Portrayal of Women with Immigrant Background in Quality Media

For a variety of economic, political, social as well as cultural reasons people around the world need to leave their homes in order to try their luck and start from scratch elsewhere. Although Austria is regarded as one of the most foreigner-friendly European countries, migration has become a hot topic in its media landscape in the recent years. It seems to have reached its boiling point with the beginning of the “refugee wave”, occasionally arousing severe discussions, which divide the society into opposite camps.

Out of doubt, it might feel challenging to be a newcomer in Austria: mastering the language, whereas a successfully completed German course doesn’t necessarily ensure you are going to understand the language they speak in the streets due to the variety of dialects;  getting settled in studies, career; facing numerous bureaucratic obstacles. Even more challenging might turn out being a woman with a migrant background, due additional gender-related stereotypes and restrictions.

Facts and Numbers

At the beginning of 2016 there lived 812 600 females with a non-Austrian citizenship in Austria, which is 48.5% of the total foreign population, whereas 48.5 % are coming from EU-member states, the rest 51.5% from the third countries like Serbia, Bosnia, Turkey, Russia etc. (cf. Östrerreichischer Integrationsfond, 2016: 5 et cq.).

Since 25.5% of Austrian population can be defined as immigrants in the second generation (cf. Statistik Austria, 2016), their social presence doesn’t remain ignored by the local media. But do the newsmakers in Austria exercise any power in creating the clichéd images, influencing our attitudes towards the representatives of other cultures, specifically women? What consequences may the media constructed figure of a woman with an immigrant background potentially lead to?

Does QUALITY matter?

There is a widespread opinion, that boulevard media like Österreich, Heute, Kronenzeitung tend to a more sensational scandalous portrayal of immigrants, which would be difficult to object, though. Quality news broadcasters, on contrary, are likely to be “more unbiased, selective, tolerant and reserved” in their statements. Therefore, it is often highly recommended to prefer the latter ones to avoid “common thinking” and to get “a broader picture of reality”.  However, to what extent does it represent the facts?

© Maxmann

Seeking for the answers, I referred to the online versions of some acknowledged Austrian quality newspapers, such as Der Standard, Die Presse, Kurier and Wiener Zeitung. With the help of the content analysis of the articles, published in the past year, I aimed at figuring out the actual state of affairs, considering the cases, in which women with immigrant background were mentioned.

The most frequently discussed issues and the involved parties, who got into the spotlight, turned out to be:

  • Discrimination: religious (“headscarf” issue), professional → Syrian, Afghan, Turkish and other Islamic countries, Serbian;
  • Delinquency (including terrorism participation) → Chechen, representatives of the Balcans, Arabic countries (especially Syria);
  • Illegal prostitution (voluntary as well as forced) → Chinese, Nigerian, Romanian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, asylum seekers;
  • Success (professional achievements in art, science) → Russian, EU-citizens.

A certain share of articles focused on the achievements of female foreign citizens, contributing to their image of successful business women, scientists and artists or on restrictions they deal with in the labour market as well as in social life, like the possible prohibition of wearing headscarves.

Surprisingly, a larger amount of references appeared in a negative context, such as illegal prostitution or connection to the criminal word. The most frequent roles, prescribed to women, can be summarized as follows: victims of sexual abuse, illegal sex-workers, criminals’ girlfriends/wives and even terrorism supporters.

Labour Market

I do believe, words have power, not in vain are the media often called „the fourth estate”. Through the language they mould our idea of women with immigrant background. May this lead to discriminatory behavior towards them? Probably, yes! Especially, given the lower employment rate among foreign females (57%) to compare with the Austrian ones (70%). Although almost one third of them possesses a university degree (cf. Österreichischer Intergrationsfond, 2016: 8 et cqq.), 50.7% of staff hired in the household sector in 2015 were women with an immigrant background, who are, on contrary, underrepresented in the following branches:

  • Financial and insurance sector (11.4%)
  • Public administration and Defense (8%)
  • Energy and water supply sector (5.6%) (cf. Österreichischer Integrationsfond, 2016: 34 et cqq.)

Moreover, according to the study, carried out at the Johannes Kepler University (Linz) (Hofer et al., 2013), female immigrants from Nigeria had two times lower chances to be invited for a job interview compared with female Austrian applicants, for candidates from China, Turkey and Serbia it was a bit easier.

Of course, the image reconstructed by online quality newspapers cannot be referred to as completely negative, but it’s far from a strong confident competitive sought by an employer woman, which is to be found in every country, irrespective of a national background! Given to the current tense political situation in the world, there is an urgent need for media agencies to carry out their integrational function. One of the possible solutions to the “female immigrant” issue would be at least reconsidering, whether mentioning their citizenship, religion, skin colour etc. would be relevant or could shed more light on the depicted event! Moreover, with the rise of social media, everyone can take up the role of a “mouthpiece” and share their own experiences, focusing on the positive side of being a part of a multicultural society!


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