article here.

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