By Oreoluwa Ojo
Gender is everyone’s business. Considering how crucial the media is in shaping and changing people’s opinions, gender is very much the media’s business. from the managerial level where the general directions are made to the editorial department where decisions are taken about stories to be covered, to the field when information is being gathered and to the desk when the information is being selected, the consideration of gender sensitivity is key.
Gender-sensitive reporting is the practice of producing media content in a way that portrays women and men fairly and is sensitive to the differences between both genders, as is dictated by society. For the media to accurately mirror societies and report issues that are complete and diverse, it is critical that it reflects the world from the viewpoint of all genders. Journalists can help to change attitudes, topple harmful stereotypes and influence opinions by portraying women and men as equally valued and diverse, rather than re-enforcing problematic gender-based stereotypes.
How can media personnel ensure that their reporting remains gender sensitive?
• Selection of sources and stories
The world is composed of an almost equal number of women and men. However, women are only heard about or read about in approximately 23% of world news. This simply means about 77% of the people heard or read about in the world’s news are male. This does not reflect the variety of human experiences in the societies, and also excludes a huge chunk of the society. For journalists and producers selecting media sources, it is crucial to strive to balance the presence of women and men. This allows the media to accurately reflect society and the actions, views and concerns of all genders. The inclusion of women who are experts in their fields is especially important, particularly in areas traditionally dominated by men’s voices such as politics, economics, conflict, science and sports.
It is therefore important that journalists strive to:
- Ask equal numbers of women and men for their opinions on all topics.
- Cover issues of particular importance to women’s lives.
- Make special consideration to include and represent the diverse stories and voices of people who are least visible in media (for example, older women).
- Seek the expertise of women and women’s organizations to see whether there is an alternative interpretation or a more significant story to be reported.
- Ensure balanced representations of all genders in visual and multimedia aspects of a story.
- Elimination of gender stereotypes and promotion of multi-dimensional representation
UNESCO (2012) identified the significance of the role of the media in shaping public perceptions about women and men, therefore making it important that reporting avoids any form of gender stereotypes, which often limit and trivialize females and males, as well as presenting an inaccurate view of the world and its possibilities.
A gender stereotype is a preconceived idea where women and men are assigned characteristics and roles determined and limited by their gender. These stereotypes present an inaccurate view of the world and limit both women and men. Stereotypes influence societal expectations from people based on their gender, and also what people expect of themselves.
It is therefore crucial for media personnel, when reporting;
- Ensure that coverage reflects a holistic and realistic view of people of all genders.
- Should not assign generalized stereotypical characteristics to people based on gender. For example, do not imply that girls are always shy and boys are aggressive, etc.
- Should not make any gender-based assumptions. For example, try to avoid representing certain roles or jobs as only held by women or men respectively – like portraying all domestic care-givers as women or all public leaders as men
- Ensure the fair portrayal of men and women in commercial ads, commercial messages and images, minimising ads for various product categories or services that dictate gender roles. For example household goods associated with cooking and cleaning, food, beverages, products for children, electronic goods; mainly women in services such as education, health, childcare, and men in banking and investment, real estate, sport events.
- Treat all subjects with dignity; avoid belittling women’s experiences and concerns.
- Use of gender sensitive language
Using gender-sensitive language makes it easier to see important differences between the needs of women and men and challenge unconscious assumptions people have about gender roles in society. This means eliminating language that misrepresents, excludes or offends women. Journalists can improve on their use of gender sensitive language by:
- Avoiding the use of ‘he’ as a generic pronoun. For example, instead of ‘Every nurse should take care of her own uniform and cover the expense herself’, use ‘Every nurse should take care of their own uniform and cover the expense themselves’.
- Avoiding the use of ‘man’ as a generic noun, as if men represent the whole human race. For example, to make language more inclusive use ‘humanity’, ‘human beings’ or ‘people’ instead of ‘mankind’.
- Avoiding gender-specific words when describing a job or career. Gender neutral examples include: ‘camera operator’ or ‘film-maker’, instead of ‘cameraman’; ‘chairperson’, ‘chair’ or ‘president’ instead of ‘chairman’; and ‘police officer’ instead of ‘policeman’.
- Describing a woman as her own person, and not in relationship to someone else. Try to avoid forms of address that depict a woman as the mere appendage of her husband, which trivialises women or renders them invisible. Instead of ‘The steward seated Mr Clinton and his lovely wife Hillary’, use ‘The steward seated Mr and Mrs Clinton’
The importance of gender sensitive reporting cannot be overemphasized. It is not only important that regular media content is gender-sensitive and takes into account all perspectives, but media can also be a tool to raise awareness about women’s issues and concerns related to gender inequality. Some issues the media has helped to create awareness about which has brought about positive change includes child marriage, female genital mutilation, HIV/AIDs, among others. <\mark>
The concept of gender sensitivity has been developed as a way to reduce barriers to personal and economic development created by sexism. Gender sensitivity helps to generate respect for the individual regardless of sex. The media is a powerful tool for not only reporting news and creating awareness, but also for challenging taboos and stereotypes. It is therefore important that media personnel are properly trained on how to make their reporting gender sensitive in order to contribute significantly to the fight for gender equality.