International Women's Day Featured Partner - The Fuller Project
This International Women’s Day, HU is excited to bring you this conversation with Xanthe Scharff, PhD, Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer at The Fuller Project. Like HU, The Fuller Project seeks the threads that connect communities, looking at the world with a sense of curiosity and commitment to our shared humanity. We’ve been supporting their work since 2018 as their reporting on women has taken root across the globe, calling power to account and raising the profile of the most vulnerable and marginalized in society. Following a year where journalists played a pivotal role in helping us understand the complexities at home and abroad, HU is glad to have The Fuller Project explore journalism—and its various roles—with us today.
To honor the women tackling inequality in their communities around the world, and to reflect on how far we have yet to go, dive deeper into The Fuller Project’s reporting in this new interactive.
Q: Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. How is The Fuller Project’s journalism addressing the bias that women still face?
This year, International Women’s Day falls at the one-year anniversary of school and industry shutdowns due to COVID. The health crisis drove an economic crisis that fell disproportionately on the shoulders of women, especially women facing compounding forms of bias related to race and identity.
The Fuller Project is the global nonprofit newsroom dedicated to groundbreaking reporting about women to raise awareness, expose injustice and spur accountability. COVID exacerbated the systemic inequality that we have long reported on, driving women out of the job market and into homelessness and increased risk for intimate partner violence. Yet most of the news during COVID features men and overwhelmingly sources male experts.
Bias in journalism against women, and especially women facing intersectional race and identity bias, has persisted for decades despite growing awareness. The barriers and harms that women face are often considered tangential instead of central to reporting about security, health, economic, legal, environmental issues.
Our mission is to disrupt that gender bias in reporting through investigative and enterprise journalism about women, and by fostering a committed community of editors and journalists.
Q: The Fuller Project has a unique partnership model. What role does collaboration with newsrooms play in advancing your vision?
What we envision is a journalism field in the US and globally that fully represents all women and gender diverse people, giving readers The Full Story and spurring gender equality. The Full Story is reporting centered on women to investigate and explain systemic and intersectional issues, provide history and context, and feature women leading the way forward.
With deeply sourced newsgathering and vivid storytelling, The Fuller Project provides a nuanced understanding of global, U.S. and local news by incorporating diverse perspectives. We root our journalism in women’s lived experiences, especially those whose stories are most often unheard, to reveal patterns of discrimination and illuminate solutions.
We collaborate to provide a spark that ignites journalism about women in newsrooms around the world. In 2020 we collaborated with 25 newsrooms, reaching a diverse audience of 9 million.
We collaborate closely with editors who want to do more and better reporting about women but may lack expertise or investigative reporting resources, shaping stories together and often co-reporting to blend our gender expertise with local reporters’ community sourcing. We also convene editors and reporters and build a brain trust that advances representative journalism.
Q: How did your reporting on women fill a need during this past year on COVID, inequality and racial justice?
We consistently published leading global coverage of the impact of the crisis on women’s health and economic wellbeing, exposing gender, racial and other forms of identity bias and featuring women’s leadership.
Senator Cory Booker and other policymakers cited our reporting on Black women’s maternal health during COVID in The New York Times in an open letter to Senate leaders. Following this letter, maternal health funding was included in the stimulus package. We profiled Black women organizers in battleground states ahead of the elections, essential workers in Ohio facing the dual risk of contagion for their children in childcare and job loss, and the policy advocacy advanced by mothers of Black Americans killed by police.
In an article published with LA Times and read by over half a million people, we zeroed in on childcare providers, who are disproportionately women of color, many of whom were income insecure before the crisis led to their jobs being eliminated. With The Washington Post we reported the story of farm workers forced to bring their children to work picking blueberries, even in cradles. During elections we reported on women who were evicted, interrupting their voting access, and with Indian Country Today on American Indian women, who face high rates of intimate partner violence and were not voting because they did not trust or know about voter identification protection registries.
When COVID broke out and schools shuttered, we immediately reported in TIME that the crisis would be crippling for women. We then followed reporting on exclusive statistics from 17 states that showed women were the majority of unemployment seekers. Our analysis showed that federal data would not show this trend for another month. We organized the statistics into briefs for each of the 17 states and then gathered names of local and labor reporters in each state and disseminated the relevant data to them. We provided individual and group briefings and as a result, at least 12 news outlets – ranging from The New York Times to Reuters to Iowa Watch covered the story and cited our data. Our analysis underpinned a national conversation in April about the stark gender trends in unemployment. Following our data requests, two states began to release weekly unemployment statistics disaggregated by gender.
Q: What are some examples of how your reporting has had an impact on women’s lives?
Our award-winning and often front-page reporting has led to the introduction of new protective legislation, the hiring of hundreds of female police officers and an end to life-threatening conditions. This nonpartisan journalism, steeped in deep sourcing, expands the evidence base for policymaking.
Recent reporting published on the front page of The New York Times International in The Guardian, and in Kenya’s The Nation on women traveling to work as nannies and cleaners in the Middle East led to the repatriation of 10 women who told us our reporting saved their lives, raids on an abusive recruitment company in Saudi Arabia, and in-depth government engagement from the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Our reporting for The Guardian about mothers forced out of the U.S. days after giving birth without time to collect birth certificates was widely read as President Biden prepared to repeal the Trump era bans, and was followed by the parole of our source back into the U.S.
Leading The New York Times homepage, our award-winning reporting on homeschooling for parents that do not speak English was distributed through the paper’s learning network, reaching teachers as an educational resource and sparking online conversation among students.
Q Given that news readership so often falls along political lines, how do you expand the conversation about women?
When women read one another’s stories, they gain a heightened and shared urgency and agency to act. We connect women at local, national and global levels. For example, we recently reported a story that featured a woman in Lesotho laid off from a shuttered JCPenney supply factory and a woman in California laid off from the local JCPenney. The reporting was published in over a hundred newsrooms and read by 1.5 million people, demonstrating the power of connecting women’s stories.
For journalism to meaningfully advance conversations it needs to reach a large and diverse readership, not just female readers who are already engaged. Women’s welfare and rights drive societal outcomes – like economic growth, democratic functioning, climate change and children’s welfare – which affect whole societies. By collaborating, our journalism reaches, but also goes beyond female-only readership spaces, demonstrating that journalism about women is not just for women. It is for everyone.