CNN is forming a new team that will tell stories of women and the challenges they are facing in their countries.

'As Equals' started out as a mobile-first series of stories from places like Malawi, Haiti, Kenya and Yemen, funded by the European Journalism Centre.

Three years later, it will bring together a team of six, led by editor Eliza Anyangwe. This time, it is funded by a three-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"We're still seeking to highlight things that are less covered, maybe a bit taboo, and bring those to a global audience like CNN's to find very different cross-sections of society and engage them on those subjects," says Blathnaid Healy, senior director, EMEA of CNN Digital.


Healy's standout stories so far include Anyangwe's article on a website for Ghanaian women to have positive conversations about sex and stories about access to period products including an interactive period poverty calculator.

"This is about normalising having these conversations," she continues. "These conversations don't belong in a corner of a website or a silo, or a particular kind of journalism focusing on women.

"The joy of running that story was leading the website with it, and packaging up something that would develop people's literacy around women's health and wellbeing, and the challenges that exist no matter where you are in the world."

Constructive approach

The death of Sarah Everard in the UK this month has pushed a national conversation about regular, widespread dangers facing women and their shared experience of this reality.

Though As Equals focuses on lesser-developed countries, high-profile stories such as these give CNN an opportunity to consider constructive journalism. It will look to more developed countries for solutions that may be viable elsewhere, measuring the effectiveness and gauging how they came about.

"The case of Sarah Everard, for me, recalls the commonality of violence against women. It highlights structural inequalities - that women encounter violent situations with their partners or strangers, or that it's not limited to physical violence, it's verbal and emotional.

"[As Equals] can connect those dots on how women over the world sadly don't feel safe or protected. So many of us have been sexually harassed, groped or flashed. In the global south, these are not resolved issues. In more developed parts of the world, there is still huge work to do here. With that in mind, we will endeavour to do our reporting that way."


It has not been a smooth ride for As Equals'. - three years on, conversations on gender inequality have not moved on significantly.

"We are still talking about an epidemic of gender-based violence. There are still so many stories that are so normalised in terms of everyday discrimination and sexism, women's concerns being dismissed or minimised," Healy explains.

"That, combined with it playing out, for example, in the online harassment of women - including women journalists, and especially those of colour - who have to face it in so much of their work, these are real lowlights."

Recent research by the International Centre for Journalists detailed the nature of online abuse aimed at Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler in The Philippines, and the journalist at the centre of multiple legal cases, largely seen as a test of press freedom in the region.

The study looked at 40,000 tweets and 57,000 Facebook posts and comments over the last five years. It found that 40 per cent of attacks were classified as personal, featuring "significant sexism, misogyny and explicit language, including attacks on Ressa’s physical appearance and manipulated images of her head with male genitalia. This type of violence also includes threats of rape and murder, and targets Ressa’s skin colour and sexuality."

Ressa is a high-profile case that shows the extreme end of abuse aimed at women. But the reality is that two-thirds of women journalists have been subjected to online abuse, according to the International Federation of Journalists' report from 2018.

"We have to think about that when we are putting journalists on stories," Healy continues. "Thinking about the impact of those stories and preparing for what the response might be. As editors, we have to take responsibility around it, and mitigate for those events."

Ripple effect

In another three years when this series run has concluded, she hopes that this project's reporting can have a wider impact.

CNN, wide as its influence is, cannot hope to change structural gender inequality alone. With a greater workforce concentrating on these stories, Healy is optimistic that we can all start to discuss and implement meaningful solutions.

"Where it will move the needle, I hope, is by engaging so many groups in its journalism. Educating, informing and enlightening people on this topic.

"This series is for everybody, it's not a series just for women. I'm hoping that part of that we will have a lot of engaged men, who will want to become involved with those conversations, and be part of the solution."

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