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Sarah Macharia, the Kenyan leading the Global Media monitoring Project

For the past seventeen years, Sarah Macharia has led the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), the world’s only global survey on gender equality in the media. The Kenyan is also the General Secretary of the Global Alliance on Media and Gender (GAMAG), which coordinates efforts to accelerate the implementation of the Section J of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, devoted to women and the media.

Prior to delving into feminist advocacy, Sarah Macharia had her sights set on a career as a French-English translator and interpreter. But life took her on another path. Following a year of study in France while working as an au pair, she joined feminist organisations, spurred by an opportunity at FEMNET, the African women’s development and communication network. Ever since, she has remained steadfast in her commitment, transitioning from civil society to roles within pan-african and intergovernmental organizations, including the Economic Commission for Africa, as well as in international organizations.

Since 2007, she has been in charge of the GMMP, a survey initiated at a conference convened for women communicators by three international organisations, the World Association of Christian Communication (WACC), the International Women’s Tribune Centre and ISIS-Manila. The survey approach of monitoring the media was acknowledged in 1995 during the Beijing conference as a means to advance gender equality. Today, as a global network spanning over 100 countries, the GMMP releases its global, regional and national reports every five years to help countries measure and assess the progress made by their news media toward achieving gender equality. Its latest global report involved over 30 000 news stories across the world. “The GMMP monitors the news media, in particular the gender dimensions, and checks patterns and trends in the inclusion of women as voices, subjects, sources of information and even their roles in newsrooms, making comparisons over time and across geographical regions”, she explains.

From Nairobi, where she returned in 2019 after 18 years in Canada, she manages the GMMP, from mobilizing teams in more than 100 countries, leading a core group to update the methodology, training the teams to understand and apply the methodology uniformly, gathering and analyzing the data, to writing the global report. But for Sarah Macharia, «the GMMP is more than a process of simply collecting data. It’s about creating critical media literacy skills on a world scale. It is a transnational social movement for gender equality ».

At the beginning, the 1995 Beijing Conference

From Nairobi to Toronto via Paris and Addis Ababa and moving from education to promoting women’s rights, Macharia’s journey has been shaped by a series of change which have all strengthened her commitment to gender equality. When she reminisces about her early professional years, her memories take her back to the 1995 Beijing Conference, which marked a decisive turning point in the worldwide agenda for gender equality. “At the time, I had just joined FEMNET, a panafrican women’s NGO that at the time hosted the secretariat responsible for convening the African NGO forum in Dakar, a preparatory meeting to develop a common action plan that Africa would present at the Beijing conference. This is the point where my career really began”, she confides to Africa Women Experts. She then joined the former African Centre for Women, known today as the African Centre for gender and development, a division of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), in Addis-Ababa, where she worked among other things on the follow-up of the Beijing conference, namely its five-year review.

From there, Sarah returned to Nairobi and worked as a consultant in the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme. There, on the advice of her supervisor at the time, she decided to pursue graduate studies in political science, having previously only completed a bachelor in education. « My supervisor advised me to study political science because gender is politics. So I started looking for universities with programs in political science having a focus on women and I found one in Canada», she tells us. She managed to immigrate to Canada in 2001 and funded her studies with savings and assistantships at the university. She completed her master’s degree in 2002 and earned her doctorate later in 2008.

Advocate of the media’s role in promoting gender equality

 While writing her dissertation, she applied in 2007 at WACC for a gender program manager position. « Gender equality was always something I was concerned about from childhood. I was struck by how my mother advocated for equal opportunities for me, females in the family circle, and herself. I gravitated to gender equality naturally so when the position was advertised, I applied. Any work related to gender equality was fine for me. The thematic area of media and communication was not on my radar at the time », she explains.

As she was working in this position, she became concerned about the statistics related to the gender gap in media. « Initially, my attention was on the research and then I became concerned when I saw the figures. Those who are involved in the GMMP come into it from a variety of angles. Most are concerned about gender equality, others are interested in media while there are those who are curious academic researchers. When confronted with the data, we collectively become aware of the patterns, trends and that something needs to change », she confides.

In a quarter of a century, she explains, the proportion of women in the media as sources of information, has increased from 17% in 1995 to 25% in 2020. «Our results show that there is change, but it is very slow. That is one reason why directories of expert are needed. Change takes a long time especially when it comes to power relations », she explains. For her, one of the causes is the lack of policy and funding attention to gender and the media. « More attention is paid to technical interventions such as improving women’s access to healthcare or reducing the gender gap in education. This is not the case for the media thematic area that addresses normative, structural or less tangible drivers underlying discrimination against women and girls. Recognizing that media are central for gender equality is essential. It is important to understand that media are key shapers of how we move in the world as gendered beings and are a factor in the socialisation of children », she confides. This is why she always uses the GMMP findings to highlight the role of the media in promoting gender equality, as last March at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, where she participated as a panelist in a session on the role of the media in countering gender stereotypes.

As she is currently working on the next GMMP to be released in 2025, Sarah Macharia hopes that more countries will participate in the survey, that the role of media in changing gender relations will be better acknowledged and more funding will be dedicated to advance gender equality in and through the media around the world.


Danielle France Engolo