Women's Advancement Deeply, the News Deeply platform focused on covering efforts to secure economic equality for women around the world, is launching a WhatsApp story experiment to let readers experience the decisions and challenges faced by women working in developing countries.
The experiment will run on 8 March for International Women's Day and the team will broadcast regular updates about a day in the life of three women: a duck farmer in rural Myanmar, a child protection case worker in north eastern Nigeria, and the first female chief executive of a bank in Pakistan.
The format and the topic were pitched by Jennifer Rigby, freelance journalist and a contributor for Women's Advancement Deeply, who worked on a similar initiative for The Telegraph in 2015 and who has been doing the research and reporting for this story prior to the experiment launching on Thursday.
"Most of us are so involved in our own days, our own struggles for income and work-life balance, but to actually understand what that struggle means for other women, we thought the best way was just to walk people through it," said Jumana Farouky, senior editor at Women’s Advancement Deeply.
"We're not talking necessarily about massive things such as women being verbally harassed at work by men, but about the subtle ways that these inequalities show up over the course of the day.
"I think having a mix of women, careers and locations will really show the different ways that women deal with economic inequality in their daily lives, not only through their own experiences but through the experiences of the people they encounter. For example the duck farmer might be taking her produce to the market where she will see women have less money than men to spend on food, or more women working the markets while men pay for produce."
When they sign up, participants have to provide their city, country and their preferred time zone, so that the updates they receive correlate with their own working days.
On 8 March, the team will send hourly WhatsApp messages in real-time, rotating through the activities undertaken by each of the three women in the story. The updates will be mainly text, with the possibility of some additional images.
The messages will describe "what that woman is doing at that particular time of day, and include a line about the broader context, for example whether or not she is standing in front of a boardroom full of men who think she doesn't deserve to be there or she is haggling with another market seller and noticing she's getting charged a higher price than the man next to her", Farouky said.
When the experiment concludes on Thursday, the timelines of each woman's day, as well as additional context, analysis and statistics, will be available on the Women's Advancement Deeply website.
"We didn't want to inundate people with WhatsApp messages all day long, so we'll pick the most telling parts of these women's days and we think that will be a good way to really personalise what could become a very intellectual, broad and vague topic," Farouky added.
"We talk about women's economic empowerment, advancement and equality and for a lot of people that's a huge topic they can't really get their head around, so let's look at how women are dealing with this every day – it makes it a lot easier to think about solutions that way too."
This is the first time Women's Advancement Deeply will be experimenting with messaging and WhatsApp. The decision to use WhatsApp and not other platforms such as Telegram came from the fact that most of its audience is on mobile and already uses WhatsApp to communicate, so the experiment will "feel natural and fit into their day without them having to do anything else beyond texting to sign up", explained community editor Jihii Jolly.
Women's Advancement Deeply launched at the end of January, derived from News Deeply's Women and Girls chapter, which has now closed as more single-theme verticals focused on women's issues are set to launch in the near future.
The platform is also in the process of doing user research to inform its editorial strategy as well as its upcoming community engagement experiments, so they are looking to "understand how information moves in the daily life of a person who is reading us, or of someone who is working on these issues", Jolly said.
"We basically used that first year and a half to do the research to understand what are the key issues in that space and then break them up into what's eventually going to become a series of Deeply's, so this is just the first one and the most pressing community need at the time around economics," Jolly added.
"This approach allows our reporting and our community engagement to actually be much more specific because while the general public does read us, our core community are actually stakeholders around these issues so in order to convene them in a meaningful way, we have to be narrow."
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