Every fifth year, ‘Who Makes the News?’ measures how and to what extent women and men appear in the global media. The study, which is being undertaken for the fourth time, is conducted by analysing news media on the same specific day around the world. Previous studies showed that men significantly dominate when it comes to the representation of sources and, not least, experts in the media. The understanding that this issue is one of gender inequality, which can and ought to be addressed, was also the cornerstone of one of KVINFO’s earliest and most successful projects.
20 years ago in 1990, my first summer as Director of the Danish Centre for Information on Gender and Equality was spent reading through the written depositions from the institution’s long history. These went way back to the 1960s when KVINFO was first conceived in the mind of author Nynne Koch.
As an employee at Copenhagen’s Royal Library, Nynne Koch was permitted to use 10 minutes per day to compile a special register of literature relevant to women – a unique
research directory that formed the foundation for KVINFO’s research library. This first summer’s reading was like delving into a treasure chest of projects and ideas. One of the ideas, which was almost screaming out from among the papers, was the idea of establishing a database of female experts.
The idea, it transpired, was originally the brainchild of Danmarks Radio, which wanted to increase the number of women sources used in the media, hence their contact with KVINFO. The broadcasting corporation wanted to
know if we could develop an expert database that could promote and make visible the knowledge, experience and competencies of Danish women by providing the necessary names of competent women when and where required. A database that could be used to strengthen the influence of women in Danish society.
Five years passed from that first summer of reading until the launch of the database. The set-up costs to begin with totalled one million Danish Kroner (approximately £134,000). So, the greatest challenge by far was to raise the capital for this clearly good idea. Only when Polinfo became involved as a partner (today Infomedia), the leading Danish provider of media intelligence, monitoring and analysis and a subsidiary of Danish broadsheet Politiken, did we succeed in securing the finances. And when the first version of the database was launched in 1995, it was as part of Polinfo’s resources.
As early as 1997, KVINFO was able to present the first in a line of online versions of the database, which was now fully accessible to the Danish public. Today, the constantly updated Expert Database counts 1,100 profiles of women who are experts in their field. It continues to enjoy much acclaim and recognition in Denmark and is widely used by a large cross-section of Danish society. The database is particularly well used by all types of media, ministries, commissions, local authorities and private companies, all searching for inspiration for new names of women in politics, top administration, arts and culture, research, and management. In 2006 and 2007, a special partnership was
established with Politiken. Here, the aim was to increase the number of women with specific expertise and knowledge used as expert sources in the newspaper and it took the form of a series of articles and public debates based upon questionnaire analyses conducted among the female experts.
Not least because of its special layout, which enables users to conduct extremely precise regional or topic-based searches, KVINFO’s Expert Database has proven itself to
be a tremendous idea. So good is it that it is recommended by a wide section of Danish organisations and authorities, as well as internationally by organisations including Pennskaftet (the Swedish association of women
journalists) and the European Women’s Lobby.
As head of KVINFO, something that I am particularly proud of is the fact that the Expert Database is now on its way to the Middle East. The first two versions have already seen the light of day in the Arab world. In March 2010, Who is She in Lebanon? opened – an online database with profiles of prominent contemporary Lebanese women, and the result of a partnership between KVINFO and the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSWA) at the Lebanese American University (LAU). In May 2010, the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) launched their own national version of the database called Who is She in Jordan? And an Egyptian version is currently under development with plans that KVINFO, after an initial evaluation of international results, will open up for further export.
I am naturally pleased that in its interim report ‘Who Makes the News?’ recommends lists of female experts as a useful tool in strengthening the representation of women in the media. This recommendation harks back to the Beijing Platform for Action, which in 1995 had the media as a key focus area. And in exactly the same year as the Beijing conference, KVINFO – as the first institution in the world to do so – launched the first version of the Expert Database. Almost no better example of KVINFO’s role as a front-runner among institutions exists.