Including the gender perspective in communication: an unfinished task on both sides of the Atlantic
[Versió catalana][Versión castellana]
Zuliana Lainez Otero
Vice-President of the International Federation of Journalists and the Federation of Journalists of Latin America and the Caribbean (FEPALC)
President of the National Association of Journalists of Peru
There are two reasons why the gender approach may not be used in news coverage: firstly, morbid fascination, so that the media and news platforms capitalize on the audience attracting power of something unpleasant, cruel, prohibited or that goes against established morality; and secondly, because journalists or photojournalists do not know or have not been trained in the gender perspective. The communication faculties and journalism schools do not have training in including a gender focus in the news as part of their basic education. Journalists generally learn about gender issues outside the classrooms, when they are already working as journalists.
As UN Women point out, "the media and journalists play a key role in preventing violence against women and girls. On one hand, good coverage can give visibility and put the important social issues and causes on the public agenda, as well as raise awareness among the population and decision makers about the magnitude, causes and consequences of violence against women, encouraging the creation and implementation of laws, public policies, programmes and initiatives to progress in prevention, attention and punishment of violence".
The widespread outrage at scandalous coverage (most notable in times of social media viralization) and the consequences of poor editorial decisions have led several editorial offices to incorporate the figure of gender editors, for example in Peru in 2020 and also Argentina, which is a pioneer. This is an important step towards consistently including the gender perspective, that is, establishing an editorial function which not only works as a quality filter with texts, but also with photos and other audio-visual material. In particular, the graphic side of news has been largely forgotten in the gender approach. Texts that are respectful of this approach have sometimes been coupled with revictimizing images. However, despite the contribution that a gender editor makes, in Peru only the newspaper La República has incorporated this position and there has been no effort to do so in any other media, including government-owned media.
In the rest of the Latin America countries there is a little more trajectory in the development of this figure in the newsrooms. It has been created to ensure that content stops promoting stereotypes and analyses the structural reasons behind violence against women. Journalist Isabel Gonzales Ramirez rightly points out that, in 2017, The New York Times became the first newsroom to create a gender-editing position. The newspaper El País (Spain) did the same in 2018. In Latin America, the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo and the Argentine publications Infobae and Clarín created new editorial posts dedicated to diversity and gender in 2019.
Nevertheless, self-proclaimed feminist media was founded even earlier, such as the journal Pikara (2010) in Spain, Cosecha Roja (2010) in Argentina, and Agência Pública (2011) in Brazil. Since 2017, numerous feminist and gender journalistic initiatives have emerged in the region, such as La Periódica, Latfem, Volcánica, Kaja Negra and Managua Furiosa, among others.
Today, faced with these developments, an essential task is to build bridges between gender editors on either side of the Atlantic Ocean to share challenges in an activity that is still resisted in regions where the macho culture visibly or invisibly reigns.
We can see this macho culture even more clearly when we look at the presence of women in the leadership spaces of the media. The so-called glass ceiling is actually a "concrete ceiling" in regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean. In these areas the profession is feminized in the classroom, but this does not translate into positions of management in the media. A study published in 2018 by Comunicación para la Igualdad (Chaher; Pedraza, 2018) found that in Argentina 64 % of people who study communication are women. However, when it comes to who actually works in the media, the numbers are reversed: women represent only 30 % of the personnel in journalistic companies. The same applies to trade union representation: only 24 % of the members of press unions are women. The biggest gender gap appears in decision-making and hierarchical positions: 78 % of the media are headed by men, as are 70 % of the media unions.
In terms of gender in leadership, the birth of digital media has reconfigured the scenario. Almost half of the digital news media is founded and directed by women. According to the 2017 study Punto de inflexión by SembraMedia, 40 % of the digital news media native to Latin America was founded by women journalists. This generates greater balance, but also shows a reality: women have to found the media to be able to direct them.
The latest 2020 report from the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) states that it will take 67 years to close the average gender equality gap in the media.
Among the good practices that do exist, we need to highlight as a world pioneer in this area, Law 27635 on gender equity in the media, approved in 2021 in Argentina and that seeks to promote in public and private media the real equality of rights, opportunities and treatment of people regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation or their expression of these. In the case of public media, equity is mandatory at all levels of personnel. In addition, a quota of 1 % of transgender, transsexual and transvestite people has been established. A promotion regime has also been set up in the private sector.
Along with the progress in incorporating the gender approach in journalism, a current of feminist journalists has emerged, who have gained greater visibility due to the protest actions of Ni Una Menos [Not one woman less] and 8M around the world. Among those who come from more classical journalism, self-identification as a feminist journalist goes against keeping activism out of the journalistic practice. For those who openly embrace feminist journalism, this dilemma between activism and journalism is false because there is no way to understand journalism without taking a stand for human rights, equity, equality and closing gaps. The impulse of journalism that emphasizes the demands of women and other populations such as the LGBTI+ community continues to grow in counterbalance to conservative and anti-rights groups that are visible in several countries.
Today, gender-focused journalism and feminist journalism needs to build a transnational and collaborative agenda not only to develop the best professional practices, but also to identify particular risk situations. Online and offline violence is one of the biggest challenges, and digital platforms, governments and news companies must take responsibility for it.
The role played by universities is also essential: from giving training in a gender approach an equal weight to other core subjects in the degree, to encouraging addressing these challenges with research at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
This is not just a task of feminist journalism, it is a pending duty of the general press to achieve non-sexist coverage and equal conditions for accessing positions of responsibility for men, women and LGBTI+ individuals. Measures need to be established to obtain real family reconciliation, as well as measures that take into account the impact that harassment of women journalists has on their professional progress, addressing this as a health and safety issue at work.
Argentina (2021). "Ley 27635, Equidad en la representación de los géneros en los servicios de comunicación de la República Argentina". Boletín Nacional, 08-jul-2021. <https://www.argentina.gob.ar/normativa/nacional/351817/texto>. [Accessed: 13/10/2022].
Chaher, Sandra; Pedraza, Virginia (ed.) (2018). Organizaciones de medios y género: igualdad de oportunidades para mujeres y personas LGTTBIQ+ en empresas, sindicatos y universidades. Córdoba: FUNDEPS; Buenos Aires: Asociación Civil Comunicación para la Igualdad.
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