Nigeria: Nigerian Media Unfair, Biased in Reporting Women in Appointive Positions

The report explains how the media describe and present the strengths, skills, and competence of women and men in appointive positions.

Nigerian media often exhibit bias against women in public appointive positions at the national level, portraying them as weak and incompetent and questioning their credibility, a new report has shown.

Published by the development Research and Projects Centre (dRPC), in partnership with the Advancing Learning and Innovation on Gender Norms (ALIGN), the report was released on Tuesday. Its thematic area was gender norms and women in appointive positions in Nigeria.

The researchers said they investigated the complex interplay of gender norms and media narratives in the experiences of women occupying appointive positions in Nigeria’s politics. The report explained how the media describe and present the strengths, skills, and competence of women and men in appointive positions.

The study reveals a stark contrast between the media portrayal of women and men in appointive positions as a result of unequal gender norms, roles, and stereotypes, which are also reflected in the experiences of women appointees at the state level.

Norms-influenced reporting means that women’s stories are often sensationalised and tend to focus on their competence and qualifications, the report said.

“Women also face character attacks, ranging from their leadership style to moral integrity. Stories about men, however, focus on the facts. While women are much more likely to be described as ‘scandalous’, ‘incompetent’, and ‘corrupt’ in media coverage, softer terminology is more likely to be used in stories about men, such as ‘mismanaged’, ‘misappropriated’ or ‘investigated’.”

“Men are also less likely to be described as incompetent. As well as differences in the lexicon, there are also biases in scope, leading to the over-representation of men’s voices. This biased media representation has significant consequences for women’s visibility and agency in Nigerian public office and underscores the need to address these imbalances,” the report said.

Commenting on the paper, the lead researcher, Plangsat Dayil, said media portrayals capture the diverse ways in which the media depicts men and women, including the choice of language, visual representations, story placement, and the selection of images and illustrations.

She said the portrayal of women in the media plays a pivotal role in shaping public opinion and influencing societal norms.

The researchers argued that while women in appointive positions are captured in a negative light, by contrast, the media reported their male counterparts with more neutral reporting, “demonstrating a clear gender bias in media coverage.”

“Such bias draws from, and reinforces, negative gender norms, and hampers the acceptance of women in public appointive positions whilst also reinforcing gender inequalities,” the report said.

One of the researchers said there are deeply ingrained norms and traditions in Nigeria that have systematically marginalised women, relegating them to subordinate roles within both public and private spheres.

“These entrenched gender biases have shaped a political landscape where men have traditionally occupied prominent positions, perpetuating the perception that politics is a male domain.”

“These biases can result in women being overlooked or undervalued for appointments, despite their qualifications and experience,” the report said. “They can manifest in both formal and informal selection processes to affect women’s chances of being considered for public appointive positions.”

The study noted that Nigeria’s diverse religious and ethnic composition adds complexity to such gender dynamics, with diverse groups holding distinct views on the role of women in society and politics.

At the national level, the report uses content analysis of media reports on five women and five men disengaged from the same national-level appointive position at different times between 2011 – 2022.

The researchers analysed media reporting of these issues to distil gender narratives.

Findings show that media reports of women disengaged from appointive positions are heavy with personal ascriptive content. Similarly, women are often presented as incompetent, unfit for the position, rude, disobedient, not humble, and emotionally unstable, the report said.

“Media reports often show that women were only appointed because of godfather, father, or husband. When disengaged, women are more likely to be scandalised for corruption and more often reported as insubordinate.”

“For men, media reports are straightforward. The media use the more technical language used for men disengaged from work. More often men are reported as victimised and less scandalised and for wrongdoing.”

Ms Dayil, the lead researcher, said this contrasts with more neutral reporting on men holding similar positions and demonstrates a clear gender bias in media coverage.

“Such bias draws from, and reinforces, negative gender norms, and hampers the acceptance of women in public appointive positions whilst also reinforces gender inequalities.”

She noted that in both northern and southern regions, deeply ingrained gender stereotypes challenge women’s suitability for public leadership.

“In Northern Nigeria, these stereotypes lead women to question their roles in the public domain and are rooted in religious and cultural norms. In Southern Nigeria, women strive to be confident and often rely on social institutions to function in public roles.”

“In Northern Nigeria, women often have to rely on connections and networks with men to gain acceptance and leadership positions. In Southern states, political networks seem to have less influence on public appointments.”

The report also indicates that there is a belief that government structures do not hamper women’s leadership, yet women face structural and cultural biases, including harassment, unequal expectations, and discrimination by male superiors.

“These biases result in harsher judgments about women and hinder their access to leadership positions, despite their equal performance.”

“Women appointees expressed frustration that societal expectations place higher demands on them because of their gender, believing that this prevents them from advancing in their roles,” the report said.


The report recommends that it is imperative to address the challenges facing women in appointive positions through a comprehensive approach.

“Such an approach includes key areas such as media portrayal, training, political intervention, and research initiatives. A focus on these four aspects would enable a more equitable and informed decision-making process and improve the overall representation and treatment of all appointees, regardless of their gender.”

The researchers also advised the government to consider the following:

“Mainstream gender analysis and methodologies into the training curriculum of university communication programmes and roll out in-service training programmes on gender responsiveness in reporting for serving media professionals.

“Leverage current national concern on fake news to introduce educational initiatives in media literacy that will empower the public to deconstruct and recognise gender biases in media reporting.

“Support self-regulatory media platforms to produce gender-sensitive reporting, set standards, and hold members to account.”

Meanwhile, development partners are advised to support the establishment of women’s leadership development capacity-strengthening centres, programmes, and networks that target middle-level women leadership poised for career progression in public appointive positions.

Development partners should also support women already engaged in public appointive positions through mentorship and negotiation skills building.

“This study’s findings show that women in public appointive positions are skilled at negotiation, work towards success, and are often inclusive. Such skills can be developed and strengthened.”

The researchers urged development partners to extend non-material incentives to initiatives that aim to enhance gender-sensitive reporting.

“This could involve funding for training programmes tailored for journalists and media organisations or fund research projects on media reporting trends pertaining to women in leadership.”

The report recommends establishing a dedicated media watchdog with a focus on gender equality in media reporting. Such an organisation could provide consistent assessment and feedback to ensure the more equitable representation of women, the report said.

Lastly, press councils and professional bodies were advised to consider the following:

“Lead the development and implementation of comprehensive reporting guidelines, accompanied by regular training sessions for journalists and editors. This would include seeking out and featuring more women experts, commentators, and analysts, as well as spotlighting women in leadership roles, their achievements, and the challenges they overcome.

“Acknowledge and celebrate outstanding journalism and media outlets that consistently uphold gender-sensitive reporting through peer awards and accolades. This will further motivate the adoption of these principles across the industry,” the report concluded.