COVID-19 Response – Learning and Sharing session on Gender Sensitive Reporting (25 November)

In November, Learning and Sharing sessions on the topic of gender and gender equality in the media were organised as part of the COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for reliable information project. On Thursday 25 November, the session on Gender Sensitive Reporting was held. Busola Ajibola, an advocate for women’s and girls rights who works at Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, led the session. 

Defining sex and gender

Busola began the presentation by asking participants to imagine an island inhabited with children. Would these children be sexist and hold prejudiced views? It was agreed by participants that they wouldn’t, and Busola explained this is because we are born into societies with deeply embedded beliefs and these beliefs are imposed onto children from birth. Busola went on to define the difference between sex and gender. Sex is biologically defined while gender is a social construct. Gender refers to the relative worth, roles, rights, power, privileges and opportunities accorded to individuals based on their sex. Moreover, gender is cultural, changeable, variable. It is important to note that the issues we contend with differ according to our location, age, race, social class, physical attributes, and so on. With all this in mind, Busola asked participants whether they could envisage a world in which there existed only one gender. The answer from participants was unanimous: no. This led Busola to explain the notion of gender complementarity: males and females solve ethical and social dilemmas with sets of different criteria. She reasoned that the only way to strike a balance is to realise that gender complements.

Gender Sensitive Reporting

Once an understanding of what gender is had been established, Busola turned to Gender sensitive reporting. Gender sensitive reporting requires that we avoid stereotypes that trivialise women and girls and the issues that affect them. This helps in portraying the world in a more gender sensitive and responsive manner, thereby contributing to a more inclusive and equal society. Busola explained that inclusive stories means we strive to capture voices of marginalised and vulnerable groups across different locations of exclusion in our storytelling. But how can gender sensitive reporting be introduced?

  • There needs to be a balance representation of women and men seen, heard or read about in the news.
  • Prominence must be given to women’s voices.
  • Gender-sensitive languages should be adopted
  • There needs to be a gender balance in sourcing.
  • Gender stereotypes must be eliminated.
  • A good proportion of stories need to be told that focus on women and other marginalised groups.
  • There should be a gender balance in newsroom leadership.
  • Language that misrepresents or excludes must be eliminated.
  • The derogation of women and their bodies for commercial interests needs to be avoided.

However, introducing gender sensitive reporting on its own is not enough and gender sensitive reporting as an ethical mandate should be considered. If this happened, the stories about people must be told in ways that do not instigate or reproduce gender inequities and injustice.

“through the manner in which it articulates its art of storytelling, which is fundamentally dedicated to the purpose of a robust public interest, journalism must aim at closing existing gaps in political participation, financial and economic empowerment, educational attainment and health.”

Busola argued that the media will be guilty of abdicating its ethical obligation of erecting reporting around the community if its fails in this regard.

It was also clear from the discussions that biased views are deeply embedded in society and thus there is a need for gender sensitive reporting to be introduced. With Busola’s help, an understanding was gained that there are many ways this can be done, from adopting gender sensitive language to ensuring a balance representation of women and men in the news.